Dining Etiquette: Customer’s & Waiters
Invented by The French Royal Court in the 1600’s-1700’s out of boredom, etiquette has grown, progressed and unfortunately become an enigma of sorts. Etiquette was taught in the school system up until the 1960’s, after that it was left up to the parents of America to teach..(you see how well that did us). Everyone knows the basics of dining etiquette, i.e. hats off at the dinner table, don’t eat with your hands…but what about everything else? Knowing the “rules” will give you confidence in your actions so you can relax and enjoy your meal and your company.
No one wants to look ignorant or be seen as barbaric in front of others, etiquette will quell that. The proper partner to etiquette is a well trained server in a service oriented restaurant. It is detrimental that both people, customer and server, know their roles and live up to them. This two-way knowledge will enlighten both and ensure that the dining experience is a harmonious and fluid one.
So, for every etiquette rule for the customer comes a rule for the server. Ready? Let’s do this!
- Etiquette says: make reservations with the restaurant as soon as you know you would like to dine in it. Do not wait any longer than necessary to make the reservations. Some people will make a reservation one year in advance and that is totally acceptable! Call the restaurant if there are any changes to the reservation as soon as you know about it.
- Etiquette says: do not lie about having a reservation when you do not.
- Etiquette says: if you are unhappy with your table it is quite acceptable to ask if you can be moved. If the restaurant can not comply with the request, etiquette says “grin and bear it”. Do not make a fuss. Remember, etiquette is manners and manners, in large part, is acting composed and kind. This etiquette rule changes if you did not have reservations, but had the good fortune of being seated regardless. In this case, if your request to be moved to another table can not be fulfilled you may leave the restaurant.
- The difference is this: when you make a reservation you are reserving a table in good faith that you will occupy it. If there was no reservation, then the restaurant has not planned and counted on you dining with them, you are free to leave.
- iamWaitress says: when someone makes a reservation with your restaurant, be glad for it and let that gladness show vocally! Remember to ask if the party will be celebrating anything such as an anniversary, birthday or other celebration. Inquire on dietary restrictions such as gluten allergy, vegetarian, no pork or any other possible allergies. Note all the information that you aquire from the customer and let the server and chef know! It does no good to inquire about celebrations or allergies if that information is not passed along to those that need it. The guest’s experience in the restaurant begins with the host / maître d’. For more on hosting read the article: “Hostess job description”.
- iamWaitress says: Opentable is a popular and convenient way for people to make reservations online. Opentable leaves the customer the ability to leave notes for the restaurant. Often in these notes a situational table will be requested, such as, “away from server station”, “dining with father who is hard of hearing, please seat us at a quiet table” or “we are celebrating a birthday, we will be drinking heavily and loud.” These are tools for you and meant to be read and complied with to the best of the restaurants ability.
Arriving & Hosting The Get Together
- Etiquette says: arrive on time! If you are hosting the dinner party, then arrive early! Fashionably late is really not very fashionable and is inconsiderate to both the restaurant and fellow dinner companions. When you are hosting a dinner, inform your server or maître d’ of any special instructions that you would like carried out, such as the pace and tempo of the meal, how many courses you would like your guests to order, or when you would like to be finished by. When you are not hosting the dinner, follow the hosts’ lead or advice. A good host will tell you “to order anything you like”, which means exactly that (although it is still tacky to order excessively expensive items), or the host might say “I have wine on the way for us” which means tonight you are enjoying wine! Some hosts give no guidance. If this is the case, order as they order. If they order a mixed drink you can too. If they have a bottle of wine on the way, enjoy that! If they are only drinking water, you should too.
- iamWaitress says: as guests arrive, offer to take coat, umbrella or any other cumbersome item from them before they enter the dining room.
- iamWaitress says: it is always nice to give the guests some information on what situation they may be walking into, such as “the reservation is for 10 people but there is currently only the host and hostess and one other guest. They’ll be happy to see you!” Or even, “most of your party has arrived and are enjoying a cocktail. Go and say your hello’s. I’ll allow you a minute and then I will come and fetch your drink order.”
How & Where To Sit
- Etiquette says: consider where you will be sitting. Some restaurants are very small and you may be in close proximity to other patrons If you are very overweight, don’t sit where a walk way to another area is. If you are feeling ill, seat yourself nearest the restroom. Once you are seated do not lean back, sprawl out, sit with your feet kicked out or sit with your hat on. If you have a purse, put it under the table or your chair. Do not hang it on the back of your chair or on the floor at your side unless you want it to be in the way or worse, cause someone to trip. You should be neatly tucked into your dining table. You must remember you are in a dining room, not in your recliner in your living room.
