I wouldn’t want you to believe that going to a restaurant in India requires learning, but sometimes knowing the codes makes all the difference, right? Come on, let’s push the door.
An army of servers
I don’t use this expression at random. For a room where you only see two or three servers in Europe, you’ll see ten in India. But above all their organization responds to a very specific hierarchy. For example, in many restaurants, there are waiters who take the orders, who bring them, who clean the tables and fill the jugs with water.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to order from a waiter cleaning the table, it’s pointless. At best he’ll call the concerned colleague, at worst he’ll give you a panicked look. So how do you spot who’s who? In general, the color of the shirt which, somewhat like the army uniform, indicates the rank or function.
And no waitress
Finding a maid remains extremely rare in India except in the north-east of the country where women occupy a more prominent place in society. Elsewhere, women who work in catering hold positions of hostesses, but never, with rare exceptions, neither in service nor in the kitchen. Pity.
A high sound level
Loud conversations and/or blaring music, the atmosphere of a restaurant in India is rarely (never?) calm, especially in the evening, with the possible exception of big restaurants. “Hey, what are you saying?”
If you want to be able to talk to your table neighbors, I suggest you find a restaurant with an outside. And again, I make no guarantees.
A carefully divided menu “vegetarian” And “not veg”
vegetarian Where is it not veg ? This is the established terminology for distinguishing vegetarian dishes (often marked with a green dot or small “V” next to their name on the menu), dishes based on meat or fish, “not veg” therefore, and associated with a red dot or acronym “new”. For Indians this distinction remains the basis of every culinary consideration. Out of the question, therefore, that a restaurant gets rid of it – unless it is 100% “pure vegetables” of course, i.e. vegetarian without eggs.
A command repeated aloud
Were you able to get the attention of a waiter? Cheerfulness. Very often I have to make grand gestures to bring one to my table, because they are not always used to scanning the room. But it happens. After listing your food and drink choices, the waiter will repeat your entire order aloud. If he doesn’t, ask him. A good habit that almost always avoids disappointment.
The ritual of tapping the beer
This somewhat puzzling custom at first consists of the waiter presenting you with a bottle of beer as if it were a grand cru wine, upright and slightly angled towards him. Yet it’s just Kingfisher (the most common Indian beer). Purpose of the operation? That you can control the temperature! He reaches out, touches the bottle, and if it’s cold enough for you, nod knowingly, uncorking is imminent.
Bottled or filtered water?
You also have to choose between bottled water and filtered water or “regular filtered water”. Bottled water, call mineral water it is generally purified water enriched with minerals, but only a few brands offer “REAL” natural mineral water. If you’re traveling and want to avoid unpleasant surprises, opt for bottled water, otherwise, when the restaurant seems well maintained, the filter probably is too!
Dishes to share
Indian meals consist of several vegetable dishes, even meat or fish, accompanied by rice, bread, daal (spicy lentil puree), all served at the same time. Therefore, if you go to an Indian restaurant, there is no individual order, and the whole table will taste these different dishes. Guaranteed usability.
But even in Western or Asian restaurants, Indians don’t lose the habit of sharing. Because of this, you’ll often see iconoclastic combinations like pizza-grilled fish-nachos-pasta on the same plate. If you wish to order your dish, specify it at the beginning of the meal, please making sure that it does not bother anyone.
A service faster than lightning
If the waiters in India can take their time to take your order, on the other hand they serve the dishes with incredible speed. “Uh, I didn’t finish my plate/my drink/my dessert” ! “I’m sorry ma’am”, I am answered with a contrite expression. The waiter didn’t want to disturb me, on the contrary: not leaving dirty dishes in front of me means that he takes care of the table carefully.
A finger wash
I warn you because I have already seen tourists ready to drink the contents of this metal bowl, filled with hot water (unfiltered) with a piece of lemon, brought after a meal in Indian restaurants. But it’s a finger rinse, ignoramus…and, not a tea! Rub your nails with lemon to cleanse and remove garlic and spice odors, then rinse them in water.
The bill, with or without a tip?
Last step, the addition of course. To find out if a tip is required, look at the detail of the bill. Self “service fees” (service charge), you don’t need to tip, except, of course, if you want to signal your satisfaction. If, on the other hand, only the prices of the dishes and taxes appear, add at least an additional 10% to the payment.
Now remains the phase that perhaps worries you the most in India: digestion! But thanks to me, you didn’t drink the finger wash water, so you’ll be fine, I promise.