Friday, March 26, 2021

Restaurant Savoir Faire — 10 Tips

Restaurant dining is a two-way street. We customers always expect everything to be right every time we dine out. But there are lots of little things we can do to help the restaurant make it the most enjoyable experience it can be. I know this, as years ago I was a restaurant manager, many years back when I was in college. I put together a list of 10 tips that can smooth out the experience and, at the same time, take into consideration the restaurant's position as well.

1. If you prefer to dine without the presence of small children, dine out later in the evening. Families tend to eat out earlier, so they can get kids bathed and ready for bed on schedule. If you are really serious about this issue, call the restaurant well ahead of time. Politely explain you don't care for the company of small children while you dine, and ask if the manager can please help you.

2. Tip #1 one also works well for food allergies and dietary restrictions, as well as any other special needs. The management usually will do their best to accommodate you. Going to extra trouble for you, ensures a certain customer trust and loyalty while eliminating any surprises later on.

Years ago, when my stepson was in a wheelchair and my son in a highchair, I called ahead to the restaurant at which a surprise family birthday dinner had been planned. They said they did not take reservations and I said that I understood, but would they please keep in mind we would be arriving about 7:00 p.m.? The manager said he would do what he could, but could not promise us anything, as Saturday was their busiest evening. 

I was thrilled when we arrived to find a table waiting for us at 7:00, even though they were running a half-hour wait. It wasn’t in a very scenic part of the restaurant and was quite noisy, next to the kitchen, but they had prepared for a large group party that needed special accommodations, as I had alerted them earlier in the week. We were very pleased and let our friends with kids know!

3. Be on time for reservations. If you will be more than 15 minutes late, call and let the host or hostess know. Even when reservations are not involved, as in the case with Tip #2, if we hadn't been there at 7:00 p.m. as I had said we would, I don't know if they would have held that table for us. A good restaurant manager likes to know if there are going to be any surprises. Especially on a Saturday night.

4. Remember you are “sharing” the place with everyone else dining there, so you are “sharing” the staff as well. The waiter or waitress is not your personal servant and should be treated with respect. Although there are poor examples to be found in every profession, on the whole, any group whose main source of income is derived from tips (as is the case here in the United States) and the generosity of those they serve, tends to care about how they perform their jobs.
As a grandmother and an etiquette teacher, I enjoy eating with small children. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea... — If you prefer to dine without the presence of small children, dine out later in the evening. Families tend to eat out earlier, so they can get kids bathed and ready for bed on schedule. 

5. If you have a problem with your waiter, waitress or food, do not announce angrily, “I want to see the manager immediately!” Politely, ask the host or hostess if the manager is available, and say you would like to speak with him or her. Managers of chain restaurants, as well as privately owned establishments, are usually given authority to pick up tabs for diners who are having problems with the service or food. They are much more sympathetic to a polite patron than to a rude patron. They ultimately decide whether or not they wish you to return for another visit, based on your behavior.

6. Read the fine print on the menu. It will let you know ahead of time if you will be charged for splitting an order, substitutions, requiring separate checks, or any other special requests you want to make.

7. Most restaurants automatically add a gratuity tip to the check for a large groups. In some places “large” can mean over 6 people, and at others, it means over 15.

8. Try to be attentive when the server introduces himself or herself and lists nightly specials, etc... at your table. If you cannot remember his or her name, “Sir,” “Miss” and “Ma’am” are preferred to “Hey! You!” “Waiter” and “Waitress” are also acceptable.

9. The polite tip is 15% to 20% of the check, or tab. The cost of wine is not supposed to be included when figuring your percentage to tip on; however, I always include it as a rule if the server has been helpful in selecting the wine and quick to refill our glasses. Keep in mind, your server most likely gives a portion of his or her tips to the busboy and bartender.

10. Dine without a lot of showing us and fanfare. Don’t order for everyone else and don’t fight over the check, either. If you want to make sure you are paying for the meal, excuse yourself to the powder room or other area and discreetly talk with the host or manager instead. 

Dining out should be a fun experience for everyone in attendance, not a private stage show or an opportunity for someone to show just how much savoir faire he or she has. Don’t confuse arrogance with class. Just put your best foot forward and keep it out of your mouth. By the way, that's where the food goes.— Maura J. Graber

Contributor, and Site Editor, Maura Graber has been teaching etiquette to children, teens and adults, and training new etiquette instructors, since 1990, as founder and director of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette. She is also a writer, has been featured in countless newspapers, magazines and television shows and was an on-air contributor to PBS in Southern California for 15 years

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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