First things first, very few prices displayed include tax. It's slightly annoying until you get used to it, but to estimate you should know that in New York City it's 8.875%, so if you are tremendously good at maths, you may have a chance!
Most importantly, a “hero” is a big roll. It confused me a lot at the start being asked “do you want that on a hero”. More questions about ordering a salad or a sandwich? Click here!
That being said, here are a few tips for everything else.
Dining & Drinking Out
Especially in New York, people here eat relatively late and eat out often. Work in many offices starts late so dinner doesn't start for most until at least 7:30 if not 8:30-9. It's going to be busy and most places serve well into the evening so there's not too much issue with things like the kitchen closing.
Two things of note that are significantly different from what you might be used to:
- When you arrive, there will be someone near the entrance known as the “Host”. This is the person you can request a table from (or may have to leave your details with if they are busy), and will sit you and give you your menus. They will then introduce you to your waiter. This is the only person who will take ALL of your orders (food and drink) and deliver your meals. There are then “bussers” who will clear plates at the end of your meal with the waiter. Each person has a role, and will not stray out of that position. At a restaurant you generally cannot order from different waiters, just your own. If you sit at a bar (or in a very small venue), the bartender is who will take all your orders, and who you will ultimately be tipping, and you can leave your tip each round.
- Another thing you will notice though is that people don't sit at restaurants for long, especially once you've finished eating. When that last plate is cleared (which will be as soon as you look done), someone will arrive asking if you'd like the check (“bill”). Generally it is expected that you move on to the bar or another venue. Don't feel pressured though, if you want to sit and chat for a little bit, just communicate that and, as always, be polite!
Here's the big one:
Tipping in America
You have to tip. No questions about it. So make sure you do it properly and don't over or under tip!
Splitting the Check in America
Split checks (“bills”) are welcome in almost all venues and can either be asked for before you get it so it comes split, or you can just put down multiple cards/cash and explain what want to be done done.
That being said, I've written an article based on feedback I got which definitely prioritizes bringing cash, even splits, and no more than three cards! Check it out, I always love being proved wrong and love the feedback.
Bookings and Groups
Some places will take bookings, using apps like Open Table, but lots will just take walk-ins.
If you have a big group (4+) call ahead as many places simply can't accommodate this without pre-warning.
While I remember, you choose to “for here” or “to go” when you're ordering anything, just to save some embarrassment in your future.
There are some awesome apps and websites, for getting food including Seamless, UberEats and more. Click here to see our whole list.
Tip your delivery person either using the app or in cash when they arrive. Again, something around the 15-20% is fair. Most importantly, if you've ordered takeout because the weather outside is horrific: Tip more (sometimes lots – e.g. blizzards).
Yep, you've probably already worked out that coffee here is a little different.
Ordering “a coffee” is a drip/filter coffee and can be achieved at almost anywhere. In some places, to be completely fair, it's fine when fresh and you'll get used to it. You order simply by size (e.g. “Small coffee, please”).
The key is to search for “espresso” as opposed to “coffee”. Two very different things here and you'll probably prefer the espresso places over the coffee places.
A cheeky $1 for a tip or your change is completely fair. Most people will say that they tip their regular place, and if they're somewhere away from home they won't, but this one I feel is a bit more of a personal choice.
Beer, wine, and liquor
Coming from South Australia, the wine is a bit of a shock. There are good ones, but there are also lots of bad ones. On average, it's going to cost you a bit more than you're used to, to get something you'll love.
Beer is sold at delis, and bodegas (corner stores who make delicious sandwiches). It's generally sold by the 6 pack and prices are pretty standard.
Wine and spirits are sold at wine bars or liquor stores, and there's a bit of a renaissance happening at the moment with how that works. Most places are just jam packed with wine and you have to know something about it, however there are new places opening up all the time that are taking a bit more care with what they sell.
I can recommend Discovery Wines in the East Village for something delicious and lots of great help.
In New York, supermarkets are small and densely packed. You will find most of what you're looking for and it should be relatively the same as what you got back in Australia.
If you're ordering deli meats, you order by the pound: 225g is “half a pound”.
The people at the checkouts are much quieter and less engaging with you, but I still like to say “Hello” when I arrive, because I personally think it's really imporatnt. You don't need to tip.
Everything you buy will be put into a double plastic bagged bag. Why? This guy still doesn't know or understand.
Some of the stores you'll find:
- Associated – Basically the bigger, general supermarket, normally more range than some others;
- Fairway – A quality grocer and supermarket
- C-Town & Key Food – A slightly cheaper but generally just as stocked version of Associated, good for a bargain.
- Trader Joe's – A great value, self-branded product store with a huge range and great quality (also do wines, which are sometimes very hit and miss – this website can help)
- Whole Foods – Think of Whole Foods as the slightly snobby and up-market version of a supermarket. Huge range, great quality, but you'll pay a slight premium.
Bread is one thing that you'll discover is very difficult to find, so I've written you a guide with the help of some fantastic contributors! I've also written a guide and created a map of where to buy other things you might be looking for from Australia and abroad.