There are a lot of options for eating out there, and they work pretty much like anywhere else. You got yer fancy restaurants, yer casual dinning restaurants, and yer fast food places. A lot of American chains are available here, as well as local equivalents. In addition to these, there are also local casual dining places that equate roughly to a diner. There are also road side food counters where the cook makes up a few pots of food and sells servings to folks passing by. There is usually a place to sit at the counter or stand, and they are fairly cheap, maybe P40 per meal or so. Finally, you have your street venders who sell a food from a cart, table top, or a cooler or basket they carry around with them. This is food meant to be eaten as you walk and is usually a snack food like barbequed meat strips on a skewer or cups of halo-halo.
When you’re eating at a roadside stand or buying from a cart, you need to know a few things. If you get a soda in a glass bottle, you need to drink it there and give them the bottle back. They will run you down if you forget and take it with you. Otherwise, they may serve you your soda in a plastic bag with a straw. Just grip the bag shut around the straw and sip away. These places aren’t usually monitored as well, if at all, by the department of health, so if you’re feeling nervous about picking a place, I recommend that you look for one that is busy. This is probably a good indicator that the food isn’t sitting waiting to be eaten long, and that the people in the area trust the place not to make them sick.
As far as eating in places that would be familiar to Americans, there are a few things to note. In fast food restaurants, you don’t need to bus your table when you are done. In a restaurant where you order and pay the bill at the end, you must ask for the bill. The waitstaff will let you sit for hours without saying anything to you about paying and leaving. You can wave any member of the staff down and ask for the bill (not the check), or you can make eye contact and draw a rectangle in the air. There is a set motion for this, so I’ll do my best to describe it for you in words, and you act it out as we go, ok?
1. Raise both hands in the air with your pointer fingers against each other and your thumbs against each other, and the pointer fingers about 3 inches above your thumbs.
2. Keep your fingers in that position, and pull your hands apart about 6 inches. (You’re “drawing” the top and bottom of the rectangular bill.)
3. Touch the finger and thumb of each hand together. (You’ve just “drawn” the short sides of the rectangular bill.)
If you’re still not sure how to do it, look around the restaurant and you’re bound to see people doing it. Because they aren’t called checks here, if you make the check mark sign at a member of the waitstaff, they will not know what you are doing.
No matter where you are eating, if you need a napkin, ask for tissue. Napkins are female sanitary supplies. Tissue can mean anything from toilet paper to a paper table napkin to a paper towel, and different places will give you different things to use, but it will all be usable. If you forget and ask for a napkin, many restaurant workers will know what you mean, especially in the metro areas, but in the provinces or if you are being served by a younger person, you might get anything from a giggle to red-faced embarrassment from the staff, so do try to use tissue. Chances are you will need to ask often, too, as places can be fairly stingy with them.
As far as tipping goes, check the bill to see if there has been a gratuity added already, and then decide from there what you will leave. Now, 15% is not standard here. Locals usually leave a token amount, like P20-50 or so. Places that automatically add a gratuity tend to add about between 7% and 10%. Adding more will get you remembered. If you are going to be eating there often, being generous will “pay you back” in service down the line.