Travel to the USA and you arrive in the land of slow-cooked, full on flavour, deliciously decadent food. From barbecues and smokeries to street food and silver service, the USA is home to a fantastic fusion of flavours, where southern, northern and international flavours meet.

Whatever your dining style, here is a everything you need to know about eating out in the US. Make sure that chowing down is an experience you relish.

eating out in USA

Portion sizes matter

If you’re eating out in the USA, you’ll soon realise that there is no such thing as that elusive ‘normal-sized portion’. When the first meal I ordered arrived, I genuinely wondered whether I’d been given a sharing platter instead! Only the bravest of diners will manage to devour multiple courses – it would be like having a Thanksgiving Day meal every time you went out to a restaurant to eat!

eating out in USA

Fast food rules

And I’m not just talking about all the burger joints and diners! Of course it varies wildly depending on where you choose to go when eating out, but don’t be surprised if you feel rushed. Remember that you’re not at a competitive eating contest, so don’t wolf down your food unless you really want to, whatever the servers’ faces might be saying! Turning tables over is important for their business, but so is your dining experience. If you wanted fast food, you’d be at the drive through or takeaway, not in a bistro or restaurant.

eating out in USA

Etiquette for tips

When eating out in the USA, tips should not be whatever spare change you have leftover. Its customary here for diners to leave an additional 20% of their bill. It’s also pretty much expected that you’ll do so, which makes sense when you consider that many waiters and waitresses earn minimum wage in some states.

Drinks on tap

One of the brilliant things about eating out in America is that you’ll often buy one drink and get refills free. If your venue of choice has this on the menu, then kick back, chow down and drink up. You can have as many soft drinks as you like!

eating out in USA

Don’t forget breakfast

When you’re hitting the road for the next leg of your road trip or simply spending the day exploring, a good breakfast is essential. You want to have enough energy to fuel an entire day of sightseeing or travelling.

Luckily, breakfast destinations proliferate in the USA. You could easily pass hundreds of restaurants serving pancakes with maple syrup or French toast. Sugary concoctions like chocolate chip pancakes, waffles with strawberries and ice cream and pastries abound. Ending breakfast on a sweet, sugary high is not an uncommon sensation in America!

eating out in USA

The chances are if you’re reading this you’re planning a trip to America. Why not take inspiration from my road trip across the USA? You can read about the first leg of the journey here, cruising through California here, and heading to the Grand Canyon here!

Have you got any stories about eating out in the USA? I’d love to hear them!

27 COMMENTS

  1. I’m originally from the US, so your perspective was really interesting to read! Makes me miss some of the delicious dining options there.

    Yes, good point to make sure to tip well in the States. Many servers and waitstaff earn even less than minimum wage because it’s expected they’ll get tips!

  2. Nice post! I have spent a lot of time in the US over the past few years and eating out in the US does take some getting used to… I am still amazed at the portion size and I do often feel rushed.. Service in general is so much better than in many other countries though and I love the free refills! 🙂

  3. I read through this and it’s really informative. I see people who visit asking all the time, about what’s expected when eating out in the US. You are right about portion sides. When my mom visited she couldn’t beleive the portion sides lol

  4. such a good guide – the portion sizes are huge in the USA, we often share a meal! Also good to know about tipping – I used to be a waitress in South Africa, and you wouldn’t believe that we were not even paid a basic rate, I relied heavily on tips only!

  5. I totally agree with the portion size comment. When I go to other countries (outside of the US) you see what a ‘real’ portion should look like!

  6. I was so surprised the first time I went to America that the refills are free. Gosh, we really took advantage of that, being a student and traveling on budget 🙂

  7. This is so helpful! Visiting the US has always been on my bucket list and I love so much of the food I’ve seen! The free refills are great, I didn’t know that. Here there’s only one or two places I can think of that do free refills, everywhere else you pay!

  8. Bear the portion sizes in mind when eating. I’m always so tempted to scoff it all down, but a takeaway box is offered by every restaurant. Dave some fit later

  9. It’s interesting to read this from the perspective of someone not from the States! The portion sizes ARE absolutely massive, and it’s sadly just what people are used to here! I try to take half my food home when I get an especially large plate, but sometimes my stomach gets the better of me! I always enjoy visiting Europe and actually being able to enjoy a meal without feeling rushed or bloated, ha!

  10. Great perspective! I think other countries are trying to keep up, I barely finish a meal anywhere these days. What gets you in trouble is the pressure to order apps and dessert! It’s like three meals in one. Always split a meal if you can 🙂

  11. American meals are a bit too rich for us, but what the heck. They’re insanely yummy! Do they have free tea refills? My father, who lives in the US, says that soda refills are unlimited. As health-conscious individuals, we drink a lot of tea rather than soda.

  12. Soft drink refills are definitely the way to my heart! And those stacked pancakes look delicious. If you ever want to go on an unhealthy food-binge holiday, the US is the way to go..

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