Our rocking, sane and helpful conversation about all things related to food at home has emboldened me (and maybe you) to tackle a specific food situation– eating out at restaurants.
I’m thinking about the evenings when no one has the energy to cook and you’re tired of pizza, or when you’re dining ‘on the road’ or on vacation, or when Grandma wants to treat on a weeknight.
(I am not talking about taking your au pair our to dinner as a special treat or celebration for the au pair.)
Meals out at restaurants can be awkward situations for Au Pairs if they don’t know what the cost and volume conventions are in your family.
They may be very conscious, or blithely unaware, but either way, you need to set the stage so that your au pair knows what to do. Even when an au pair can translate and recognize items on the menu, it can be easy for him or her to trip over an unspoken expectation about what your family usually orders, and what your family usually spends, in a restaurant.
Does your family always order a side salad, no matter how much it costs, to make sure everyone gets a vegetable? Do you share a Bloomin’ Onion family style or each get your own appetizer? Or, do you skip desserts almost always to save money and calories?
For Host Families, the restaurant situation can be sensitive, once again because it’s easy to see (and be surprised by) how much having an additional adult (your au pair) can add to your out-of-pocket costs. (I’m still getting adjusted to my 12 year old shifting off of the kids’ menu. Buying chicken in non-nugget form is a good bit more expensive, I’m discovering.)
You can also find yourself resenting the au pair who orders a first course, a second course, a dessert, and a fancy mixed drink, while you’re having the Caesar salad without chicken. Without fries. Without dessert.
There is one really significant rule for host parents when it comes to taking au pairs to a restaurant:
Only take an au pair to a restaurant where you can afford to buy him or her a full-sized entree and a non-alcoholic beverage.
If you can’t afford to have your au pair choose the second most expensive item on the menu, think again about the restaurant you’re going to. It’s probably better to economize with a less fancy atmosphere but more flexibility on what can be ordered (e.g., maybe a Red Robin instead of an Outback Steak House).
Tell your au pair what you expect to order yourselves.
She will probably use that as a guideline for ordering her own meal.
“I’ll probably get the roasted veggie panini ($8.99) with a side of haricot vert ($3.99) and DH will probably order the chicken-fried steak ($17.99) because he works out 6 days a week and can actually metabolize that.”
This gives your au pair a hint– target cost of each adult’s meal will be between $13 and $18. The $29 New York Strip is probably out of bounds, but restricting his or her order to the chicken satay appetizer ($4.99) is probably unnecessary.
Tell your au pair directly what he might want to order, in terms of courses and extras.
He’ll take the lead if you all order appetizers, but might not know if you plan to skip straight to entrees.
“We’ll get a Bloomin’ Onion to share, but since that only really serves two, why don’t you pick out an appetizer that looks good to you?” or “If five of us share a Bloomin’ Onion, we all get a taste and still have room for those ribs. Mmm.”
Before you actually go out to a restaurant, tell your au pair what to expect.
You want to make sure that he or she doesn’t hold back and order too little, or choose something s/he really won’t like, all to save a few bucks when that is not necessary.
We explicitly state in our family handbook that we will never take our au pair to a restaurant that we can’t afford, unless we are in some weird travel situation where we apply the F.H.B. dictum to keep the cost reasonable.
Talk about restaurants and expectations before you actually go out for a meal, so it doesn’t look like you were attacked by the stingies when your au pair orders the lobster tail and you recoil in horror.
Be ready to hold back yourself, if necessary, to make constraints seem somewhat fair.
We sometimes have problems with wine when we dine out. DH loves a nice Cabernet, and would prefer a $35 bottle of wine to a $20 bottle if he could get away with it. But if he’s unwilling to share it freely with our au pair (if she is not driving, is old enough to drink, and likes wine), then he has to order something less expensive. It just seems too mean for him to drink a fine vintage if she’s only allowed to have a glass of ‘house wine’, the kind from the cardboard box that they pour behind the bar.
Remember that eating out — regardless of where– can still feel like a special treat for the whole family.
Other restaurant tips and stories? Please share!