Etiquette while Dining out

Over the last 20 years, there has been an increase in the percentage of personal income spent on dining out. This proliferation of restaurants has played a part in the lax behavior that is being witnessed. In the customers' minds, they are doing the restaurant a favour by choosing one place to eat over another, and restaurants should be beholden to them.

"The customer is always right" is an axiom of the restaurant service industries, which most consumers have adopted as their own inalienable right. But this core principle does not mean that diners can do whatever they want when they step into a restaurant. Nor does it mean that the front-of the-house staff can take out their frustrations on customers and then expect a 20% tip. There needs to be mutual respect between staff and patrons so that everyone benefits from dining out.

Getting our etiquette back into shape does not require an enormous effort. Customers and restaurateurs can make dining out a more pleasant experience by following etiquette, none of which involve learning which one is the salad fork. These tidbits are given so that the entire pleasure of dining out would be a refined experience. They are as follows:

Restaurant reservations are like any other appointment. If you make a reservation, stick to it. Call ahead if you're going to be more than 15 minutes late, and cancel as far in advance as possible if your plans change so that someone else can get a table. It is fine to make multiple reservations for a single evening as long as you cancel the unwanted bookings, again as far in advance as possible.

Over two dozen restaurants in New York City still require gentlemen to wear jackets and ties. But these are exceptions in a restaurant world where jeans and sneakers have become the new casual-chic. As fine dining restaurants move away from the old jacket-required policy, it raises the question of just what exactly is appropriate to wear when dining out. Casual attire to one person may mean jeans and a sweatshirt, to another, it can include khakis and penny loafers while dining out. If you are headed to a restaurant for the first time and are unsure about how to dress, call and ask the host outright what the dress code is. When in doubt, it's safer to wear something more conservative. The trickier issue is for the host. Just because a customer is underdressed does not mean he doesn't have money to spend or fine taste in food and wine. Our advice is to seat an ill-dressed customer out of the way, without commenting on the attire. Chances are they will take in the dress of the other patrons and realize their gaffe.

The latest popular diet, not to mention diners' peculiar food preferences, should never be dismissed by the staff. Servers should make reasonable substitutions and accommodations to customers' requests without grumbling about them. Often the unwillingness to accommodate a diner's request when ordering is driven by the kitchen and has nothing to do with the waiter. If your order is unsatisfactory, there is no need to be aggressive with the staff, but it is appropriate to say something so the chef and waiter have an opportunity to rectify the situation.

Telephones should not be answered during family meals at home, and it is no different while dining out. Turn off your cell phone or switch it to silent mode before sitting down to eat, and leave it in your pocket or purse. For the peeved waiter whose customer has breached the cell-phone etiquette, a courteous reminder - after the call is completed - is appropriate. Suggest that the customer take calls in the bar or waiting area.

Wine can play a vital role in dining- for the diner, it should make the meal more enjoyable; for the restaurant, it should make the meal more profitable. Thus, it's in everyone's best interest to play by the rules. Ordering wine in a restaurant can be a daunting task if you don't know much more than red, white, sparkling and rose. Asking a waiter or wine steward for assistance often can make you even more uncomfortable, especially if you're on a date or out in a group.

If you are reluctant to tell the waiter your price range, it is helpful to communicate the information nonverbally by pointing to a bottle on the wine list that is in your range. You can say something along the lines of, "I'm thinking about trying this wine-can you tell me more about it?"

From the patron's perspective, you do not have to be a wine connoisseur to know when a bottle is corked - it happens more than occasionally, and the distinct smell of wet, moldy cardboard is hard to forget. If you think the wine smells or tastes off, you should be confident in telling the waiter or wine director. After all, you're paying for it, and you should not subject yourself to drinking a corked bottle.

However, If you confidently ordered the bottle on your own, without consultation from a sommelier or wine steward and if you do not like the same, it is generally not appropriate to send it back - especially if it is an expensive bottle. However, if you requested assistance from the staff and do not like what they suggested, it is within your prerogative to express displeasure with the wine and send it back. As the waiter or wine director, when a customer sends back a corked bottle or is unhappy with a selection that you recommended, this is a prime opportunity to train other members of the staff.

It is never too early to start teaching etiquettes while dining out to children. Poorly behaved children can ruin the dining experience for other patrons, so if you bring your kids for dining out, make sure they are behaving properly. It is useful for restaurants to have a stash of crayons and coloring or puzzle books on hand so that when the youngest patrons get restless, you can help keep them occupied. Parents will be more likely to return when they take note of your kid-friendly service. As for chefs, they can consider creating plates that are smaller versions of the regular menu items for these budding gourmets, or allow half orders of select menu items for those under 12. And adults should refrain from ordering from the children's menu.

In general, it's a good idea to refrain from bringing outside food or drink into a restaurant. Unlike most other countries, there's nothing wrong with taking your leftovers home in a doggy bag, especially since portions are usually more than any human should eat in a single sitting. The same now goes for wines- leftover bottles should be recorked and packaged for customers to take home.

Tips are a customer's way to provide feedback about the service while dining out and should be used to reflect quality. If service is inattentive, forgetful, rude or careless, leave a smaller tip to indicate your displeasure. Only in extreme cases should a tip never be given. By the same token, if you feel your server would go to any length to make you happy, a 20-25% (or greater) tip is advisable. There is some debate in the restaurant world about whether or not it is appropriate to tip on wine: Affirmative! Since waiters are tipped out a percentage of the evening's gratuities, it is quite right to recognize their services by including the cost of wine when calculating a tip. If your waiter has been particularly helpful, you might want to tip that person directly. If you are a big spender splurging on pricey wines, then you should tip like a big spender. But big spenders should reconsider the practice of tipping the host or hostess upon entering a restaurant in order to get seated quicker or be placed at a better table. This is not a reward for good service; it is merely a bribe.

One last point on how good communication skills can make dining out enjoyable, whether you are the customer or the waiter. On the customer's side, the more you communicate to the waiter, the better he or she will be able to serve you. If you are displeased with the dining experience in any way, it is up to you to politely articulate that to the waiter or manager so they can have an opportunity to fix the problem. If you don't say anything and just wait until the end of the meal to leave a sub-standard tip, the waiter wouldn't know what went wrong.

There are also etiquettes for leaving the restaurant. It goes without saying to make a point of thanking your waiter for the excellent service too. The phrase "send my compliments to the chef" is NOT a corny cliche, but an urban way of making sure that everyone involved in your pleasant evening gets the thanks they deserve. Naturally, you must also let the manager know that you had a wonderful time, and acknowledge the part he played in the success of your evening. Tell him you would be back soon for more of the wonderful food and service. If you make such a charming exit, it's highly likely that you'll be seated at the table of your choice and be given excellent service every time you visit this restaurant.

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