How Waiters Read Your Table, WSJ
In my book Allergic Girl, I spend a whole chapter on strategies for dining out with dietary restrictions. It’s called Read The Restaurant and I assert that it is our job to read a restaurant for their ability to serve us safe food. I go through all the steps it takes to get a true reading of how your potential dinner with severe dietary restrictions might go (safely and well is what I hope for and usually get!). However, I didn’t make up this expression. In the foodservice and hospitality industry, servers are trained to "read the table". On February 22, 2012, the Wall Street Journal published an article about how the trend is for more “reading” of your table (not less) even in fast casual restaurants like Denny's or T.G.I. Friday's and what they are trained to read.
“Called "having eyes" for a table, or "feeling" or "reading" the table by restaurant workers, it's how the best waiters know what type of service you prefer before you tell them. From fine dining to inexpensive chains, restaurants are working to make service more individualized as the standard script ('I'm so-and-so and I will be your server tonight") is sounding dated.” - Sarah Nassauer, WSJ
Under the section of the article called “The Signals You May Be Sending” it says:“If you ask about the menu... Food questions are a sign that you either like learning about everything you might eat or you feel lost and need guidance. One menu question could lead to a long, full menu description. If you seem overwhelmed, the waiter might try to steer you toward a particular order."
I’d add in many restaurants in major metropolitan areas, asking specifics about a menu or ingredients in a dish signals to your server that there may be a dietary restriction at the table like food allergies or celiac disease. I say: Be that guest. Ask about the menu, ask about ingredients and get the answers you need before you dine.
First and foremost, and better for everyone, disclose your restrictions and needs in a clear and concise manner before you even step into the restaurant. Read more about how restaurants read you in WSJ. Read more about how to read the restaurant in my book, Allergic Girl.