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Lessons from California Restaurant Month

The best thing about California Restaurant Month is that you got to have amazing, high-end meals at close-to-fast-food prices (OK, not that close, but come on). The problem is that to truly take advantage of it, you had to clean your plate, or at least try a little (lot) of everything. By the end of the month, pants started to get tight. Really tight.

Here are some dubious, but possibly helpful, lessons learned from Restaurant Month to apply to any fine dining experience, all while leaving your fat pants at home:

Tip #1: Before you take a bite, ask your waiter to stick half of your meal into a to-go container. If you are intimidated by how fabulously chic the restaurant is and can’t bring yourself to utter the words “doggy bag,” keep Tupperware in your handbag (or, for the fellas, your murse), and just slide that risotto right in there when no one’s looking. Also, make sure your bag is plastic lined. You do not want to see what risotto does to leather if things go awry.

Tip #2: Go with a friend who’s a picky eater. While you order the lightest, healthiest item on the menu, urge him or her to go nuts. Say things like, “Treat yourself! When was the last time you had butter-soaked filet mignon coated in a layer of double-fried onion strings? Yummy, yummy!” When your picky-eater pal starts pushing food around on the plate, swoop in. If you didn’t order it, the calories don’t count, right?

Tip #3: Eat slowly. Even if you’re there because the restaurant is offering a special on halibut, that doesn’t mean you should cram down your delicious food and hurriedly skulk out. If you time your reservation right, you can make your late lunch last until dinner!

Tip #4: Remember “When Harry Met Sally”? Make your server crazy with changes. Order everything on the side, ask if there’s a secret menu “like In-N-Out burger,” and find out if there’s butter in everything (Hint: There is always butter in everything). By the time you actually order, you may be so sick of thinking about food you won’t be hungry anymore. This is an advantage, especially if you are such an incredible pain that your food ends up tasting faintly of the wall your server has thrown it against.

Tip #5: Ask even more questions of your server. Find out if the chicken is free-range, organic and cage-free. Ask if the chicken has a name and where it came from. Then order the vegetarian meal. For possible drawbacks, see previous tip.

Tip #6: For the week before your reservation, try a juice fast. By the time your big outing rolls around, you will have come face-to-face with hunger pains and persevered, so you might find previously undiscovered reserves of self-control when faced with a crispy pork belly stuffed with spinach and goat cheese. Unfortunately, you may also be hallucinating that your spouse has become a giant Twinkie and that you can speak in languages you’ve never heard.

Tip #7: Have a drink before you arrive at the restaurant. Once you arrive, have many more. Ask your server to take away your car keys. Tell your server he or she will need to read the menu to you, as you have lost the ability to read. Ask the server to be your best friend. Tell your server you love him or her. Ask for a bread basket, as you need something to soak up the alcohol burning a hole in your stomach. Give your server your credit card and ask him or her to go shopping to pick up something nice for a tip, as you would prefer to give something more personal than money. Forget to order food. Ask your server to call you an Uber. Warning: This tip is not recommended.

These are just some of our not-so-recommended restaurant hacks to help you minimize the impact on your waistline while still enjoying fine dining at (almost) fast food prices. Put (a few of) them to the test and see what the Tri-Valley has to offer.