Eating around International Drive
There are many ways you can eat whlst holidaying in International Drive.
- at your hotel (not recommended unless expedient: overpriced and variable quality)
- at a theme park (most expensive option, although the quality is good)
- at a restaurant or buffet along I-Drive (the most convenient, best prices and top quality)
- buy from a supermarket and take it back to your room or apartment (like being at home)
- at a "food court" in all the major malls and outlet malls (good quality, as cheap as anywhere but you have to get there, of course)
I'll cover the eating at a (typical) buffet restaurant in this guide as this is my preferred option for a number of reasons:
- it's good value for money (around $7 for a breakfast including your drink)
- you have a huge choice, even more so at a buffet all-you-care-to-eat restaurant
- it's a fixed price with no leftovers cluttering up your fridge
- there's no washing up
First, let's get the terminology correct here or you'll be ordering a weird and wonderful choice.
What we in the UK call "starters
" are called "appetizers" in the states.
What we call "main meal
" are called entrees (pronounced on-trays) from the French.
are called just that and never "puddings".
Serviettes are called napkins. Yes, I know we can call them that too but in Florida serviettes are usually something to do with feminine hygiene so call them napkins for goodness sake.
Incidentally, if you have to buy nappies for your toddler they are called "diapers" (pronounced dye-pers). They have absolutely no idea what a "nappy" is.
More on English to American can be found in the translation page of this website.
A note on portion control: they are never small and usually end up on the generous side, especially for kids. So ordering both an appetizer and an entree for 5-year old is just wasting money.
Hence my liking for buffet restaurants where you can eat just whatever you want, including chicken for breakfast, ice-cream with your bacon and a zillion other mismatched items for dinner!
Along I-Drive are many, many shopping opportunities and eating establishments, especially in the "northern" part. TGI's, Ponderosa, Golden Corral, Western Sizzlin' all offer great food at around $13 per person for dinner, plus beverage at $2 plus sales tax of 7%.
Let's consider a typical buffet restaurant, the Golden Corral, one of which is situated on the junction of International Drive and Sandlake road behind a mini mart.
First, get your 10% discount voucher out from one of the zillion coupon books available everywhere.
Then queue up if it's busy (a single queuing system operates) and order your drinks from the drinks server if you are having them. Water (pronounced WARDER) is free. Others cost $2 for unlimited refills.
You will be given a tray and your cutlery (called SILVERWARE in the US). Tell the cashier how many in the group (called a PARTY) hand over the discount coupon and pay. She will give you one initial plate per person. If you're not having a drink (just water) make sure you are not charged $2 for a drink.
You will then either be shown to a table if they are busy (to avoid you wandering about cluttering up the place) or you can just find a table if there are a lot.
Place your receipt on the table face up so the waiter or waitress (pronounced SERVER) can see which drinks you are having so you get continuous refills and bring you more plates on a regular basis.
Then go for it. Don't be shy. Go up to the food area a zillion times and try all the dishes that look good, from the chicken, steak, soups, veg, pasta and many more items. Don't try and cram too much on your plate at one time. Remember, no one is watching you revisit the food bar for the 10th time. No one cares. Everyone is doing it!
Leave room for dessert which might be cakes, biscuites (called COOKIES), ice-cream, fruit pies and more.
If you don't like something, leave it (if waste is abhorrent to you then think about taking small initial portions until you know you like it). The server will collect all dirty plates and replace them with shiny clean ones. If they don't (or don't do it often enough) then prompt them. That's what their job is!
Finally the server will ask whether you want coffee (pronounced CAWFEE) or tea (pronounced HOT TEA or you will get cold lemon tea). You might only get this after dinner drink if you had a paid-for drink (not water) with your meal - seemed a bit hit-and-miss when I was there).
Strictly speaking, the American way is that you should leave a tip of 10% - 15% if the service has been up to scratch but I noticed that other American tourists either left far less (only a dollar or two) or left absolutely nothing. Well, we are in an economic downturn and those dollars to add up to quite a bit if you do it every time. Maybe it's best to leave a tip the last time you visit an establishment if you get to recognise your server. Or partway through your holiday, like you might do with the cleaning maid at your hotel.
At Golden Corral I usually end up spending about $24 for TWO people for DINNER which includes tax and the 10% discount voucher.. Lunch is quite a bit cheaper, as is breakfast (which includes your non-optional drink). Plus tip if you leave one.
You will find 50 cent discount coupons for breakfast (which brings the price down to about $6.50 per person). The 10% discount coupons are only valid (pronounced GOOD FOR) lunch and dinner. The 10% can add up to a free dinner if you use them every time for every place you eat.
This process is the same for Golden Corral, Ponderosa, Western Sizzling and any other buffet restaurant (eg a specialist Chinese one).
The process for a sit-down restaurant is the same as in the UK. You sit, you get a menu, you order, your food is brought to you. You pay and leave a tip (not optional really, unless you have thick skin). And TGI's is more or less the same as you get in the UK but the drinks are quite expensive (in fact, alcohol is pretty expensive everywhere, even in the supermarkets).
If you have picky eaters, or kids (same thing really) the buffet restaurants offer the widest choice, the best prices (or same as regular restaurant) and you don't leave hungry. Ever.
Some of the buffet restaurants can get very busy during the summer, especially at peak times with long queues. They cater for hundreds of diners but there is a limit. Try and eat earlier (or later) to avoid this. They usually open from 7:30am until 10:00pm. At weekends they sometimes open at 7am as the Americans like to pack it in on their days off.