6 Tips for Gaming the Restaurant Menu

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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.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

Face masks are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind, designers and manufacturers have answered the call by providing options that are tailored for different lifestyles and fashion tastes. Almost every mask below is on sale, so you can find one that fits your needs without overspending.

1. Multicolor 5-pack of Polyester Face Masks; $22 (56 percent off)

Home Essentials

This set of five polyester masks offers the protection you need in a range of colors, so you can coordinate with whatever outfit you're wearing.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. 3D Comfort Masks 5-Pack; $20 (25 percent off)

Brio

The breathable, stretchy fabric in these 3D masks makes them a comfortable option for daily use.

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3. Reusable Face Masks 2-pack; $15 (50 percent off)

Triple Grade

This cotton mask pack is washable and comfortable. Use the two as a matching set with your best friend or significant other, or keep the spare for laundry day.

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4. Active Masks 3-pack; $23 (14 percent off)

RipleyRader

Don’t let masks get in the way of staying active. These double-layer cotton masks are breathable but still protect against those airborne particles.

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5. Washable Protective Cotton Face Masks 2-pack; $13 (35 percent off)

Its All Good

Avoid the accidental nose-out look with this cotton mask that stays snug to your face.

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6. Washable 3D Masks 12-pack; $24 (44 percent off)

Elicto

With this 12-pack of protective masks, you can keep a few back-ups in your car and hand the rest out to friends and family who need them.

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7. Reusable Dust-Proof Mask with 5 Filters; $22 (45 percent off)

Triple Grade

This dust-proof mask can filter out 95 percent of germs and other particles, making it a great option for anyone working around smoke and debris all day, or even if you're just outside mowing the lawn.

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8. Reusable Fun Face Cover / Neck Gaiter (Flamingo); $20

Designer Face Covers

Channel some tropical energy with this flamingo fabric neck gaiter. The style of this covering resembles a bandana, which could save your ears and head from soreness from elastic loops. Other designs include a Bauhaus-inspired mask and this retro look.

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9. Seamless Bandana Mask; $8 (52 percent off)

Eargasm Earplugs

This seamless gaiter-style mask can be worn properly for protection and fashioned up into a headband once you're in the car or a safe space. Plus, having your hair out of your face will help you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth before washing your hands.

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10. Two-Ply "Love" Face Masks 2-Pack; $18 (40 percent off)

Design Safe

These statement masks allow you to have a voice, even if your mouth is covered.

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11. Neoprene/Fleece Neck and Face Mask (Purple); $10 (66 percent off)

Its All Good

This mask will definitely come in handy once winter rolls around. It features a fleece neck, face, and ear covering to keep your mask secure and your face warm.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Are You Overpaying for Your Groceries? The Basket App Will Tell You the Best Place to Shop

She knew the price of those pineapples before she set foot in the store.
She knew the price of those pineapples before she set foot in the store.
Artem Beliaikin, Pexels

If you’re committed to getting the best deal for everything on your grocery list, going shopping can easily turn into a day-long errand that involves hitting several stores around town. With the Basket app, however, you can do all your price-checking beforehand—and pick the one grocery store that’ll save you the most money overall.

After logging in, you choose all the grocery stores within range for your shopping trip. Then you start searching for individual items to add to your basket. Not only will the app show you the cost of each item at all your selected stores, but it’ll also show you how much your entire basket would cost at each store. For example, Fruit Roll-Ups might be more expensive at Walmart than at Target, but if the dozen other items in your basket are cheaper at Walmart, you’re better off heading to Walmart for this particular excursion. And if you're willing and able to visit both stores, you’ll know to save the Fruit Roll-Ups for Target.

Looks like Amanda's heading to Walmart.Basket

Then again, maybe your basket is only a few dollars cheaper at Walmart than at Target, and Walmart is significantly farther from your house. In that case, you might decide the longer drive (and the gas it takes to get there) isn’t worth it. Either way, Basket gives you all the information you need to make the best decision for your situation.

All the prices are submitted by other Basket users, who scan products and enter their prices through the app, so there is a possibility that stores could change prices—or items could be out of stock—by the time you go shopping. That said, the convenience of being able to price-check everything in one handy app just might outweigh the occasional discrepancy.

You can learn more and download Basket here.