Recently, while I was dining out, there was a table of folks nearby. One member of their party was a new adopter of the ketogenic (keto) diet. He was pretty animated as he discussed it, so we could overhear a lot of the conversation. And he didn’t settle for boring his companions with a constant stream of Charlie-Brown’s-teacher-esque chatter – he also pestered the server with questions. So many questions. Questions that ranged from super basic stuff he should know (“Now, I’m doing keto, so I can’t have bread, right?”) to the ultimate weirdness when he gasped as she placed his dish in front of him and said “Oh. My. God. Does black pepper have carbs in it?”
Each time she came to the table, or was even passing by the table, he’d have a question. Every interaction was a mini-inquisition. “Does your ketchup have sugar in it?” “Excuse me, ma’am, can you tell me if your ice cream is keto-friendly?” “Can you ask the kitchen if the muffaleta relish has real olive oil or just vegetable oil, or both?” Lika a mosquito. Incessant. Annoying.
By now, some of you are saying to yourself “Thank goodness I’m not ‘that guy’,” while others are probably thinking “So what’s the big deal? She should answer all his questions, he’s the paying guest!” which is fair, to a degree. Dining out is a social contract – with your companions, and with the restaurant staff. It’s integral that the staff should be able to answer questions about what they serve, within reason. If a server doesn’t know the answer, they should be able to find someone else on staff who does.
No diet is perfect. The very word diet has become synonymous with self-denial, so we’re all uncomfortable when we’re on one. And keto is a particular challenge, because unlike other diets in which a splurge every once in a great while won’t disrupt your progress too much, if you screw up on keto it can be a major setback to your weight loss plan. Does that mean you should just stay home for months eating nothing but bowl after bowl of zoodles with hot sauce? Of course not.
The keto diet has become so popular, a lot of restaurants have developed specific menu items to accommodate it. They know which side their cauliflower avocado toast is buttered on. It’s good business in action, and servers all over have had to learn the ground rules of keto, along with those of gluten-free and low-carb diets, so they should be able to answer basic questions. But when you get down to the minutiae of the ingredients in condiments, staff knowledge understandably starts to get a little sketchy. I’m sure if you ask at the French Laundry your server can probably tell you how many grams of carbs are in a tablespoon of their house-made aioli, but at Francine’s Beauty Spot and Cafe, their house-made aioli is made by adding “mix-ins” to commercial mayonnaise, so your question sends Doyle the line cook back to the walk-in in his paper hat to squint at the label on a gallon of Hellmann’s. It’s not scientific, and you might not get the right answer.
So you also have to educate yourself before you go. Most restaurants have an online menu; use it. That cauliflower crust pizza sounds tasty, but there’s likely to be sugar in the tomato sauce. Salad is great for keto, but the dressing might not be. When in doubt, skip it. If, after reading the online menu, you have a set of very specific questions, consider calling the restaurant (not during dinner rush!) or emailing them your list a few days in advance so you’ll be forearmed with the info when you’re seated. This will make your entire experience more enjoyable for you, your friends, the patrons surrounding you, and your server. And, without a doubt, a happy server provides better service than a miserable one.
Finally, if you are a bit of a keto-mosquito, at least adhere to the diet as faithfully as possible, so your server doesn’t feel like she suffered a lot of interrogation for nothing. If you’ve spent the whole meal picking apart the menu for keto-friendly options, please don’t order a rum and Diet Coke and bread pudding for dessert, or the eye-rolling in the kitchen will be heard ’round the world.
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.