From the moment you make the reservations, the ritual is meant to be relaxing: nothing to cook, no dishes to wash, no stress about anything. The restaurant is your refuge, right?
Celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain exposed the greasy underbelly of many kitchens in his books "Kitchen Confidential" and "The Nasty Bits."
"A lot of us work in kitchens for the very reason that we really can't and shouldn't make it in the outside world. A lot of us would be in jail if we weren't cooking," he explained.
And that's only in the kitchen. What about the men and women waiting on you. Are they plotting against you ?
John Collins and Nigel Pickhardt, who met 15 years ago waiting tables in New Orleans, have drawn on their experience to warn diners and restaurant owners about the dangers lurking beneath the tablecloth.
"I've seen people walk out of a restaurant every night of the week with $500 in illicit money, sometimes more," Collins said.
Their self-published little handbook -- "How to Burn Down the House" from Promethean Books -- is a virtual how-to for waiters and bartenders interested in fleecing the customer, and an eye-opener for the hundred million of us who eat out every day. It starts with their own version of profiling.
"You're looking for a man on a date. You're looking for business people with clients. You're looking for people in a rush. You're looking for people who are drunk," Collins said.
"The big spender that's loud and rambunctious and throws his credit card around and grabs the check," said Pickhardt.
Actually, they prefer no plastic at all. When you're going for the quick, dishonest buck, cash is what counts.
Pickhardt says waiters "encourage" diners to pay cash through a trick called "putting them on ice."
Pickhardt walked "20/20" through the tactic: "Ma'am, I'm afraid our credit card's been actin' a little funny today. " This might take 15 or 20 minutes. At that point, of course, I disappear, and I go smoke a cigarette, eat my lunch or whatever, come back. And then I'd be like: " Ma'am, I hate to say it …"
Finally, because it will be quicker, the patron will forget about the credit card.
And once they have me -- or you -- paying cash, they use elaborate schemes, like reusing or neglecting to turn in your check, so the money goes into their pocket rather than the till. You can't track dollar bills.
"Cash is the currency of scam, there's no doubt about that. But credit cards aren't impervious," Pickhardt said.
Tipping is another area where patrons can be prime targets of conniving waiters, particularly when service is already included.
Pickhardt explains: "Say your check's $40. I've included a $6 gratuity. And put it all on the top line. So then you get the check and pay $6.90 or $9 or however much on top of that."
The lesson here -- you should ask if service is included.
"If you're afraid to speak up, you're going to be exploited for it. That's what they're looking for -- timidity and meekness, people who are would rather get beat out of $5 than make a stink about it," Collins said.