Why don't diners ask more questions? / by Paula Hardie

A recent dining experience in East Brisbane left me mulling this question over and over in my mind. The waiter announced the white fish option on the menu was Mulloway and, as I’d just finished reading Dan Barber’s Sea chapter in his book The Third Plate, the responsibility (and curiosity) to question where the Mulloway came from nibbled at my freshly reinstated awareness of sustainable fishing practices.

Yet, even as the waiter prompted our table for queries, the question felt too forthright or nosey to put forward in such a casual setting; like when you accidentally find yourself conversationally cornered with a heavy topic. Certainly, every now and then one might ask for the translation of a particular French or Italian word, which can have a flattering effect on the proficient waiter. But asking where, how, (or even why) an ingredient made it onto the menu seems to be a less conventional dining habit.

Questioning where your food comes from, and under what conditions it was grown in or cared for, should not feel as though it carries weight. There is, in policy, a right to know where our food comes from, yet there is less transparency in our dining experiences than there could be. In most all cases, restaurant menus describe wine variety and origins but only rarely do we see restaurant menus celebrating the origins of it's ingredients. 

Barber says waiters are, "ambassadors for the chefs and the restaurant and emissaries for the diner. Waiters hold the responsibility to translate the restaurant's values (Barber 2014, 337)." Diners hold equal responsibility to translate their ecological values into consumer values (and demands). Making queries opens up a line of communication between chef and customer. In fact, the author, journalist, activist, and professor, Michael Pollan, is convinced that the more questions asked, the more likely money will be spent on food with a defensible story behind it. Pollan calls this, "voting with your fork" (Pollan 2015).

An instructional how-to-order guide for your benefit


Barber, Dan. 2014. The Third Plate: Field Notes of the Future of Food. New York: Penguin Books.

Pollan, Michael. 2015. Goodreads. Viewed 7th April, 2016.