Panama City constantly has new restaurants popping up. Some are good. Most are not. The majority are overpriced for the dining experience you receive. I’m not very critical. On the contrary, I’m pretty easy to please. Heck, I didn’t learn how to cook scrambled eggs until I was 20 years old.
In Panama, it’s hard to find professional waiters. Someone who acts as a representative on behalf of the restaurant. Their job is to guide you through the evening by offering suggestions and even upselling when it’s appropriate. Their service helps ensure that you’ll properly experience their restaurant and that you’ll be returning soon.
Even Panama’s best restaurants rarely staff professional waiters. In Panama, waiting table is not a profession. Unlike other Western countries, tipping is not customary in Latin America. A waiter in Panama asks himself, “Why should I bust my ass when nobody tips?”.
*** A slight digression: As a college bartender, an unassuming man once tipped me $100 on a bill of $50, a 200% tip! From that day forward, I had to assume that everyone could potentially leave me my next whooping tip. As a result, I gave my personal best to everyone, even perceived cheap asses. This story would be rare in Panama.
Secondly, the restaurant owners don’t typically feed their wait staff from the restaurant menu. Waiters bring their own food. What better way to educate your team than by having them personally try every dish on the menu? A more educated and confident wait staff leads to a more satisfied customer. How can your server recommend an entree or desert if they have never tasted it?
Instead, it is customary for restaurants here to employee “order takers”. A person designated to simply take your order, bring you your food and then hand you a bill. You would expect this from the Costa Azul’s types in Panama (A late night Denny’s style restaurant). But, not from anyone who offers entrees for $10 or more.
Can you see why I’m so nervous about trying random new restaurants? My dining budget is limited. Without guidance, I fear that I’ll have a mediocre meal for 2 people totaling upwards of $80. Yikes! As a result, I stick to my Go-To restaurants (and, no, this does NOT include Beruit!).
Wait. There is good news for PTY restaurant goers. First, more restaurants in PTY translates to more competition. In business, more competition forces companies to become more creative and offer better service as a way of distinguishing themselves from others. Lets hope the same holds true here.
Second (and ready today) is my culinary savor, OfertaSimple.com. Their coupons allow me to explore new restaurants with confidence. They save me anywhere from 50% to 70%. Because of their coupons, my restaurant exploration regime has been revitalized.
I’ve been to 10 new restaurants in the last 5 months. Some have been excellent. Some have been mas-o-menos. Yet, the coupons saved me money. So, even if it was the worst place ever (has not been the case thus far) then I would have said to myself, “Bummer… Well, it was worth a shot to try something new.”.
Most importantly, it is the act of exploring new restaurants with friends that’s the best part. It is an excuse to get out of the house. Explore your city. Be social. Using the coupon is the adventure itself. I’m not embarrassed to say using coupons is cool.
P.D. (P.S.) Here are some of the restaurants that currently excite me:
Sabor de India: As my friend said, “I dare you to spent $40 there.”.
Manolo Caracol: Expensive, but not really because it is a fixed menu of $30. No surprises. Anyways, Manolo mismo (himself) is the reason you go. He is either the most loved or the most hated man in Casco Viejo, depending on who you talk to.
Las Clementains: It’s like a small Panamanian history museum and restaurant rolled into one. Attention to detail and solid service.
Brochettas in El Valle: The service stinks. Yet, it is affordable. It features freshly picked vegetables and the portions are giant. Good value.