- Etiquette says: sit relaxed and upright…like the beautiful grown-up you are!
- Etiquette says: Stay seated! No musical chairs. I can’t emphasise this enough. When you are dining in a fine restaurant, and you are in a large group, your food will be delivered to your SEAT NUMBER. You may think that your face is memorable enough for you waiter to remember what you ordered, but it just is not so. If you are Splitting Checks, DO NOT change positions. This is a very tacky and disrespectful move.
- iamWaitress says: watch your demeanor. You should be walking with purpose, consideration and poise, yet slowly with intention. The name of the game is not to walk too slow, but you don’t want to be rushing, your body should never be moving faster than your brain. Do not walk with such speed that you could bump into a co-worker, a guest, a table or a chair. Get to know the positions of your patrons. Be observant of where the host of the party is or who the guest of honor is. Know your table!
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
- Etiquette says: be aware of the people around you! There may be a time when the host wants to speak, there will definitely be a time when a fellow dinner companion would like to take a turn in the conversation and sometimes the server would like to talk to all of the guests at the table. Do not be the person that dominates conversations, talks too loud or prevents the order from being taken because you will not pause long enough to consider your surroundings.
- iamWaitress says: return to the same spot every time. People will sub-consciously pick up on your presence faster if you give their brains a fair chance to process your presence. A server can typically read the majority of her guests anticipations which means she can usually tell when everyone is ready to order or ask questions. If everyone is giving you their undivided attention but one person is in the middle of a story and will not stop, wait for the story to end. If you step away when everyone except one oblivious or rude diner is anticipating the night to progress, walking away will only build anxiety. If on the other hand everyone gives the impression of not being ready, they aren’t. Come back in a few minutes–you’ve got other things to do anyway.
- iamWaitress says: sometimes you are just too busy to wait from Mr. or Mrs. Talkalot to finish dominating the table. It is acceptable to step away and complete the tasks that need tending to. Just remember to come back as soon as possible.
- Etiquette says: when ordering, follow the example of the host. If there is no host, pay close attention to what everyone else is doing and do that. You don’t have to order what other people order, but pay attention to how many courses your fellow dinner guests are ordering. If everyone has ordered a soup or salad and an entree (2 courses), you should not order an appetizer and a soup and an entree (3 courses). The point of dining out together is to dine out together. When you order more or less courses than your table mates you throw off the whole table. Restaurants will often serve one course at a time so if you have one more item than everyone else, you will be eating that course alone. That causes everyone else to wait until you have finished before the next course can be served. On the other hand, if you order a course less, you will be spectatoring while others enjoy food. That can possibly make the people around you uncomfortable.
- Etiquette says: speak clearly and directly. Enunciate your words while making eye contact with your server. Do not look down while ordering. Do not mumble. You should ask yourself when ordering…am I looking at the server right now? If the answer is no, then LOOK UP.
- Etiquette says: do not vocalize distaste. If something seems expensive to you, do not say it! If something seems “gross” to you, do not say it! If you have had excellent xyz somewhere else and you hope this restaurant can do as good of a job, do not say it! You may be surprised, but this behavior can make your dinner companions uncomfortable–there are many reason why. Let’s consider a few scenarios:
- You are paying the bill and you think things are too expensive? How would that make your guests feel?
- You ate somewhere else and it was great? Your dinner companion suggested this place, how does your comment make them feel?
- You’ve eaten at the best places in the country? Who cares besides you?
- A food item is gross? What if your dinner companion was excited to order it?
- You can get this at the liquor store for less? Well, OF COURSE YOU CAN! How does mentioning it accomplish anything good?
- iamWaitress says: when you take an order, start with the guest of honor and move on to the women, going around the table clockwise, then take the men’s orders. Give as much guidance as needed. If a guest has ordered more or less courses than everyone else at the table, discreetly tell them this so they can make a final decision on their ordering. (Some people just don’t pay attention to what anyone else is doing. Often times, when the guest realizes that they are the “odd man out” in terms of ordering, they will choose to modify their order.) If they want stick with their number of courses it is now your job to make the amount of time that people are not eating together as limited as possible. Example: if someone orders one more course than everyone else, be sure to time the firing of the next course perfectly so you can remove course 1 and swiftly deliver the lone course).
- iamWaitress says: speak clearly, use correct volume and make eye contact with everyone evenly, while going over the menu, the specials, or conveying any information. Do not read the information to your guests from your server book. Memorize. While I do believe that being an exceptional server is not easy, memorizing food or drink specials should not be the hard part.
