You may have noticed that the world is weird and dark and largely devoid of joy or any readily apparent meaning. You may have also noticed that all of those things appear to be getting worse at an alarmingly rapid pace. In these troubled times, one has to take comfort wherever they can find it.
For me, that place is the menu on the website of any restaurant at which I plan to dine — safely and distantly, probably at a makeshift two-top on the sidewalk — in the near future.
Looking at the menu ahead of time is the foreplay of dining out. It’s a way of building anticipation for the main event while also reveling in the pure thrill that is the experience of desire itself.
Also like foreplay, it is secretly better than the headlining act it precedes. Eating food is not the height of the dining-out experience. The true climax of eating out, as the amount of memes and tweets dedicated to this moment suggests, happens when you first see the waiter coming toward your table from across the room and suspect, then confirm, that they are approaching with your food in hand. The minute you put silverware to food is the beginning of the end. The real joy of dining is in everything that precedes it, beginning with a thoughtful menu perusal.
Looking at the menu online ahead of time extends that experience, allowing us to linger a little longer in a suspended state of joyful anticipation before the inevitable comedown. However, this cherished practice, dubbed “menu-peeping” by writer Hannah Smothers, fell into some disrepute late last summer when it became the unfairly maligned subject of multiple scathing op-eds.
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Smothers was first, taking to Cosmopolitan to lament her boyfriend’s menu-peeping habits, followed closely by Nick Mancall-Bitel’s tale of finding liberation in abandoning his premature menu-gazing ways for Eater.
For both writers, maintaining the element of surprise is a crucial part of the dining-out experience, with Mancall-Bitel arguing that going in menu-blind “heightens your senses and allows you to form unbiased gut impressions” about the menu selections, and Smothers expressing a desire “to get unreasonably excited about whatever the menu might hold during the buildup.”
Again, while I myself am a loyal, loud and proud menu-peeper who will continue to peep menus on my deathbed just in case the afterlife has a restaurant, it’s not for me to tell anyone else where or how to seek joy in the apocalyptic hellscape that is life on earth. If avoiding the menu is a better distraction from the void for you, by all means, hold onto that momentary illusion of escape and abuse it for all its worth.
But there is one scenario in which I advise always looking ahead at the menu, for reasons completely unrelated to existential dread. On a first date, menu-peeping is not only permissible, but highly advisable. Even Smothers is willing to consider lifting her firm anti-menu-peeping stance for such an occasion, admitting that she probably wants “to spend more time focusing on the conversation and less thinking about the fart potential of each entrée.”
But gastrointestinal emissions are far from the only first-date faux pas a simple pre-date menu-peep can help circumvent. Looking at the menu on a date is secretly somewhat difficult to execute smoothly, especially on a first date, when you feel hyper-obligated to avoid any dreaded awkward silences by maintaining both eye contact and engaging conversation on a near-constant basis.
Best-case scenario, you’re both so instantly enthralled with each other you forget to even look at the menu and end up having to say, “Oh sorry, we need another minute” five times to the server, which sucks for them and makes you look more like inconsiderate assholes than the besotted lovers you fancy yourselves. More likely scenario: whatever momentum your standard lackluster-to-mediocre first date may have gets halted while the two of you awkwardly skim the menu, get flustered and ultimately end up ordering something you probably don’t even really want that much.
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Both can be avoided if you simply go in with a plan. As we’ve discussed, women love a man with a plan, and that extends to the menu. Being able to order efficiently makes it look like you’re a competent human who can make informed decisions about what they put in their body. Women like that in a potential romantic partner. You don’t have to have your whole meal planned out, especially if you’re going to a tapas-style place where your date will need to have a say in what’s ordered. But going in with at least a sense of your options and a few top picks will help you avoid a lot of unnecessarily flustered menu perusal that would be better spent gazing into your date’s eyes or whatever.
Having your ordering plan nailed down ahead of time will put you at ease, which will put your date at ease. And if they foolishly failed to perform the ever-crucial pre-date menu-peep themselves? A little familiarity with the menu will allow you to sweep in and help out with some (non-mansplainy) suggestions.
This is a good practice to execute whether you’re going out for an extravagant four-course dining experience or just grabbing drinks at the bar. Even if you’re someone who has a fairly standard drink order, it’s still worth double-checking online to make sure they have whatever brand of beer you like so your date doesn’t end up internalizing your disappointment when the bartender tells you they don’t have it. We have the technology to avoid these things. Use it.
Also, life is short. The end times are nigh. If it provides even a fleeting moment of hope in the abyss, just go ahead and look at the goddamn menu online.