The restaurant survival guide

Use these insider tips to be a finer — and wiser — diner.
Published 4 September, 2018

We all love eating out, but it can be tricky navigating a menu for the healthiest choices, along with tackling oversized restaurant portions.

It's hard to monitor the ingredients and means of preparation, which often means high fat and calories.

Armed with the following info, however, you can stay in control of what you eat — even when you're out. 

If you have a favourite restaurant, check out our Point guides to Nando's, KFC, McDonald's and more!

Beware of these menu items...

What's French for “loaded with calories”? These words are hints that a dish contains plenty of Points values:

au fromage
au gratin
au lait
cream of

Avoid unlucky number 7

Open the menu, and trace a large, imaginary "7" with your finger from edge to edge. Research shows that the average customer's eyes follow this path first upon opening a menu, says Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, New York and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. You'll usually find the items that yield the highest profit (food cost vs. menu price) along the 7 line. The better values will tend to be nearer the left-middle and lower-right corners of the menu.

Hold the butter

Can't resist the bread basket? Use olive oil, not butter. A University of Illinois study of 340 patrons in an Italian restaurant found that those diners who dipped their bread in olive oil ate on average 23 percent less bread than the butter users, and reported feeling full sooner. They escaped the bread basket with 50 fewer calories overall; olive-oil users ate an average of 264 calories in bread and oil, while butter spreaders consumed 319.

Start the right way

Stick with a classic appetiser: get the prawn cocktail and save on Points.

Set menus

Ordering the three-course set menu is generally just super-sizing your meal, says Ruby Bamford, Recipe Nutritionist at WW UK. The automatic addition of a starter and dessert adds Points and is harder to resist—after all, you've paid for them.

Keep greens lean

Salads are good-for-you choices, but sometimes the wrong dressing choice can multiply the Points. When possible, order salad dressings and sauces on the side. Dip your fork in, instead of pouring it on, and you'll consume far less without noticing much of a difference in flavour. Here are some things you need to know about popular salad choices:

Cobb salad: It tastes great...because it's loaded with bacon, dressing, egg yolks and blue cheese. 

Caesar salad: Expect to find plenty of Points in the Caesar dressing alone - before the croutons or any other special extras. If the restaurant offers a low fat Caesar dressing on the side, order that with a plain salad, which will likely contain more vegetables.

Chef's salad: There could be 1,000 calories in a bowl of cold cuts. Depending on the types and quantity of meats, cheeses and dressings the restaurant uses, it could vary vastly.

Crispy-topped salads: Adding Asian crispy noodles or crunchy croutons to your salad? They can add a ton of Points to your meal.

Ace the main event

1. Redefine surf and turf 

Steamed fish and grilled chicken breast are the champs of sea and land. But be careful: "'grilled' can mean it was 'grilled' in a frying pan with oil.  Ask for it to be grilled without oil.

2. Halve it your way

Cut your entrée in half as soon as it arrives and put it aside - don't be shy about asking for leftovers to be popped in a doggy bag to take home. What's left on your plate will probably still be larger than a standard portion size.

3. Enjoy a healthier dessert

If you like to end a restaurant meal with a shared dessert for the table, go for the sorbet. Or, save up your rollovers and weeklies in advance and order your favourite dessert!