- iamWaitress says: do not compliment a guest (in front of others). Every time you single one person out worthy of a compliment you are subtly dissing everyone else. If you must give the compliment, give it while the guest is alone, not in front of his or her dinner mates.
- Etiquette says: when the server is going around the table pouring wine for everyone, what happens when you don’t want any? Well, don’t tip your glass over. That is not the proper way of showing that you would not like to imbibe on wine. The best way is to say no thank you to the server when she gets to you or to wave your hand over the glass to let your waitress know that you would not like any. Let them remove the glass so there is no confusion during the meal.
- Etiquette says: don’t gulp down your wine. Sip……..sip…..sip.
- Etiquette says: don’t overfill your wine glass…how ever can you effectively swirl your wine if your fill the glass more than 6 ounces?!?
- iamWaitress says: always pour wine from the right side of the guest which makes sense, because that is where the glasses are located. Move around the table in a clockwise motion. The reason is, by going in a clockwise motion you always come up on the guests right hand side so you can pour straight away. If you went counter clockwise you would have to walk behind the person and immediately pivot left to pour. That wastes time and is not as fluid.
- iamWaitress says: before pouring the wine, make sure the guest is not giving you indication that they would not like any i.e. saying no thank you, waving their hand or pushing the wine glass away.
- iamWaitress says: make sure the wine lasts the whole lap of the table. There must be enough left in the bottle to pour for the host and then some. By leaving a little in the bottle you are not forcing the guest to purchase another bottle of wine. Sometimes there will be 12 people and one bottle of wine. You must do the math and make it work.
- for more information on how to open a bottle of wine and proper wine service, check out “How to open a bottle of wine”.
Using Silverware / Marking
- Etiquette says: discretion. If you happen across a piece of silverware, plate, glass or napkin that is soiled, discreetly get the attention of the server and ask for a replacement. Never make a scene! Scenes are rude. Spectacles are tacky. Drawing attention is not acceptable manners.
- Etiquette says: when dining at a fine dining restaurant, you may find your table setting daunting. Fear not. Use the silverware starting from the outside of the setting and work your way in. Luckily, most modern restaurants will serve the correct silverware for the upcoming course just before the course arrives, so it should not be too tricky.
- iamWaitress says: polish and speck your table properly before service has started. If you are marking before every course pay close attention to the silverware you are using for every course. Silverware should be brought out on a linen lined tray or on a linen to keep silverware fingerprint and smudge free and silent.
- iamWaitress says: When marking a guest with silverware for the next course, or when preparing the table setting, place silverware one inch from the edge of the table in its correct position. Set silver down one at a time with minimal noise. Shh. Be purposeful, fluid and graceful.
- Etiquette says: when food arrives, sit back and make room for the plate. Your napkin should be in your lap!
- Etiquette says: do not start eating or asking questions right away. Sit back and enjoy the moment, this is part of the dining experience.
- Etiquette says: wait until everyone has been served and the server has explained dishes and poured sauces before you start asking questions.
- iamWaitress says: make sure the area in front of the guest is clear of any items. The customer is not responsible for doing anything but eating and drinking. If there are items in the way of food service, move them. If the napkin is still in front of the guest, gracefully put it in their lap.
- iamWaitress says: servers deliver food and go over the dishes. Pour any appropriate sauces, offer to answer questions, offer to fetch any item that may be needed.
- iamWaitress says: it is best not to deliver food to a table with less than 4 people if it is incomplete (a guest is away from the table). Never deliver food to a table of two when one is up from the table! If the table has 4 or more guests at it, deliver the food.
- iamWaitress says: There is a big restaurant industry myth that say “deliver from the left and remove from the right”, it’s just not true, UNLESS you are delivering food from a platter or if you are delivering bread. For detailed information on the Myth: Serve from the Left, check out the great article that covers it in depth.
Using Your Silverware
- Etiquette says: correct silverware will either be on the table when you are seated or will be delivered and positioned before the arrival of every course. Use the correct silverware. If you are confused, watch others or better yet use the silverware that is in the outermost position. You can always discreetly ask your server.
- Etiquette says: never put used silverware on the tablecloth. Keep it on you plate.
- Etiquette says: never teeter-tatter silverware from your plate. It should be 100% on the plate with no portion of it on the table.
- Etiquette says: don’t use more silverware then what is needed which will never be more than 3 pieces, but usually it is only a knife and fork.
- Etiquette says: if you are enjoying butter, use the butter knife located to the left of your plate, on the butter plate.
- iamWaitress says: mark your tables correctly! Make sure everyone has the silver they need for the upcoming course that will be delivered next.
Use Your Silverware!
