6 Tips for Gaming the Restaurant Menu

iStock
iStock

There’s always that one person in every group who orders the best dish at the restaurant, while you're stuck looking at a sad plate of wilted greens or over-sauced fish. That’s because there are actually tricks to deciphering a menu and figuring out the best thing to order—no matter where you are. Chefs and restaurant professionals share their tips for scoring the perfect meal.

1. SKIP THE RECYCLED DISHES.

If you’re at a burger joint, don’t order the beef tacos, says Laura Soncrant, owner of The Growling Rabbit in Chicago. And if you’re at a barbecue place, don’t order the pork pasta. “They’re trying to get rid of what doesn’t sell any other way,” she tells Mental Floss. So the burger place will use its leftover meat in burritos, tacos, or a pasta sauce, Soncrant says. You’re essentially eating leftovers at that point.

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Go onto the restaurant’s Yelp page. At the top, the site always pulls out key words that reviewers use over and over again when describing their experience at the restaurant, says Stephen Varela, manager at Villa Berulia restaurant in New York. At his restaurant, for example, reviewers on Yelp often write about the chicken parmesan or the flourless chocolate cake—so these words are highlighted at the top of Villa Berulia’s Yelp page. “These are the dishes that everyone is talking about, so you know that you should be trying them when you come into the restaurant,” Varela says.

3. TAKE A CHANCE ON THE SPECIALS.

Often, the chef will have a vendor who gets a great batch of a certain ingredient (say, beets). "It looks great and fresh, and I say, 'Let me create a dish and see if people are interested in it,'" says Amy Le, co-owner and executive chef of Saucy Porka and Spotted Monkey in Chicago. "A lot of times, it's experimental—it depends on your personality as a diner, if you like to try new things." You can always come back to the restaurant and try the staples over and over again, but if you want to be daring, you can try the specials that may not last, Le says.

4. SEEK OUT HOMEMADE DISHES.

"Scan the menu for these phrases: 'house-made,' 'from scratch,' 'homemade,'" says Soncrant. "These show that the kitchen is doing something from scratch, and it makes a big difference."

5. TALK TO YOUR SERVER.

Don’t ask your server what the most popular dish is, Varela says. Ask what his favorite dish is – or just trust the chef. "Some of our regulars don't even bother looking at the menu," Varela says. "They just ask the servers to tell the chef to make them something delicious and fresh." Since the waiter works for tips and since the chef is flattered by the responsibility, you’re guaranteed to get a fabulous meal this way, Varela says.

6. LOOK AT PHOTOS.

Reading reviews—by both customers and professional critics—is a no-brainer for savvy restaurant-goers. But Varela takes the extra step of checking out the restaurant’s Instagram page prior to dining so he’ll be to be lured by the photos. "I check out the pictures and look at the comments," he says. Part of dining is having all your senses seduced, and this is an easy way to guarantee that it'll work out.

This Nifty Potato Chip Bag Hack Is Amazing the Internet

Keep that crispy, crunchy freshness inside the bag—no tools needed.
Keep that crispy, crunchy freshness inside the bag—no tools needed.
etiennevoss/iStock via Getty Images

If you don’t have enough chip clips to keep your snack bags shut—or if you have a habit of misplacing them—there’s no shortage of household items you can use instead. Clothespins, binder clips, rubber bands, and ponytail holders all get the job done, and you could even use an especially durable paper clip or bobby pin in a pinch.

But, as many people on the internet just discovered, all you actually need to seal your half-eaten bag of potato chips is the bag itself. Last week, actor and host of Bravo’s Top Chef Padma Lakshmi posted a video on Twitter of her tightly closing a bag of Fritos without any makeshift chip clips.

First you fold the two sides of the bag down as far as they’ll go, so the top of the bag is shaped like a triangle—similar to how you’d wrap a present. Then, roll up the bottom of that triangle a few times until you’ve created a pocket, under which you can tuck the triangle’s point. After that, simply roll the top of the bag down a few times, and you’ve successfully sealed the bag.

At the end of the video, Lakshmi turns the bag upside down and gives it a few shakes to show everyone just how secure it is. She tweeted the hack with the caption “How am I just finding out about this now?” and, considering that the video has been viewed more than 10 million times, it’s safe to say that she’s not the only one who didn’t know about the hack.

Wondering what other life hacks you might be missing out on? Find out how to chill a soda in three minutes, remove scratches on CDs, and more here.

6 Fun Backgrounds to Use on Your Next Video Call

You might be stuck in the living room, but it doesn't have to look like it.
You might be stuck in the living room, but it doesn't have to look like it.
Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re struggling to find a perfectly decorated wall in your house to serve as the backdrop for your video calls with friends, family, and coworkers, we have good news: Video conferencing platform Zoom lets you customize your very own virtual background.

To do it, log into your Zoom account, go to “Settings” on the left side of your screen, and choose the "Meeting" tab. Scroll down to the “In Meeting (Advanced)” section, and then scroll down farther to make sure the “Virtual background” option is enabled. After that, open the Zoom application on your desktop, click on the “Settings” wheel in the upper right corner, and go to “Virtual Background.” There are a few automatic options, but you can choose your own image from your computer files by clicking on the plus-sign icon.

Now, the only thing left to do is decide which image will best set the tone for your next video call. From the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room to Schitt’s Creek’s Rosebud Motel, here are six of our favorites.

1. The Rosebud Motel lobby from Schitt’s Creek

schitt's creek rose motel lobby
It's not the Ritz-Carlton.
CBC

You can imagine that David is just out of frame, doing his best to carry on a silent—albeit with lots of expressive gesturing—conversation with Stevie at the front desk. (More Schitt's Creek backgrounds here.)

2. Carl and Ellie’s house from Up

carl and ellie's house from up
Balloons not included.
Walt Disney Pictures

If you’re hoping to create a calming atmosphere, look no further than the cozy little sitting room where Carl and Ellie grew old together in 2009's Up. (More Pixar backgrounds here.)

3. The attic study from Knives Out

knives out attic study
Nothing bad has ever happened here.
Lionsgate

If your own study isn’t quite teeming with intriguing souvenirs and leather-bound volumes, feel free to borrow this one from the mansion in 2019’s Knives Out. (More Knives Out backgrounds here.)

4. The USS Enterprise from Star Trek

star trek's uss enterprise bridge
A great way to get your coworkers to fess up to being huge Trekkies.
TrekCore.com, Twitter

Blame your spotty internet connection on the fact that you’re traveling through the galaxy at the speed of light with this background from the bridge of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. (More Star Trek backgrounds here.)

5. The New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room

new york public library reading room
You reserve the right to shush any coworkers who forgot to mute themselves.
New York Public Library

Bibliophiles who can’t make it to the library can still pay a virtual visit to the sumptuous Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library’s iconic Fifth Avenue location. (More New York Public Library backgrounds here.)

6. The Werk Room from RuPaul’s Drag Race

rupaul's drag race werk room
Sashay away from the screen if you're taking a bathroom break during the call.
VH1

Dazzle your coworkers by calling in from the vibrant room where all the magic—and most of the drama—happens on RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you happen to be decked out in an ensemble made entirely of things you found at the Dollar Store, even better. (More RuPaul's Drag Race backgrounds here.)

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