Side Dish 

Italian Kitchens

Never have culinary tours to Italy been hotter. Travelers can learn how to cook sauces, harvest olives, roll out pasta, choose chocolates and wines, and bake rustic breads — all the while soaking in views of charming villages.

Gourmet Getaways is Richmond's first service offering customized culinary and wine trips with professional chefs. It holds an open house June 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m. to discuss options for several trips, including cooking classes and tastings in Tuscany and Sicily.

Mise En Place Cooking School owner Christine Wansleben and Sharon Hagy are partners in the trip service, personalizing tours to fit the desires of travelers, whether they want to go to a food festival in Aspen, a jazz festival in Montreal, holiday shopping in New York or a gourmet weekend at The Homestead. The open house will be held at 104 Shockoe Slip. 249-1332.

Prom Disaster Redux

Side Dish readers wasted no time responding to the May 24 story about prom-goers who were kept waiting more than an hour to be served at a local restaurant. Some suggest the problem is deeper. Read on:

I do think that the restaurant business doesn't get to express why we hate prom so much, even more than Valentine's Day. Amateur diners are one thing, but underage amateurs are another. I'm the chef at a fine-dining restaurant downtown, and this past Saturday we had an eight-person reservation. The first couple showed up in dresses and immediately the wait staff started to complain. Nobody knew it was a prom reservation. Forty-five minutes late were the other three couples, who joined the first couple while they "held the table." They all sat down, looked at the menu and then said they could not afford to eat here and left. Their final bill was $7, and they didn't even leave an inconvenience tip for my waitresses.

Prom-goers need to be taught properly about fine dining. They need to know about arriving on time and how showing up 45 minutes late can cause them to ruin the entire flow of a restaurant and possibly lose their table. They need to know to ask questions about the menu. More importantly they need to know how to tip properly. If service is good, tip at least 20 percent. The waitress is already going to get half as much money because of the no-alcohol factor, and on top of that, 75 percent of the time every girl gets a salad only. The average prom bill for two is $30. Our usual average dinner for two is almost $100.

— Name withheld by request

I'm very disappointed for the group of prom-goers that had to wait beyond the start of their prom to dine at a high-end restaurant in the West End. No one wants to wait extended times during peak dining hours.

I'm hoping their experience will discourage upscale/high-end restaurants and other future prom-goers from booking large parties at prom. My birthday falls mid-May, and year after year, sinking as much as $275 at high-end restaurants between drinks, wine and dinner, we fight the mid-May prom crush. I swore last year, after our experience at one of Richmond's high-end steak houses, that I would postpone my annual celebration past the prom season. Surrounded by tables of price-conscious girls and boys nibbling on salads and soup as their main course, an overwhelmed wait staff could barely attend to us, despite that our tab for two probably exceeded that of some of the large tables of young adults nearby.

If cruise lines and destinations like Fort Lauderdale can flourish by banning college spring-breakers, instead of chasing their core customers away, so too can local restaurants flourish by banning prom-goers. And think of all the money mom and dad will save! — L. Johnson S

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