How to Behave When Dining Out: Top Ten Etiquette Tips for Diners

Categories: Top 10

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Photo by BeeCeeMayfair
If you don't want to read this whole post, here's the gist: Don't be an asshole.
I've never worked as a waiter, waitress, hostess, manager or chef, but I like to think I can recognize when a customer is being an asshole. I'm betting you probably can too.

We've all seen the guy who chooses to yell at the top of his lungs on a cell phone in a small, crowded restaurant or the parents who let their children run wild and bother other diners while they enjoy a pleasant meal. I really think we all know how to behave in a restaurant. The problem is we don't all put this knowledge to practice.

In the spirit of happy diners and good food, here's a list full of quick reminders about how to be a good restaurant customer, from attire to tipping and all the important stuff in between.

Oh, and don't worry. There will also be a list of waiter etiquette coming soon.

10. Know how to dress for the restaurant at which you're eating
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing gym clothes out to eat -- if you're eating at Taco Cabana. If, however, you're dining at a fancy steakhouse, step it up a little. Forget jeans and t-shirts. Try to avoid tennis shoes. Throw on a nice blazer or some heels. If you're unsure about what to wear, go online and see if you can find photos from the restaurant. Even if there aren't photos of people dining, shots of the interior space should give you an idea of how dressy or casual the restaurant is. Also look at the menu prices. Generally, a more expensive menu will call for dressing up a little more. If there's a specific dress code, the restaurant's website should detail exactly what that is. But here's a rule that applies at any restaurant (I'm looking at you, ladies): Keep the girls tucked into your shirt, pull up your low rise jeans and pull down the labia-skimming shorts. I don't care if you're eating at McDonald's or The French Laundry. Nobody wants to see that much skin on anything but a roasted chicken.

9. Make reservations
If a restaurant clearly states that reservations are required, don't act like you're some sort of royalty who can waltz in whenever and be seated without a reservation. If you're not sure if reservations are needed, call and ask. Never show up late and expect to be seated immediately just because you reserved a table. If you're even ten minutes late to a busy restaurant, the host or hostess is completely justified in giving away your table. That said, if you have a reservation, and you still have to wait more than 30 minutes to be seated, you had better be dining at a restaurant helmed by one of the top chefs in the world. Waiting that long for a reserved table at Red Lobster is not OK, and you have my permission to complain about that sort of service on Yelp as many times as you want.


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67 comments
DCPIV
DCPIV

If I may add one more:

Please keep your "fragrance" subdued.  Please do.  This doesn't come up as often as it used to, but it still does.

Especially when going out for something special, everyone likes to look nice and smell nice, but please do not overdo those fragrances.  This goes for both men and women.  Even the most pleasant cologne, perfume, body spray, hair stuff, or whatever will make your table neighbors' eyes sting at some point, and that point often is lower than the wearer believes.  You can still fill the room with your grandeur without filling everyone's nostrils with your fragrance.

jcd8822
jcd8822

Restaurants should have something installed where cell phones will not work.  I read about a year ago where some restaurants in other parts of the country no longer allow small children.  YEA!!  Now if we could find a way to place a muffler on those who talk and laugh at the top of their lungs.

Jessica Logan
Jessica Logan

With the internet and a simple click of google, people can read up on what to wear and the basics manners, if they don't already know. Last week, I met a friend for dinner at Vic & Anthony's for a 7:30 reservation. I brought along my 9 year old son, who wore a suit, and had better table manners and etiquette then most of the surrounding tables. The group of young people 25-30 to my right looked like they should have been ordering from a food truck, with manners and attire to match. After the business men to my right left, a young 30ish couple were seated. The man brought the bowl of nuts from the bar and dove into the bread basket like he hadn't eating in a week, while talking with his mouth open and loud enough to disturb the other guests. Call me a "snob" but not all people belong everywhere. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck... it is a duck! Unfortunately, there is no pride taken by most people, whether it is what they wear, their behavior or manners and others who do are forced to have to deal with them or are labeled as snobs or not a good person.

Melia Hughes
Melia Hughes

Alternatively, don't go to the places that offer HRW menus during HRW. That will spare you having to rub elbows with "those people."

Melia Hughes
Melia Hughes

Everyone "belongs" anywhere they can afford to be. It's allegedly still a free country. I agree that it is nice, however, when they know how to act and what to wear and all of the things in this list, particularly not getting too drunk and being obnoxious, which infringes on other people's enjoyment of their evening. Shouldn't we welcome people to try new experiences and different restaurants? That's how they learn. Be gracious and understanding, whenever possible. Show them, by example, how it works. Not everyone had the privilege of learning that as they grew up, but if they are trying to learn now, I encourage that! I know plenty of people who violate a lot of these rules, regardless of their social status. Being a snob won't make it better, but being a good person will help.

