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Restaurant Etiquette 101

Charlotte Gerber -- Everyone dines out for different reasons, but we all expect the same end result. If you follow the basic rules of restaurant etiquette you can expect professional service and a more pleasurable dining experience.

Everyone has their own idea of what a dining experience in a restaurant should be. Most people would agree that they expect prompt service with a smile, food made to their specifications and a pleasing atmosphere. Unfortunately many restaurant goers today have forgotten basic manners.

Eating at a restaurant is a two-way street. There are certain expectations from both the waitstaff and the patrons. The waitstaff expects civil behavior from those they serve and the patrons are expecting a dining experience that they can enjoy. If everyone is happy in the exchange the restaurant can expect repeat business and possibly a few referrals. Patrons who have a negative dining experience will usually tell as many as 15 people about it.

One of the first things a patron should be aware of before dining in a particular restaurant is the dress code. Casual dress is rarely ripped jeans and a sweatshirt. A courteous host will not comment on the dress of a patron if they are underdressed. It usually becomes obvious to the patron when they see how others are dressed and they will remember for the next time. When in doubt about how to dress, call ahead to inquire about the dress code.

Since we are an increasingly mobile society it is no wonder that we bring cell phones and pagers to restaurants, especially during the lunch rush. Answering these devices while at the table, however, is inconsiderate of the others around you. Many restaurants are now requiring that you deposit your cell phone with the host when you check in. Don't be surprised if your waiter suggests that you take your calls in the bar or waiting area after you finish a call at your table. The same rules apply in restaurants as those you would use at home -- it is rude to answer a phone during dinner no matter where you are.

It is never too early to teach children good manners, especially for dining in restaurants. Unruly children can easily ruin a dining experience for their parents as well as the other patrons in a restaurant.

Start at home by pretending to eat in a restaurant and point out appropriate and expected behavior. When you do set out for a restaurant bring some items to keep small children occupied while they wait for dinner such as little coloring books, picture books, or a plush toy. Many restaurants are recognizing the value of entertaining younger children and provide these items for you to use.

Occasionally we all experience problems when dining in a restaurant. Perhaps you have a place setting that is unacceptable. The best way to rectify this is to let your waiter know this pleasantly and they will replace any items promptly.

The same is true if your food order isn't what you wanted. Meat that is undercooked is usually the culprit; either the patron didn't understand what medium rare really was or the cook staff made an innocent error. The best way to handle this situation is to request that the food be returned to the kitchen.

You won't have an enjoyable dining experience if you aren't enjoying your food. The waitstaff expects these situations to arise and they should accept the return and try to quickly expedite its return.

Ordering wine can be tricky, especially if the restaurant doesn't have a sommelier. The waitstaff is usually trained to anticipate the wine needs of patrons. They know which foods go well with which wines that they offer. Fine restaurants that have a sommelier can help patrons to select a wine that will go well with their dinner.

As with food, occasionally a bottle of wine will have a bad taste. This happens often with wines that have cork stoppers that have deteriorated. It is appropriate to return a wine that tastes off, no matter the cost. Restaurants often can recoup the expense by returning the vintage to the supplier.

It is not appropriate to return a bottle if you made a wine selection without the assistance of the waitstaff or sommelier.

At the end of your dining experience it is always appropriate to tip the waitstaff and sommelier if one was used. You may either tip them collectively or individually. An easy way to figure tips is to use the 10 percent method. To figure out a 15 percent tip, figure out ten percent then divide it in two for the additional five percent. For a 20 percent tip figure out ten percent and then double it.

Patrons should keep in mind that waitstaff are rarely paid minimum wage. The majority of a waitstaff's income is derived from tips alone. If you are unhappy with the person who waited on you it is better to leave them a smaller tip and let the manager know of your displeasure than to not tip them at all. Leaving pennies in a glass of overturned water is never an appropriate way to tip the waitstaff. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have great service be sure to tip them at least 20 percent or more.

Everyone dines out for different reasons but we all expect the same end result. If you follow the basic rules of restaurant etiquette you can expect professional service and a more pleasurable dining experience.

Charlotte Gerber is a writer, researcher, photographer and is a familiar voice on ipods with her voice over talents. She writes on a variety of topics including parenting, self-help and travel. Her photographs have appeared in many ezines and regional travel magazines. Charlotte has a B.S. in Community and Human Services from SUNY Empire State College.Charlotte Gerber is a writer, researcher, photographer and is a familiar voice on ipods with her voice over talents. She writes on a variety of topics including parenting, self-help and travel. Her photographs have appeared in many ezines and regional travel magazines. Charlotte has a B.S. in Community and Human Services from SUNY Empire State College. Visit her site at www.charlottegerber.com.

© 2006 Charlotte Gerber

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