There are huge differences between eating out in America compared to Australia. And it will pay you, both as an Australian in the US and as an American in Australia, to learn what those differences are in order to enjoy a fun night out. Otherwise you might just do your head in.
Five differences in dining out in America compared to Australia
1. Time limit
It’s time for a catch up with friends so you pick a date and a venue (hopefully that hip new restaurant that’s all the buzz) and you head out. That’s about where the similarities between eating out in Australia compared to America ends.
In America eating out is on a time limit. The time restraints are both cultural and the way restaurants work here.
In Australia the time limit is how long you want to hang out with your mates enjoying the food, wine & company.
Here’s where the Americans have got spot on. Greet the guests, serve water, take drink orders then come back for food orders. There’s nothing worse than being without a drink. Nothing.
Sometimes in Australia this little detail can often be overlooked. Once when we were home we were seated at a restaurant for lunch and it took ages to get menus, drinks or even waters. We were all a bit antsy. This is the exception though. Usually drink orders will be taken and served and the waiter will give you time to catch up before bothering you again. I prefer it this way–unless I’m hungry of course! But I have to have a drink in my hand–the “event” doesn’t start until you have a drink in your hand.
This approach makes a huge difference to the happiness of those dining. When Americans don’t get served straight away–even if it’s just a water serving–they start to get antsy. They see it as bad service because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to expect. And rightly so.
Often us Aussies feel a bit rushed when orders are taken too quickly–we like to settle in and take our time. Except of course for drinks–can’t express the importance of drinks!
And speaking of service. The thing that really gets Australian’s goats is the fact that servers or bus people here take your plates away when your mate hasn’t finished eating. That’s right, if one person has finished their plate is gone leaving you to continue eating. We find that so rude (um, manners please) but I’m sure my fellow Americans don’t even notice it.
To an Australian there’s nothing worse than ordering your meal and the meal coming out five or so minutes later. What the …? We’re just settling in. Conversation is now moving from “Hi how are you?” to “What are you having?” to “It’s time to catch up on the goss”. No, take that meal back and wait until I’ve had a chance to shift conversation gears.
Conversely, Americans are generally happy with the pace.
4. The Bill & Tipping
You’re done with the main meal, you push your plate aside, order another bottle of wine and it’s really time to shift conversation to another gear. There’s no more eating to worry about, you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine and you’re relaxed.
In America the waiter comes up to your table and asks if there’s anything else you need. “No thank you,” you reply, lucky to make eye contact you’re deeply engrossed in conversation. Within minutes the bill comes. Wait, what?
In Australia it’s the same scenario except the bit about the bill. Getting the bill is a process: you have to ask for it.
When the bill doesn’t come American start to get antsy again. They’ve been conditioned that the bill comes to the table with a “No rush” dropped by the waiter (yeah right bullshit!) And that’s fine. But the exact same scenario and you’ve pissed the Aussies off.
And, tipping. You might have caught the guest post from a fellow Aussie Blogger based in San Fran on what to tip here when (& how much). In Australia (for you Americans planning holidays–or living there) we’re talking around 10% of the bill, at a cafe it might only be a case of rounding the bill up. Our minimum wage isn’t shit like yours so you don’t need to actually pay their salary.
5. Lingering–especially for lunch
Therein lies the very important difference number five: the linger. This is possibly the most important step in Aussies eating out 101. You’re too full for dessert at the moment but that’s not to say you won’t have room in 10 minutes. Maybe more. Depends on the company and how the wine is going down. The most important thing is the end of the meal is not the cue to go home like it is for Americans.
No, in America, even if the bill doesn’t come straight away service just … well … stops. The waiter is nowhere to be seen and you’re not asked if you want or need anything more.
And if it’s lunch–especially a nice long Sunday lunch–then we’re talking another hour at least. Australians ideal scenario; the Americans not so much–especially in LA!
I miss those long lunches so much!
Like everything in life the lines are blurring. In many Australian restaurants it’s getting harder to spend three or more hours at a table for dinner. Australian restaurant owners are trying to get multiple sittings from their nights too. In many cases restaurants are only offering two sittings: 6:00 and 8:30pm. Others stagger them just the same as they do here in LA. I get it, restaurants need to make money–it’s a hard business with high overheads. But I hope our culture stays the same as I love that laid back, casual dining feel, it’s good for the soul.
But you’ll still have to ask for the bill, and service continues and you still get some time to order another bottle of wine. Or a nightcap.
What’s dining out like in your part of the world? Share your comments either on Facebook or below.
xx It Started in LA xx
Edited 7/12/17 to add feedback from other Australians in LA/USA