I LOVE eating out. Restaurants with great service will immediately make you feel comfortable and the last thing on your mind will be which fork to use with which course.
Eating in Lygon St, Melbourne, one night, a friend and I ordered an extravagant seafood pasta dish for two. As well as standard cutlery, the wait staff started assembling an arsenal of tools either side of us - crab claw crackers, little hammers, tongs, picks for extracting flesh. It was as much of a range as a standard Bunnings aisle.
Then came little finger bowls, moist towels, condiments of chilli, parmesan, olive oil . . .
Our table was heaving before the main course had even graced us with its presence.
We looked across the table at each other. Little trickles of anxiety set in: where do we start; how do we use these tools; but, mainly, how the hell do we get through this?
The restaurant staff, as well as being lovely and friendly, gave us a quick guided tour of how to best tackle the plate.
A few bites in and our anxiety was quickly drowned by a wave of fresh napolitana sauce.
Looking back, I can imagine that situation having easily gone a different way had the staff been a little pretentious or judgmental of young dinners.
Feeling uncomfortable in a restaurant has the potential to ruin your night, no matter how amazing the menu is. It's not unusual to come across people who often feel intimidated ordering and navigating their way through dinner - it's a common social anxiety.
As a dedicated food geek, I'll nearly always peruse the menu of my dining destination before I head there to eat. I've even been guilty of asking friends in advance how to pronounce ``charcuterie'' or googling what something is.
I've contemplated settling for a glass of something local because requesting ``Bellussi Prosecco di Valdobbiadene'' had seemed like too much of a mouthful.
For those with eating-out anxieties, tapas-style dining can be the most panic-inducing of all because the well-known structure of entree, followed by main and then dessert is flung out the window and you fend for yourself in terms of ordering your meal.
My family didn't eat out a great deal, so moving to Brisbane and discovering the fine dining scene was a new experience for me not so many years ago. It was slightly intimidating walking into a beautiful place and not being entirely au fait with dining etiquette. I quickly learnt that while certain etiquette exists, it's silly to be intimidated by it.
Now, as much as I can appreciate suave staff and tasteful decor, there isn't a great deal that will distract me once the plates are set down on the table.
*Published by the Courier Mail TUE 03 AUG 2010