- Etiquette says: you are provided with the correct amount and types of silverware for every course. A piece of cutlery that many people are not comfortable with is the knife. The knife is a tool used for cutting and guiding food onto your fork. Do not use your fingers. Use your knife. For every course you enjoy that requires a fork, your knife should be used as well.
- Etiquette says: when enjoying soup:
- don’t slurp
- don’t drink from the bowl
- don’t blow on it, let it cool
- tip bowl away from you to get the last of the soup, not towards you.
- scoop spoon away from you to get the last of the soup, never towards you.
- iamWaitress says: be on the lookout for dirty silverware that guests have wrongly used. There will be times when you will mark a steak knife for the arrival of their steak and you will find the guest using it to butter their bread. You may want to gouge their neck with it over their stupidity, but just bring a clean steak knife for them.
Enjoying Your Meal: Pace & Tempo
- Etiquette says: pace yourself, don’t finish before others and don’t hold things up. It is important to keep pace with everyone else at the table. If you eat too slow, you will hold up the next course because the servers won’t clear dirty plates and bring the next course until everyone has finished eating. If you eat too fast then that obviously means that you have not been enjoying the company around you because your focus has been on your food, tisk-tisk.
- Etiquette says: Take a bite. Put down your silverware on your plate in a 4 o’clock and 7 o’ clock position. Chew. Enjoy. Listen to your dinner companions tell their stories. Chat a little. Pace yourself!
- Etiquette says: do one thing at a time. Take a bite of the food item and then put your silverware down. Want a sip of water?, make that the only thing you are doing at that moment. Would you like to chat with your dinner companion? Then put the fork down. One thing at a time. One. Thing. At. A. Time.
- iamWaitress says: while everyone is enjoying their meal it is imperative that you keep up impeccable table maintenance.
- Etiquette says: place your napkin on the side of your plate when excusing yourself from the table, not on your chair and certainly not on your plate . Say excuse me when leaving the table, don’t say where you are going.
- Etiquette says: leave the table if you must engage in any noises: nose blowing, loud talking or use of a cell phone, to name a few.
- Etiquette says: ladies, leave the table to apply makeup. Never do so at the table. It is very tacky.
- Etiquette says: remember that in most excellent restaurants the staff will hold food back if everyone is not present at the table, so be considerate of that. If you are away from the table on your cell phone it is possible that your food is ready and the servers are awaiting your arrival back to the table for food delivery. If it takes too long the kitchen will have to start over on everyone’s dinner and that could take another 10-30 minutes. Then guess what happens? Someone at your table, (maybe even you) complains that food is taking forever! But in actuality, it has been prepared and ready but was thrown away thanks to you. Nice job!
- iamWaitress says: when a guest is up from the table take the opportunity to freshen up their table setting. Re-fold the linen, make sure the silverware is in its correct position, pour more water, organize their drinks and crumb if necessary.
Coming Back To The Table
- Etiquette says: men should rise when a woman leaves the table, even if it is slight.
- iamWaitress says: when you return to the table to check on food you should not interrupt the diners when they are engaged in conversation. Go to your spot and wait for F I V E seconds. If you get no attention then take a look around the table and make sure there is no table maintenance that must be carried out.
Salt and Pepper
- Etiquette says: taste food before seasoning. Taste food before asking for salt and pepper or other condiments.
- iamWaitress says: if someone asks for salt, bring salt and pepper. If someone asks for pepper, bring pepper and salt.
- iamWaitress says: never bring commercial condiments in their bottle out to a guest. Put a moderate amount of the requested condiment in a ramekin, put the ramekin on a napkin lined plate and bring that to the table.
- Etiquette says: when you are finished with the meal, place your two pieces of silverware in the 4 o’clock or 2 o’ clock position. This tells the server you are finished.
- Etiquette says: when you are still enjoying your meal and would like to rest, place your two pieces of silverware at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock position.
- Etiquette says: do not put your beautiful linen/cotton napkin on your plate where it can get soiled. Your napkin belongs in your lap.
- Etiquette says: do not push the plate away from yourself. Keep your plate in front of you with the silverware in the “I’m done” position.
- Etiquette says: do not stack your dishes. It is thoughtful and helpful, but it is not your job and it doesn’t look good.
- Etiquette says: Do not put your used linen napkin on your plate. It belongs in your lap until you are finished with your dining experience. At that time you should neatly place it on the left side of your setting.
