There’s more to American food than burgers and hot dogs (although you will come across some amazing examples of these if you want). The large cities will have every kind of food you can imagine and a few that you can’t, whilst each region of the US will have it’s own local specialty from incredible seafood on the New England coast to the spicy Cajun dishes of Louisiana. It’s incredibly easy to eat well and for a reasonable sum in restaurants, cafes and diners and it can be more cost effective than buying fresh produce in a supermarket.
Tipping is part of life in the US. Many service staff get paid almost nothing and most of their income comes from tips. It is only acceptable not to tip if service has been so poor as to warrant a complaint. The standard tip in bars, restaurants, taxis, hairdressers, salons etc is 20% with more for particularly good service. You may see the service charge added to the bill in some areas popular with European tourists but otherwise you need to remember to add it.
If you are eating out in anything other than top end restaurants the food comes very quickly and if you order more than one course, the second can often arrive before you finish the first. This is reflective of what Americans consider good service (fast) but you can explain to your server if you would like to wait between courses.
Restaurant servings in the US can be very large. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for a doggy bag for your leftovers.
The legal age for the purchase and consumption of alcohol is 21 and is enforced strictly across the states, so strictly that people who are clearly over the legal age limit are often asked to provide ID anyway. Sadly this has never happened to me, but my sister was asked constantly on her last visit (obviously this is because she looks very youthful although being a little older than 21) so it can be worth carrying a passport with you if you have concerns about being asked. It’s not advisable to purchase alcohol on behalf of other members of your party who are under 21 since this is illegal and punishments are severe.
As a general rule we try and avoid chain restaurants, but they can be very handy when you have turned up in a new place and haven’t had the chance to find out where is good to eat. If nothing else you will know you will get fed!
We have talked about the chains in our Traveling with Kids guide to eating and drinking but thought it was probably worth mentioning similar information here. For those of you who are fans of the Big Bang Theory, the Cheesecake Factory is a real restaurant chain, as is Olive Garden. I know at least one person who was quite excited by that fact, just hope Penny is not looking after you.
Anyway, back to the chains. All of them tend to be open pretty much all day & serve most meals, but to try and break it down a little I have grouped them by meal.
If you are looking for breakfast IHOP (International House of Pancakes) is a good bet. Some people like Denny’s for breakfast / brunch too. I am not a huge fan, but it is inexpensive and the portions are huge. The Cheesecake Factory also has an extensive brunch menu with the added bonus of mimosas (otherwise known as buck’s fizz).
For lunch options, Panera Bread does a wide range of sandwiches, soups and salads, as does Au Bon Pain, and Cracker Barrel has a very broad menu.
If you are looking for dinner, there are endless options. Some of the establishments that you will find pretty much everywhere are;
- Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar
- The Cheesecake Factory
- Chilli’s Grill and Bar
- Mimi’s Café
- Olive Garden
- Red Lobster
- Red Robin
- Ruby Tuesday’s
- Texas Roadhouse
Some stores have a policy of asking absolutely everyone for ID when they buy alcohol. This did however, make my Mum’s day when she was carded on buying a bottle of wine in my local Target. We didn’t have the heart to tell her why…….