I am a bit of a foodie and will be traveling in Europe for two weeks for the first time -- can you suggest any foods or restaurants in Europe? Are there any restaurant etiquette tips you can offer?
-- Brent, Portland
Unfortunately there's not enough room to list every restaurant I would recommend. I can, however, give you a little insight into European dining that might make your culinary experience that much richer.
There is definitely a distinguishable difference between dining experiences here and those in Europe. One of the most common complaints I hear from U.S. tourists about dining in Europe is how slow the service can be. U.S. waiters are paid on an hourly wage including tips, which gives them the incentive to turn a table in hopes of making more tips during a given shift. European waiters are on a fixed salary, which reduces the pressure of subsidizing their pay with added tips.
That's not the only reason the service is slower. Dining in Europe is a social event, and it is not uncommon to see people sitting for hours at a table enjoying not only the food but also the company. We tend to rush our experience at restaurants because we are a nation that seems to be perpetually on the go. Don't become upset if they are not serving you fast enough: trust me, this will only make things worse. My advice is to sit back and enjoy the experience.
I am often asked about tipping. You will want to do some research on the countries you will be visiting because they are not all the same. Most Western European countries do not require a tip because it is already built into the meal's cost. But even in those countries it is common practice if you were satisfied with the meal and service to leave a little something extra, although it is not expected. Most people will round up to the nearest euro and leave that as a tip.
Another common dining complaint is about water -- yes, water. In most U.S. restaurants a waiter will quickly fill up a glass of ice water before you even order your food. This is not the case in Europe. In fact, if your waiter asks "what you would like to drink?" and you reply "water," be prepared to pay for a very expensive bottle of water. You have to specifically ask for tap water, but be forewarned: not all restaurants will bring you tap water.
Restaurants are not the only place to find Europe's culinary delights -- some of my best meals have been on the street. Not only can you find some of the tastiest foods there, but also some of the cheapest. A similar scene can be found here in Portland with its vast number of food carts.
Lastly, savor every bite. Who knows the next time you will be in Paris eating a crepe in front of the Eiffel Tower, a bratwurst in the Swiss village of Zermatt, or a gelato on Rome's Spanish Steps?