1. Start at the bar. Try having a meal there. Chat with the bartender; introduce yourself to the Maitre d’ and get her or his card. Ask if the owner is around and introduce yourself.
2. Ask the waiter to ask the chef two questions: First -- what does everyone order? Second -- what does almost no one order, but the chef thinks everyone should? Then order them both. Chefs want to show off their popular dishes, but often have an item on the menu they are really proud of and want people to try.
3. Be one of the first customers. If you read local food-blogs, or visit sites like chow.com or zagat.com, you’ll know what’s opening and who’s opening it. If it sounds good, go. Businesses treasure their first customers.
4. If you like it, come back for two more meals that very week.
5. Be forgiving. Even VIPs sometimes have to wait, get spilled on, or get the wrong dish. VIPs are often simply people who were good sports when all didn’t go as planned. You can score major points by not making a big deal about it or using it as an excuse to try to score freebies.
6. Send compliments to the chef -- especially when you are specific about what you like. It’s almost always appreciated. If you really love the place, send a note to the chef. Very few people do this.
7. Tip 25 percent if you like the place and got pretty good service. At very fancy restaurants, tip the Maitre d’ as well. If you can’t afford to tip properly, then you can’t afford that restaurant. Go someplace you can afford.
8. Choose the cheapest wine. Or choose a wine you know and like. Or one that intrigues you. Or just ask for help. But don’t choose the second cheapest wine, unless it’s a wine you know and like -- the second cheapest is sometimes a bad deal put specifically on the wine list for all the people who don’t know wine, don’t want to ask, but don’t want to look cheap by ordering the cheapest.
9. Ask to be treated like a VIP. It works. Tell them you’ll come there a lot if you can be pretty sure that you will be nicely looked after.