Jessica Logan
Jessica Logan

I don't know when this was posted or originally published. But this needs to come out a week before AND during Houston Restaurant Week. People who normally not patrons of some of the upscale restaurants need to know about attire, ordering and table etiquette. Just because it's a week where you maybe able to afford to eat there, doesn't mean you belong there!

louis.skipper
louis.skipper

"If he or she was lousy, go with 15 percent." - Only in America would someone expect us to pay extra for lousy service, which is why service in America is so lousy.

ShitThrowingMonkey
ShitThrowingMonkey

The kids thing is a no brainer for most people.  But I'm giving you the stink-eye from afar because you don't know what it's like.  Personally, even though I do my best to rein in my son when we are out, I really don't  care so much when I see other kids letting loose.  Kids are funny.

Also, my definition of fine dining may be different, but I've never seen any kids out at the "nice" dinners I may go to from time to time.  If people complain about kids at Pappasitos or Tony's Mexican or Carrabas or Maggianos, they may want to re-evaluate how they define fine dining.

willwalsh1
willwalsh1

I will continue to wear a t-shirt under my blazer for dinner at The Pass as long as the Wu-Tang soundtracks is playing over my Chemex course.

Uchi has a "come as you are" mentality towards their diners, shorts and flip-flop wearers included. Don't believe me, ask your server. They are Austin after all...

Ox Heart gets a blazer because I am rejoicing about my long awaited reservation arriving, but I am usually one of the only ones.

Underbelly, button down and jeans.

Point is.... You mentioned asking for a doggy bag is OK because "we are Americans", but more specifically, we are Texas. We are laid back people. When Brennan's finally drops their Jacket and slacks dress code after decades of making that one guy in your party wear their 5-sizes-too-large "stock" blazer, we are making progress. 

Dining out should be about food, not elitism. Over the past 15 years Houston has bread and attracted a diner that now cares more about what they are eating than what others are wearing. 

That being said, no one ever scoffs at a nice suit, and if you could install a sleaze-o-meter at every front door, I would be all for it... I may be in jeans, but we can see your butt cheeks coming out of those shorts.  

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

One addition; know your guests. My Mrs. always had to remind me, that as much as I wanted to treat Mutha' McClellan to the best of Brennan's, my Mom wanted a burger from Langford or Champ's.

And, just me or does any one else notice the worst drinkers are also the ones who bring their kids to the restaurant--with a bar--and then forget about them? WTF?

VeryVino
VeryVino

Well Kaitlyn, I think you are doing a great job when you get so many people commenting on your article!

jboogie1003
jboogie1003

I am a server in one of Houston's busiest restaurants. I can understand this list, but I also find it one-sided and would have preferred that someone with more service knowledge would have written or contributed to it. To-go boxes are fine, it's not about the clothes, rather the experience. I work extremely hard at not up-selling because I do NOT believe in it, but rather EARNING a 20% tip from all of my tables. It does upset me when I've given my best and receive a $10 tip on a $100 tab but there is NOTHING I can do about that. This profession is my choice and I love it. The one issue that is the most difficult for me, is working in such a high volume restaurant and the tables who decide to camp out for 4 hours in my 4 table section. This is how I pay my bills, I don't rush anyone and I don't' make comments about it, but it is an issue. I want every guest of mine to have a life-changing experience, but when it's over, it's over. Please don't stay at my table for more than 3 hours. I have to pay my bills, friends.

Bettina
Bettina

Did I miss the one about not photographing every course of the meal; or, like one food writer in town, photographing yourself alongside every course of the meal?

justmyopinion
justmyopinion

I have to say that the content of the blog has really gone down since the departure of katherine shillcutt. Katherine was a far far better food writer, the current writer seems to have no real knowledge of food and specifically the food of Houston.

rgwalt
rgwalt

Tipping should be abolished.  Instead, the restaurant should impose a mandatory 18% service charge, and should distribute the income among the waitstaff, bus boys, chefs, hosts, etc.  Additional money left as a tip should be given to charity.

In restaurants where this strategy has been implemented, the restaurant staff and customers both report being happier, and sales tend to improve.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

Waitstaff should read # 1, then maybe # 2 will never bean issue...

20% is the ceiling, not the norm, 15% is the norm, as to the hourly wage, maybe its time servers unionize and force a decent wage, but please, don't expect me to cover the spread, especially if you are having an off night.....