- iamWaitress says: clear everyone’s plate at the same time. Enlist the cooperation of other servers for help. If you work in a restaurant where servers do not help each other then clear correctly by: rest one plate on the forearm of the arm that is not dominant and hold the next plate in your hand of that same arm. Stack plates on the forearm pushing food onto the plate that is in your hand. All silverware, butter plates, side plates and silverware will go on the plate that is in your hand. By using this method you will have a clean, even and perfectly stacked set of plates on your forearm. When you can carry no more, put the plate in your hand onto the top of the plates on your forearm. Voila.
Making Friends With Your Server
- Etiquette says: the server is there to serve you (and others), not to entertain you, be forced to listen to your jokes and laugh at them, listen to your story, tell you about her life or to ask you about yours. Sorry. (Disclaimer: For the most part, servers are happy to do these things, but there are times when it is not a good time. Your server may be too busy to chat it up with you. Or, you may be really boring and annoying.)
- Etiquette says: Be courteous: say please, say thank you, make eye contact when there is any dialogue between you and your server and do not mumble.
- iamWaitress says: Don’t be overly familiar! You are there to serve your guest, answer their questions and be kind, pleasant, helpful, courteous and calm.
Paying the bill
- Etiquette says: if you would like to be the one who pays the bill then tell your server before hand. Do not fight over who will pay the bill once it arrives. This is a major offense of etiquette. Do not verbally threaten your server! such words such as: “we are regulars, if you let “so & so” pay we are never coming back”, “I tip better”, “‘I’ll tell [fill in manager or owners name]” or “If you let “so & so” pay I will not tip good when I come back”
- Etiquette says: Tell the server before hand if you will be needing separate checks.
- Etiquette says: tip 20%. If you have foregone all manners and etiquette that this article has taught you then tip more than 20%. You are paying for the service of not having to make your own food, or drink. You will not have to clean up. You want to be treated very special, you must pay for that treatment.
- iamWaitress says: place check in the middle of the table. If someone has given you a credit card at the beginning of the meal and would like the bill charged to them, honor it! If they have done the right thing by talking to you before hand, then you should do the right thing and remember.
- iamWaitress says: if someone has approached you before the bill is dropped requesting to be the one to pay, honor the request!
- iamWaitress says: always give the best service that you can. Go any extra mile you can; if you genuinely care a lot you will find a lot of ways (creative and standard) to do so.
10 Additional tips:
- We won’t touch our mouth or hair in front of you. You should not touch your mouth or hair either.
- We’ll place the food in front of you exactly how chef would like it displayed to you. Keep your elbows off the table so we can do so.
- We will crumb the table and keep it clean for you. You in turn will eat with manners and never put a used piece of silverware on the table linen.
- We will do our best to inform you of a declined credit card as tactfully as possible. You should not raise a stink because of your card being declined.
- Sometimes we provide toothpicks at the host stand. Feel free to take on and use it on your way out. Do not use it at a table.
- If you drop a napkin on the floor it is ok to tell a server that you dropped your napkin and need another one. You do not need to pick it up (unless it is in a walk way, then pick it up…quick!). Servers, if you see someone drop a napkin, pick it up and replace it with a fresh one.
- Make room for plates, don’t grab them and NEVER take anything off of a tray (the balance of a tray is tricky, when you throw it off, chances are it will throw everything off and everything on teh tray will fall). We will place the food in front of you the way it should be presented.
- Do not ask for anything twice from two different servers. If you feel that the original server has forgotten then tell server#2 something to the effect of “I ordered a glass of Chablis from our server but it has been awhile. Could you please check with him/her to see if it is coming”? If you don’t do that and two Chablis arrive, will you pay for both? NO? Well then….follow rule number 8!
- When enjoying bread, break a piece or two off of the whole. Butter those pieces. Keep bread on the bread plate when buttering, do not hold bread in the air to butter.
- Your server will take a coffee order at the end of your meal. Order a coffee if you would like one, please don’t share.
What have I forgotten? What would you like to add?
Comment below–yo! And sign up for my super bad-ass, awesome newsletter. Be updated when I publish a post and get exclusive tips and information. How awesome is that?
For more information of etiquette…
Join iamWaitress on Google+!
I'm Jennifer and I would be honored to be your virtual restaurant consultant. I'm a real human, immersed in the industry, here to provide you with the most helpful ideas, information and products to make you more money and more successful.
No stone is left unturned here. I cover it all. So shoot me
a message, ask a question or just introduce yourself!
I can't wait to hear from you!
Latest posts by Jennifer, iamWaitress (see all)
- 7 Types of Restaurant Guests and How to Please Them All - December 26, 2016
- 8 tips to earn higher tips - December 12, 2016
- Seating Guests Like A Pro: Table Mapping and Section Planning - December 1, 2016