Restaurant etiquette

Restaurant etiquette goes way beyond what fork to use.
Nothing ruins a great meal out more than being stuck next to a table of rude restaurant guests. You know the ones - the screaming kids or the loud diners gossiping about their neighbors on their cell phone. Maybe you've even been guilty of using bad mealtime manners?

Restaurant etiquette goes way beyond what fork to use. It comes down to basic common courtesy.

Digest these basic tips for how to make your meal out more enjoyable.

  • Be courteous to other diners and turn off your cell phones. If you have to leave it on, put it on vibrate and take any necessary calls away from the table. Also, keep your voice down when you are talking to other people.

  • Keep your reservations. You'd be irritated if someone was late to an appointment with you. It works the same with restaurants. Call ahead if you are going to be late so you can ensure they have a table ready for you.

  • If you find something wrong with your order, be gracious about it. Don't throw a fit if they bring you diet soda instead of regular. Politely let the server know that something is not to your liking.

  • Most restaurants allow substitutions, but make them reasonable. Don't try to substitute lobster for chicken. If you have to switch out more than two or three things on an order, consider ordering something else from the menu.

  • Children ... if you are eating at a fancy restaurant, try to leave very young children at home. As that is not always possible, bring something to entertain the child such as crayons or books (most casual dining restaurants accommodate children). Also, it helps with young children if you order something for them to nosh on right away (crackers or breadsticks) or bring your own snacks (like Cheerios in a small plastic bag). Hungry children get cranky. Start early with your child to teach them proper restaurant manners. You wouldn't let them act rude at home, so an evening out should be no different.

  • You should always tip the wait staff. Fifteen to 20% is standard. Start there and work up or down according to the level of service. Go higher if they do a great job, slightly down if they are rude and/or inattentive. But never avoid leaving a tip. Wait staff often make less than minimum wage and the rest from tips. If you feel that they could have done a better job, leave a tip anyway, but write down your complaints on a comment card or discretely speak to the manager. By the way, it's pretty standard practice for restaurants to automatically include a gratuity for large parties (usually 6 or more people) so be sure to figure that into the price of the meal.

  • Check splitting: Let your server know up front if you need to split the check. Note that some restaurants will not let you split checks if you have a large party.

  • Dress appropriately. You wouldn't go to the opera in jeans and a dirty T-shirt. If you are dining at a fine restaurant, call ahead to see if you are required to wear a tie and jacket.

  • Don't linger too long after your meal. As waiters make their money off tips, staying three and four hours past the end of your meal means they cannot seat other patrons.

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