Restaurant etiquette: Avoid these common dining faux pas

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We all manage a faux pas or a slip of our manners from time-to-time. But there are some things that can end up being just plain rude and could wind up making you look bad in front of your dining companions, especially in a restaurant, and we’re not talking about the basics like talking with food in your mouth, gesturing with cutlery in your hands, or putting your elbows on the table.

Here are 12 things you should try to avoid doing when dining out. Stick to these etiquette rules and chances are you’ll end up having better dining experiences.

Man waiting at restaurant
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1. Don’t show up late

Nobody likes to waste time waiting for someone to show up, and that’s especially true when it comes to restaurant reservations. Many restaurants employ a 15-minute rule. If you’re later than that for a reservation, you may forfeit your table. Others that don’t have such a rule may bump you to a less desirable table or make you wait.

So, don’t be late (your friends will thank you, too!), but if you can’t avoid it, call and let them know (your friends and/or the restaurant). They may be able to make a special accommodation and they’ll appreciate your good manners.

Woman anxious to eat
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2. Don’t be crunched for time

Dinner and a show is great,  but not when you’re rushed for time. And that goes for both you and the restaurant employees who are serving you. So give yourself ample time so you’re relaxed and can enjoy the experience. If you find yourself with extra time between dinner and the show, you can always take a stroll, stop for coffee (or have a second round at the restaurant).

Senior women having coffee
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3. Don’t overstay your welcome

While it’s good to be relaxed, be aware of second-seating times or that large group of patrons at the bar waiting for a table. If your table is cleared, you’re no longer eating or drinking anything and are just talking with your companions, consider moving the evening to a nearby bar, park or even someone’s home.

It can help to think of your table as a taxi. You’re paying for the ride to your final destination, but if you sit in the car for 30 minutes after arriving, the driver isn’t going to let you do so for free. The meter will keep running.

While the restaurant doesn’t have a meter running like a taxi would, you are costing them money by occupying a table that could otherwise be serving other guests. So, if you want to linger, order another bottle of wine or some coffee and dessert. Of course, if the restaurant isn’t busy or you know you’re the last seating, tarry away until closing, but do leave a nice tip.

Busy restaurant
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4. Don’t try to be in control

There’s a rhythm to dining out, and that rhythm is typically orchestrated in large part by your server. In higher-end restaurants especially, they balance your needs as a customer with the abilities of the kitchen based on sheer volume of orders. So, if you insist on ordering your entire meal at the moment they greet you (instead of just your drinks, for example) you could end up disrupting the rhythm. It’s often most enjoyable if you just sit back, relax and let your server be your guide.

Restaurant server wearing mask
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5. Don’t be rude or pushy

This is especially important these days. COVID-19 has left many restaurants short staffed. You may not be getting the best service, but it may not be your server’s fault. Try to be understanding if you see that the restaurant employees are scrambling to keep up.

Woman holding up credit card
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6. Don’t wave your arms or snap your fingers at your server

In most cases, eye contact and a simple nod should suffice. If your server has simply disappeared, get up and speak to the host or manager. Flailing your arm, snapping your fingers, holding up your credit card (or even laying it at the edge of the table) — especially in a nicer restaurant — only reflects poorly on you.

Leaving tip at restaurant
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7. Don’t leave a lousy tip

Some people think they should tip only on the base cost of the meal, not the tax. Others think they should tip only on the food and not on their drinks. Some people think 10% is more than enough when it comes to gratuity. All of these people are wrong.

The majority of servers in the United States rely on tips for their income. Some make as little as $2 an hour as a base salary, so consider that cost before dining out. If you can’t leave at least 15% for good service, you may be better off going somewhere you don’t need to tip.

Laughing friends in restaurant
djiledesign / iStock

8. Don’t get loud

We’ve all been there. There’s that one table in the restaurant with the loud talkers, the boisterous laughers or the folks who don’t mute their phones even amid multiple chirps and rings. Don’t be those people. I

Restaurant patrons on phones
LuckyBusiness / iStock

9. Put your phone away

Put your phone down and engage with your dining companions and the server. You’ll have a much better experience.

If you absolutely need to take a call or send a text, step outside or into the restroom.

People paying restaurant bill
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10. Don’t fight over the bill

You probably just want to be generous and treat your dining companion(s), but everyone thrusting their credit cards at the waiter in a game of “pick me” as the bill is delivered is just an awful predicament for the server.

Arrange in advance for who will pay the bill. If that doesn’t work, just let your friend pay. You can make it up to them some other time.

Woman complaining to waiter
JackF / iStock

11. Don’t be reluctant to lodge a complaint — & don’t save it for an online review

If you’re dining in-person and you have a bad experience, let the manager or another employee know. In most cases, restaurants want to know when something goes awry. They want you to be happy and fix any issues. You may even get a discount off your meal.

Likewise, not saying anything while you’re there and then leaving a bad review on Yelp or Google doesn’t help the restaurant get better in the moment. What if you’d said something and they went above and beyond to fix it? Give them the opportunity.

Woman talking to restaurant server
Drazen Zigic / iStock

12. Don’t wait to tell your server you’re allergic to nuts

Most kitchens can accommodate food allergies and other dietary restrictions, but a little notice helps them do so more efficiently. Some servers will ask you shortly after greeting you if you have any special dietary restrictions. But if they don’t ask and you do have a special need, go ahead and let them know as soon as possible. They can help make recommendations or plan with the kitchen to ensure your needs are met. And you’re likely to be digging into your meal sooner, too.

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Restaurant etiquette: Avoid these common dining faux pas

Constance Brinkley-Badgett

Constance Brinkley-Badgett is MediaFeed’s executive editor. She has more than 20 years of experience in digital, broadcast and print journalism, as well as several years of agency experience in content marketing. She has served as a digital producer at NBC Nightly News, Senior Producer at CNBC, Managing Editor at ICF Next, and as a tax reporter at Bloomberg BNA.

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