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Tips for taking notes of dishes during meal

Hi fellow epicureans,

I was wondering for those that like to update blog posts or write down what they had to write reviews later on, are you allowed to bring a small notepad to write down the dish you had and any comments on it?

I have made reservations to dine at Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire and Tour d'Argent later this month and I was hoping to write a review on the dishes I've tried, so was wondering if its normal to take notes or ask for a menu? How do you normally take notes to remember what you had?


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  1. "are you allowed to bring a small notepad to write down the dish you had and any comments on it?"


    "if its normal to take notes"

    Most people don't take notes. Is that what you mean? Or do you mean if it is permitted? The answer would be yes.

    "or ask for a menu?"

    Again, i don't think most diners ask for a menu to keep. But if you mean if it is permitted, the answer is yes. I do rarely, but did once and was initially refused, at the old Fogon when it was still fréquentable. Turns out it was the waitstaff who did not dare make a decision. The manager came over and told me by all means.
    More recently at Atelier Rabanel, I asked for a menu, and the somelier took down my email and told me he would email the carte to me, which he actually never did.
    Conclusion: you don't ask, you don't get.
    How do you normally take notes to remember what you had?"

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Thanks for the replies on this one, it is something that hasn't occured to me until now. I'm planning in bringing a small Moleskine notebook to jot down ideas/thoughts during the meal, as one tends to forget every single dish after a 3 hour meal.

      Normally, I would type up what I remember onto my phone once I leave the restaurant, but especially with the meal at Pierre, I was thinking it would be hard to match up with each dish.

      It would be nice to get the menu not only to know the dishes we tasted, but also to keep for the memory. I agree, if you don't ask, you definitely wont get, so definitely wont hurt to ask.

    2. I have been using a notepad program on my iPhone since they were invented. Most discreet way of taking notes. Now I use Evernote, even better since I can sync it with my computer.

      I also take quick photos (Lumix GF1 with pancake lens, setting "food" or "intelligent auto", works every time) to fixate my memory of the dish. NEVER any flash. Never a DSLR.
      No iPad or voice recorder, ever. Use small stuff.

      I used to ask for menus when I worked for the Lebey, but I don't like attracting that sort of attention.
      Best method: choose the right angle from where to stand without being too visible from inside the restaurant, and shoot the menu outside. Or take a snapshot of the chalkboard.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ptipois

        May I add: Pti is lightning fast when it comes to taking a pic, so fast that most other diners do not notice she has taken a pic. It is a nice and polite thing to do, to minimize - or eliminate - the disruption for others. My Asian friends are the worst shutterbugs. Once the neighboring diners actually told my girlfriend to stop the flash-flash-flash-flash-flash-flash-flash-flash-flash-flash…, and they were right. She was being disruptive.
        Likewise, all restaurants in France - including modest bistros - make a point of laying out an attractive table setting. A small notepad is no problem. Some diners feel obliged to push the plates and silverware to the side to make room for all the tech gear. It is a real eye sore.

      2. Do it, but do it on paper (small moleskin notebook is perfect), not on an intelligent phone or tablet, especially in the evening in a dimmed restaurant it will disturb the other people (they light up quite hard !!)

        Do a combination of both photos and text, make it quick and keep it as simple as possible by listing ingredients/taste/flavors.

        Use the images and the "cryptic" text to make a real text when you get home after.

        You might need a second notebook just for Pierre Gagnaire !! :-)


        1 Reply
        1. re: Maximilien

          I have used the Moleskine notebooks for years before i started using the iPhone, and believe me, they attract attention far more than an intelligent phone, which is why I switched to digital. Nobody notices it when you type on an Iphone, since the entire universe is doing it now. They think you're only texting someone or checking your mail. Sad to say but handwriting is vanishing (not to mention that people like me who type a lot have nearly lost the ability for it).

          Tablet of course is a no-no. Might as well bring a large chalkboard and a box of chalk.

          For Pierre Gagnaire I think you'd need a leatherbound 350-page volume, or a desktop computer on MS-DOS.

          @Parigi: yes indeed, there is a way of melting into the scenery when you take photos, and using a flash is not part of it.
          Hence, too, my insistence on using "dumb mode": food setting (so sensible of Panasonic to have thought of that), or IA, which, with the addition of a fast lens, makes you the Speedy Gonzales of food photography.
          I also use a manual lens (25mm 0.95 Nokton) when I also want my photos to be beautiful, but with that training I focus and shoot almost as fast.

        2. I use a very small notebook, and don't ask permission, wouldn't occur to me to do so any more than I'd ask permission to talk to my companion, go the bathroom or choose to eat my meal with the "wrong" cutlerly.

          As long as what I'm doing is not disruptive or rude to either fellow diners or staff, I'm not sure being allowed comes into it.

          For photography, I agree, no flash. It's disruptive and produces crappy images in any case. I mostly use a small point and shoot, but occasionally will take my DSLR, though the same rules apple - no flash, quick shot or two only, no rearranging tables, no standing up, no drama. If I'm at a banquette table, it'll sit on the bench beside me. If not it's on the table, but it's one of the small DSLRs, strap removed, so it's not particularly enormous.

