Top dining concerns: Shrimp and their tails; tail-wagging companions, and young companions

A periodic look at my communications with readers.

Following a positive preview of Washington’s latest location of Sweetgreen , the health-minded, fast-casual chain dreamed up a decade ago by three Georgetown University students, I heard from a less-enamored reader.

“Before endorsing Sweetgreen’s no-cash policy, consider its implicit bias and implications,” emailed Arlington resident Doreen Denny. “My teen daughter is too young to carry plastic. Sweetgreen was once a fave spot for lunch with friends. No longer.” Denny thinks the rule hinders people who work for cash, including those with low incomes, immigrants and the homeless. “Perhaps this is a corporate way to weed out customers who are too young, old or underprivileged.”

I forwarded the missive to Nicolas Jammet, a co-founder of the chain of eateries, which is now based in Los Angeles.

“Before going cashless, Sweetgreen conducted an exhaustive test across several markets, and found only a small percentage of our customers used cash,” Jammet replied via email. “We also received overwhelmingly positive feedback to our mobile app, and app usage continues to grow in all of our stores.” Speed and efficiency help drive the policy: “Customers tell us that they appreciate most of all that our system allows us to serve them faster. In addition, eliminating the transporting and handling of cash has both environmental and safety benefits.”

The entrepreneur makes a good case for no cash, but I can sympathize with Denny: According to a recent Prosperity Now survey, the percentage of “unbanked” households in the District with neither a checking nor savings account is nearly 11 percent, while a quarter are “underbanked,” meaning consumers who have obtained financial services and products outside the banking system, including pawnshops.

After a diner with allergies to canines complained in a recent online discussion about being seated near a customer with an “emotional support” dog, I heard from several people who wanted to make clear the distinction between “service” and “support” animals. One of them was Abby Volin, president of Opening Doors, a D.C.-based organization that helps property managers with pet-friendly policies and deals with animal accommodation requests.

“Service animals (dogs and miniature horses only) are allowed in places of public accommodation, pursuant to the Americans With Disabilities Act, such as a restaurant,” she wrote. “They must be trained to perform a specific task for an individual with a disability that alleviates a symptom of the disability. To evaluate whether the reasonable accommodation request should be granted, a property manager may only ask a person whether he has a disability and what the dog is trained to do.”

Emotional support animals, in contrast, “can be any kind of animal and don’t have to be trained. Assistance animals aren’t allowed in places of public accommodation. So if a patron wants to eat at a restaurant with a dog in hand and requests an exception to the ‘No Pets’ policy for his emotional support animal, the restaurant is not required by law to grant that request.”

“I have a pet peeve regarding shrimp served tail-on,” emails Katt Hancher of Sterling, Va. “It does not seem to vary by restaurant type or quality, leaving the diner to either cut off or figure out how to save the meat in the tail-end, and then politely dispose of the shell without making a mess. Is there a reason for doing this? Would it be rude to send it back to the kitchen and ask for the tail-end shell to be removed?”

Tails are left on for a variety of reasons, some having to do with aesthetics; shrimp look better and larger with their ends on, say defenders of the practice. In the case of cocktail shrimp presented in a bowl or platter, the tails make good handles.

Tails also add texture and flavor to a dish, says John Critchley, executive chef of the recently reviewed Siren in Washington. The decision to remove tails or leave them on can depend on how the shrimp is prepared. “We leave the shell at the end of the tail to protect the cooking of this narrow part that cooks faster than the thicker part close to the head, especially when they are grilled or seared,” says Fabio Trabocchi, whose restaurants include the seafood-themed Del Mar in the District Wharf and Fiola Mare in Georgetown. “When we poach shrimp in oil, however, this is not necessary.” The chef adds, “We often leave the entire shell on for a pristine type of prawn, when it is baked in salt or poached. The shell is to be peeled at the table, and our guests should use their fingers to peel them, without feeling uncomfortable.” As for any mess at his restaurants, warm towels follow the seafood.

Both chefs say they have no problem removing shells for a guest who doesn’t want to deal with them. “Ideally,” says Trabocchi, “they would make their server aware of their preference when the order is placed.” Bottom line, says Critchley, “we don’t want them to have to work for anything.”

Few topics spark more reaction than young children in restaurants, a fact made clear after the owner of Field Main in Marshall, Va., Neal Wavra, lamented in a recent discussion how some chatters said they were avoiding taking their kids out to eat in “nice” places. Dozens of anonymous readers chimed in, many after the discussion had concluded. Here are some of their suggestions and observations:

Use holiday gatherings at home as practice. “All family members are expected to be polite and attentive, remain in chairs (and not up on knees, either), napkin in lap, careful not to reach across, and to speak at a moderate volume.”

Be prepared. “Pick your options carefully and be ready to leave if the thunder clouds roll in,” wrote another chatter, who, like others, advised families to dine early or at off times, when the restaurant is not as busy; consider buffets, to avoid long wait times; and verify ahead of time when a restaurant has a children’s menu, hopefully offering something other than grilled cheese and chicken nuggets.

Avoid judging. As dreamy as table conversation with their young charges sounds, parents say it is not always possible. “To the diner who ‘can’t abide seeing them glued to their devices,’ be careful what you wish for,” submitted the parent of a 2-year-old son. “We do, for our sanity and that of other diners, let him watch ‘Sesame Street’ on my phone at the table. The alternative would be even less well-received, I think.”

Be respectful of others. “We follow the hiking mantra of ‘leave no trace,’ so no food on the floor for the waitstaff to clean up.” Other parents make sure to tip generously when dining with their messy offspring.

Why it matters. A parent of two preteens, who says the kids have been going to restaurants since birth, wrote, “It’s critical that they know how to coexist thoughtfully and respectfully with others, and that eating great food in a pleasant environment is one of life’s great pleasures (and a wonderful way to spend time as a family).”

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