Motherscratcher
Motherscratcher

This has to be the most pretentious and presumptuous list in Houston Press history. While the list is sprinkled with some responsible etiquette lessons, it really is more of a passive-aggressive "10 ways that a waiter who thinks he is more important than he actually is thinks you should behave when you sit at his table because you are many ways blessed to be exposed to his waiting prowess" .

I get a lot of the stuff. It's common sense. But not coming to eat too close to closing and leaving 15 minutes after you finish your meal? My first jobs were in the service industry and I had good times being a waiter. I had good customers and bad. But I always knew I was a waiter. Waiters are treated better than 90% of other hospitality and service positions. Give me a break. Whaaa, whaaaa, whaaa.  

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Meanwhile, there are planes/trains/boats departing every day. Catch one.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@louis.skipper  

In most countries service is included in the price, so you are paying for lousy service there as well.  And service in the USA tends to be pretty good.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Without getting into class/taste distinctions, if the restaurant in questions does NOT prominently feature a cartoon clown/singing rat/toy surprise in a boxed meal--and your kid is swinging from the fixtures--we're gonna have issues. Meanwhile if the joint has a bar--or even a wine list--the kids (0-12 years old) should be left with a sitter.

paval
paval topcommenter

@ShitThrowingMonkey  

My parents had me and my younger brother eating at the "cat table" till we learned to eat and behave like adults. And i have seen that in a few French families I had dinner with. Kids get a chance every evening to join the adults at the grown ups table. If they perform properly they stay, if not off they go. Most kids, including myself, learn how to eat like adults rather fast, and I can say now, that I handle myself very well with fork and knife and even use the napkin from time to time. I also do not throw tantrums when the waiters put one cube of ice to little into my ice tea. its all a learning process. 

willwalsh1
willwalsh1

@ShitThrowingMonkey 

Underbelly, Coppa and Dolce Vita are all places that I have seen children at, and also taken my two kids to with just me taming them, so to speak. Ha. All of the aforementioned places have a staff that welcome children and are happy to see them. My kids are 6 and 4, and I must say that it has only been recently that I have been comfortable eating at that level with them. They are much more tame and now interested in the great world of food if explained in an exiting way.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@ShitThrowingMonkey I will accept your stink eye because you're right: I totally don't know what it's like to have a kid going a bit bonkers at a restaurant. But there's definitely a time and a place.

chumley
chumley

@willwalsh1 

..." Over the past 15 years Houston has bread and attracted a diner that now cares more about what they are eating than what others are wearing."

Would that it were so. Have you not dined in the Galleria area? Or any of the power spots another post mentioned? Foodies are a rarer breed than you think, but I agree with the thrust of your comment.  Be comfy

chumley
chumley

@Bettina 

You talkin bout my buddy Eric Sandler snappin pics of himself in mirrored aviators....he rolls large like a 20

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@Bettina  

I can see it might bother you if they use a flash, but otherwise who cares if people take a snapshot of their food?  How does that bother you if you're minding your own goddamn business?

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Bettina Haha I mean, to each his own...I think that kind of goes along with not having your cell phone out at dinner, but I often have to photograph food that I'm eating for work, so I have a little more sympathy for that. But I completely agree that it can get really annoying. Especially when someone says, "No one eat until I get a photo!"

chumley
chumley

@justmyopinion 

I think it's Katharine (sp) but as a big fan you know that already. And you can still read her at this site and her new one at Houstonia where she recycles much of the stuff you'll find here.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Upside--you can always get back to work.

paval
paval topcommenter

@justmyopinion I would also say you need to give Ms. Steinberg some time to get to know more of Houston, its is a step up from minor St. Louis to the fourth biggest city in the US and a diverse one as Houston is. 

Plus I know plenty of Houstonians who have lived here their whole life who have never ventured either in or out of the loop and that in many years of living here. Ms. Steinberg is on the job only for a few months. 

I believe you should continue contributing as encouraged by KS, as even critical contributions will allow her to learn more about the city and its people (nice and less nice ones)

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@justmyopinion Well thanks for reading anyway! Your pageviews make me look like I'm doing something right...

Bettina
Bettina

@justmyopinion  

No, you don't "have to say" anything, asshole. 

If it's not up to your high standards don't read it, and don't compound things by feeling compelled to comment. That way you won't look mean, and rather uninformed (it takes time for a critic to get to know a city) .....and you won't waste your precious time. 

paval
paval topcommenter

@rgwalt I waited tables in a European country as a student and we were salaried. A 18% service surcharge was included in the bill. This revenue was used by the restaurants to pay the salaries, insurance and taxes on the waitstaff.  