          People seem to be self-conscious about notes/ photos but actually, there are many behaviours of other guests that are far more annoying - use of tech that has bright lights, or noises, loud conversations with their companions, people being rude to staff...

          2 Replies
          1. re: Kavey

            In restaurants and in the markets in France, I always ask the restaurant or market vendor if it was ok to take photos. The answer is not always yes. Therefore I myself would always ask.

            1. re: Parigi

              Market vendors etc. absolutely, I would always ask too. Especially if I'm not a customer, but even if I am,. I'm usually looking to take images of things I've not purchased, the stall as a whole or a range of items on it, or even the stall holder. Always ask first on those occasions.

              At a restaurant, I'm mainly taking images of my dish, at my table. Very different, in my opinion.

          2. Back in 2004 when I first started obsessively noting what I ate and losing what little short-term memory I had, I was eating with a 40 y.o. really "hot" food critic and a good friend from Geneva and both of us surreptitiously pulled out identical 7.3x9.0 Rhodia pads to the astonishment of my Swiss friend - "you guys both take notes?" says he. I've since graduated to 10.5.x14.8 in honor of the troisieme age

            1. I have noticed in the past six months a huge increase in the number of people taking pictures of their plates...on their cel phones.

              2 Replies
              1. re: mangeur

                Right Mangeur/Margaret, and the number of Asians doing so are impressive.

                " I always ask the manager or captain on my way out. Some give the day's actual menu." I have recently begun to take pix of said carte's/menu's. But echoing prior comments, if one uses a non-flash, quick-shot camera, it's not a problem, except for the Cottage Marcadet where they had a sh*t fit about my famous companion's taking pix.

                1. re: John Talbott

                  I was actually surprised at the number of locals, young French couples shooting their plates by smart-phone.

              2. Since I am not a restaurant critic or writing a blog, taking note just distracts the pleasure of eating. Right after leaving the restaurant, i furiously jolt down all I can remember. Many places, it is not worth the trouble. The notes later would wind up in my scrape box.
                As for menus for high-end restaurants, if I want one, I ask the manager or captain on my way out. I don't ever remember not receiving some form of a menu. Some give the day's actual menu: ie Arpege, L'Ambrosie; others have sample menus (generally without prices) ie, Guy Savoy, Grand Vefour. Many restaurants such as Pierre Gagnaire include the menu you just ate with the check if it was the prix-fixed lunch or the tasting menu. The first time I ate there (right after they opened in Paris), I asked for the a la carte menu which the captain said it was not their policy. When I was leaving, Pierre Gagnaire came out and we chatted and he handed me one. An interesting experience at Le Calandre, a restaurant in Italy: on the very bottom of the menu, discretely written: if you like a menu, please make a small donation and the restaurant will transfer it to the charity to feed hungry children.

                5 Replies
                1. re: PBSF

                  And some restaurants, like SaQuaNa, give you one to keep at the beginning of service so you can "sing along" as the courses appear.

                  I very much like the menu in exchange for hunger relief concept.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    Wow, that's so awsome PBSF! Since I am just going to Guy Savoy and Pierre for lunch, I'm hopeful but not expecting to meet either of them during the meal, but it would be a great experience.

                    I suppose asking for the menu early on would be even better in that you can then see what dish is when it comes.

                    1. re: ausfoodie

                      Guy Savoy's souvenir kit includes the menu, some chicly boxed mignardises, and a few brochures about how wonderful they are. I'm not sure if it was asked for (mercifully, I wasn't paying) but everyone at our table was presented with one as we left.

                      1. re: ausfoodie

                        Just to keep things in perspective. Hopefully, when one is dining at Guy Savoy or PG or any restaurant, one is going there to enjoy the food and the pleasure of our dining companion. My partner would disown me if I am busy writing during a meal rather than having a intimate conversion with him. If one is dining alone, one can amuse oneself however one pleases.
                        If I am taking the prix fixed lunch, I didn't find I needed a menu ahead of time though I remembered getting one at the beginning at PG. At Guy Savoy, one order three courses from the a la carte menu and at PG, a preset four course. At both, the staff will explain each dish in detail. If GS and PG are not off minding their other restaurants around the world, they will certainly make a round of the dining room. After the meal, if interested one can get a tour of the kitchen at PG.

                        1. re: PBSF

                          Can't speak for others but for my part I'm not "busy writing" during the whole meal. Rather I'll scribble some shorthand reminders at end of each course, often chatting / asking for thoughts from dining partner. About 30 seconds. And occasionally I'll scribble as a course is served if more detail is given than in the menu, that I'd like to remember.
                          Total time very low! Same for quick snaps, and I often take snap of menu too.
                          Majority of meal is definitely focused in eating and talking!

                    2. I also agree on the photo taking, I always turn the shutter noise off (or to silent on my compact point and shoot) and never use flash, to be considerate to other diners.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ausfoodie

                        Ahhhhh, I guess I'm too dumb or old and my pix are sometimes blurry, but I just set my Finepix or Lumix to Food shots, no flash and do it. Nike had it right.