Arrive On Time
It’s the first thing you’ll learn in this dining 101: always make sure you’re on time for your reservation. “It is a restaurant’s job to turn tables, and most restaurants turn tables every two hours, so turning up late means you’re likely to stay over your allotted time,” a London Maître d' tells us. “Even better – turn up a few minutes early! We like those customers best.”
Wear Something Nice
If in doubt, always go smart – you’re never going to be kicked out of a restaurant for being too well dressed. Particularly for evening dining, avoid jeans, trainers, t-shirts. For the top-notch fancy restaurants, Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick of The Etiquette School of New York says that mean should at least wear jackets, if not a suit, while women should stick to dresses or suits, and shoes instead of sandals.
Don’t Seat Yourself
If you see a host stand, don’t just walk past it. “I’m here for a reason,” restaurant hostess Cory, who blogs at A Not So Simple Life, says. “If for some reason I am not at the front door when you arrive, do not assume that means you can seat yourself.” Wait until someone from the wait staff comes over and give them a smile.
And when they do come over, keep the good behaviour going: “Don’t be on your phone upon arrival – it’s very rude when people enter the restaurant and just hold up two fingers at me, asking ‘For two’. Two what?!” The Maître d' tells us. “Just put the phone down for a minute and say: ‘A table for two please’. Much better.”
Be Fair When It Comes To Ordering Wine
When buying a bottle of wine with others, it’s important to be mindful of other people’s budgets. “To insist upon any particular wine would be remarkably crass, especially if it’s a costly bottle,” advises luxury lifestyle expert Paul Russell. “Initiate the conversation, see what people like the look of and take it from there.” But if the majority fancy something that you’re not keen on, it’s perfectly fine to order yourself something different: “If the consensus isn’t one that suits you, then it’s fine to say “Actually, I think I’m going to have a G&T,” or whatever you would like to drink.”
Order The Same Amount Of Food As Your Companion
There’s nothing more awkward than having to sit and watch someone devour a starter when you decided to hold off for the main course. Patricia says ordering the same amount allows you to keep pace with the other person. And don’t rush it; try to eat at the same speed as each other, that was no one will feel rushed to finish their food.
The same goes if your companion is footing the bill: if they order a main meal only, then you order a main meal only. Don’t go for the whole shebang if you’re not paying for it.
Avoid Taking Pictures Of Your Food
Food is there to be eaten, not Instagrammed. Unless you’re with your girlfriends and they’re all doing it too, maybe hold off on the photo sesh – ultimately, it stops people from being able to eat and enjoy their food the moment it reaches the table. And all the likes in the world is not worth a cold starter.
Know Which Way To Turn
In scenarios where there’s a few of you eating, to ensure you’re not swiping your neighbour’s drink or bread, Paul says to remember the acronym ‘BMW’ or ‘bread, meal, water’ which works from left to right: “The bread to the left of your main plate is yours, as are the water and drinks to the right of your plate.”
Always Ask To Try Food First
If your companion has a chocolate cake that’s just begging to be split, always make sure you ask them if you can have a bite before reaching over and digging in – and maybe don’t ask at all if you’re somewhere more formal. "I don't recommend sharing if you're with someone you don't know very well, or if you're at a formal business meal," warns Particia. "If you're with someone you know better, pass them your bread plate with a little sample of food on it."
Be Polite And Discreet When Sending Food Back
Regardless of whether your food is cold or it’s not what you ordered, there’s no excuse for rudeness towards staff members. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I have witnessed a guest being abominably rude to staff; there seems to be a perception that they almost don’t count,” says Paul. Our Maître d' agrees: “Staff will ask at various points in the meal if you are enjoying the food, especially if they see food not being eaten. Please, just be honest – we’re there to rectify the situation. Restaurants would rather know and sort it out at the time rather than read a bad review about themselves on Trip Advisor.”
So, if you do need to send food back and have a valid reason for doing so, then make it discreet – there is no need to attract the attention of everyone at the table. “Explain quietly and politely your issue to your server and let them resolve it for you equally discreetly,” Paul suggests.
Phones Have No Place At The Table
Dining out is the perfect opportunity to catch up and converse without any real distractions, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group - so keep your mobile firmly in your pocket. “They divert attention from the main objective of a meal – that is, to talk and socialise with others whilst enjoying some good food,” says Paul. “A preoccupation with a phone shows that you are not interested in others and what they have to say.”
Be Savvy With Your Napkin
Most will know that your napkin goes in your lap (and not tucked into your top), but what about when you need to leave the table? If you do have to excuse yourself during the meal, then Paul suggests folding your napkin and placing it on the seat of your chair. “A waiter may come along and place it on the chair back in a more formal restaurant, but never place it on the chair back or arm yourself, and never fold it and place it on the table. Doing this is a signal that you have finished eating.”
Always Show When You’ve Finished Your Meal
There’s plenty of ways to signal to your waiter without even saying a word. Clise Etiquette says to use your knife and fork to signal to wait staff where you are in your meal. “To let them know you’re still eating, place the fork with the tines down at 8:40 on the plate and the knife at 4:20 on the plate,” they instruct. And when you’re done eating? Simply put your knife and fork together at the 4:20 position.
Paying The Bill Doesn’t Need To Be Stressful
We’ve all had an experience where paying the bill turns everyone into a stressed accountant, trying to tediously itemise each drink and side order. Paul says occasionally, the organiser of the dinner will pay the bill, but that’s not always the case. In most other cases, the bill is to be split evenly - not making a fuss about the discrepancy will show the people you’re dining with that their company means more to you than what you ate.
As a rule of thumb, the tip you put down should be around 10-20% of the bill. Often you’re offered to add the tip onto card payments, but that will likely mean that your tip won’t go to the specific person who served you. “Be aware that the service charge tends to go to the entire team, particularly in small restaurants,” warns the Maître d’. “If you want to know where exactly your tip will be going, ask the manager.” If you’d rather the tip go to your server in particular, it’s better to tip in cash.
Don’t Hang About
Remember how our maitre d’ said you have a two-hour time slot? Bear that in mind after you finish your food. If you want the evening to continue, go find a bar and grab a drink. You don’t want to hold a table that a restaurant needs back, particularly if it’s a popular restaurant or a weekend. Staying past your allotted time could prevent another customer from being seated.