Tips were given voluntarily and additionally if service was good, 5%-10% was the norm.Tips were collected in a pool, 20% of it would go to the kitchen, 5% to the bar and the rest to the staff.

If tips were to be abolished in the US, which would only be possible by forcing restaurants to pay salaries to everyone and provide insurance, a lot of staff would be shed, a lot of restaurants would have to close. Comparing it to my own experiences I would say it would lead to a more productive, less worried staff, but eating out would turn more expensive (less choice and more expensive operations), and I am not sure it would lead necessary to happier staff. 

 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@rgwalt I only know of a couple in the United States, one of which just recently closed in California.


I agree, though.

theadamkomar
theadamkomar

@texmex01 I get sick of the entitled behavior of waitstaff. "You're supposed to tip 20%!" No, I'm not. I'm supposed to tip what you earned, if anything. Want 20%? Earn it, not insist it.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Motherscratcher The next list will be how waiters should behave, so if you have some suggestions, by all means!

ichybon1979
ichybon1979

@MadMac So your saying only give kids fast food. your are what's wrong with this world. Go ahead and have your T.G.I.F.fridays and chillys then

.

chumley
chumley

@willwalsh1 @ShitThrowingMonkey  

um, I think Marco Wiles is one of the few brave enough not to stock height chairs or booster seats at his places to actively discourage bringing kids.

i hope he hasn't reversed course on this. i too like taking my son to dolce vita, but he's old enough not to be a pain to me and other diners about.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Bruce_Are @Bettina I mainly think it's annoying when people I'm with want to take photos of everything. I don't care if someone at another table is doing it. That said, I have to take photos of what I eat for the blog, so I' definitely one of those people who annoys me...

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Agreed. For what I pay, be lucky I don't want to render my experience on canvas.

rgwalt
rgwalt

I don't think the predictions you made would come true... Case in point: Europe.  European restaurants function much the same as those in the US without the current tipping structure.  Tipping is inefficient.  By replacing tipping with a service charge, nothing would necessarily have to change.  Food prices could remain the same, and the bottom line of the bill would remain the same (except for people who stiff on the tip, but that is the problem we are trying to solve).  Waitstaff, etc, would be paid out according to the total revenue brought in for service.  Waitstaff could expect to be paid the same percentage from each group of customers, so service should improve accordingly.  Yes, there would be an adjustment period, but I think it would be for the best.

Motherscratcher
Motherscratcher

Confirm the orders at the table before you leave for the kitchen.

Have a go-to recommendation off of the menu instead of saying "everything is great". A good waiter knows the menu and has probably tasted it all.

If there is an unusual circumstance that is going to delay service or food, let us know. It's better that way. If I am in a hurry, I'll tell you. If you are in the weeds and it's going to impact me, just give me the same courtesy. 

One lime generally does not last through six refills of iced tea. It would be a nice touch if you brought me a few without me having to ask. It's a nice touch and it's noticed.  

I won't run you intentionally. But....every once in a while I will forget something and ask for it the moment that you return with my previous request. Sorry. It happens, I apologise unreservedly. Please just don't roll your eyes or let out a sigh of inconvenience.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

1) If you read--lost art, I know--I think you'd see that my statement is: playing/running/screaming/setting things on fire is PERFECTLY acceptable in restaurants pitched and built on serving children;

2) However, shatbit crazy children are not appropriate in restaurants featuring grown up service and grown up prices;

3) However, if the "child" is in Brennan's/Mark's/Hugo's and if the "parant" is allowing their livestock to run riot, I will check the irresponsible parent;

4) I PLAINLY stated I didn't care to engage in class/taste distinctions but since you brought it up, I consider TGIFridays and Chili's--along with IHOP/Denny's/Kelly's--as kid's turf and avoid all of them--like the plague.

Now, that I've explained my opinion in everything but sign language and signal flags, I hope we can go back to being best friends.

willwalsh1
willwalsh1

@chumley @willwalsh1 @ShitThrowingMonkey 

Revival is a great place to take your kids for lunch. I know it's not a restaurant, per se, but just for sake of conversation they can get some great food and, at least for my kids, they may find the salumi display fascinating and the maps of where their meats come from. Trust me, every single person in there is itching to help children grow in the understanding of food and farming. If we help our young ones understand what this all is you might find that they are ready to dine out at a much younger age.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Motherscratcher Awesome, thanks for the input! I'm sure some of those suggestions will end up in the next etiquette post.

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