18 Restaurant Habits You Need to Stop ASAP
Stacking your dishes, passing the salt, using the wrong bread plate and more: Avoid making rude mistakes while dining out.
Tipping 15 percent
The old rule was to tip your server 10 percent for poor service, 15 percent for good service, and 20 percent or more for work that goes above and beyond. The times have changed, however. “The appropriate tip these days is 20 percent, minimum,” says Maryanne Parker, professional etiquette coach and author of Manor of Manners. If you have a problem with paying the tip amount or with tipping customs in general, that’s not something you should take out on your server, who counts on tips to make the majority of their pay. “Remember, frugal and cheap are two different things,” she says. Still unsure? Check out our restaurant tipping guide.
Stacking plates and cups when you’re finished eating
You may be trying to be helpful to your server, but this is actually a breach of etiquette, says Leslie Kalk, a restaurant and hospitality coach. “Stacking plates when done sends a signal to other diners that the waitstaff is not tending to the table properly and the act of doing so exposes the stackers as inexperienced diners,” she explains. “In addition, the waitstaff usually have a well-practiced system for clearing the plates, utensils and glassware and stacking interferes with that system.” Instead, sit back and allow the waitstaff to handle the details. Here are the 24 things restaurant owners wish you knew.
Asking for major changes to a menu item when ordering
It’s one thing to ask the kitchen to hold the tomatoes or put your salad dressing on the side. It’s a different story to ask for the barbecue spare ribs with potatoes to be made vegetarian and glazed in a garlic sauce over rice. It’s rude to ask the kitchen to cater to an endless list of demands, Parker says. There isn’t a hard rule for how many changes you can ask for in one dish but aim to keep it under three. If you need more changes than that, consider ordering a different dish. Make sure you’re not making these common 10 table etiquette mistakes.
Leaving your cell phone on the table next to you
The etiquette problems with cell phones in restaurants could be their own article, but one way to short-circuit most problems is to simply put it on silent and then put it out of eyesight for the duration of your stay, says Adeodata Czink, etiquette expert and author of Business of Manners. “Nothing is more irritating for others than having to listen to your notifications,” she says. You should also be keeping your cell phone in your pocket when you’re at the coffee shop, here’s why.
Asking waitstaff why the website isn’t working
Asking waitstaff, bartenders or hosts about big-picture issues is not only ineffective, but voicing those types of concerns is keeping them from doing their work properly, Kalk says. “When one guest spends too much time lecturing their server on the parking situation, other guests are not getting their drinks or their food delivered to their table,” she says. “Instead, ask yourself if the complaint is one for which they would be able to make a change. If not, ask for the email address for a manager, owner or executive who can address your concern.”
Ordering dishes off-menu
Another faux pas is when people try to create a dish that’s not on the menu, Parker says. The menu is there for a reason and the chef has put a lot of care into creating the dishes. The kitchen is there to serve you but not to create and cook a meal just for you, she explains. If you’re not sure if a restaurant will be able to accommodate your specific dietary needs, or if you’d like to request something time-consuming, it’s best to call ahead and ask if that’s something they can do. And be sure to be extra generous with your tip afterward. Here are some tips for eating out when you have a food allergy.
Stealing your neighbor’s wine glass
The nicer the restaurant, the more utensils, cups and dishes you have to deal with. It can get overwhelming quickly which can lead people to accidentally take something meant for someone else, Parker says. Fortunately, there’s a quick way to figure out what’s yours, she says. “Follow the simple BMW rule: From left to right, your place setting is Bread, Main course, then Water or wine,” she explains. “You’ll never end up drinking out of someone else’s glass again!” Make your dining table feel like a restaurant with these professional place settings.
Separating the salt and pepper shakers
Think of the salt and pepper shakers as twins that must never be apart, Parker says. Passing one at a time makes it easier to lose them on the table and means people will have to ask for them twice if they want both seasonings. “Always pass the salt and the pepper together, even if you are asked to pass just the salt,” she explains.
Clinking glasses together for a toast
File this one under “things that make a great movie moment but can be very messy in real life”! Actually clinking your glass with someone else’s to make a toast is a big no-no, Parker says. “The glasses can break easily so just raise the glass in front of you, look the person in the eyes and say cheers,” she explains. Learn how to pair the perfect wine for your dinner order with this handy guide.
Toasting with water or an empty glass
The point of a toast is to honor someone and so what you put in the glass you’re using to toast them is very important, Parker says. Historically, water toasts were reserved for the dead. “If you cannot have alcohol, choose a beverage which resembles champagne or wine or whatever the rest of the people are drinking,” she says. If you’re going for hydration, these are the most (and least) hydrating beverages you can drink.
Waiting for the server to read your mind about the check
When the time comes to pay, your server will be looking to you for clues that you’re ready. They don’t want to rush you by asking if you’re ready but they also don’t want to keep you sitting if you’re ready to leave so it’s important to make it obvious when you’re ready to pay, Kalk says. “If you’re not ready to pay, leave the check presenter unmoved from where it was placed. If you are ready to pay, place the check presenter standing up with payment inside or leave it on the table with a bit of your credit card or cash sticking out so it’s easily visible,” she says. Help keep your bill low by avoiding the 10 most overpriced items on the menu.
Arguing over who will pay
A little bit of polite banter between friends about who’s picking up the check is fine but generally you should know who is going to be paying for whom before eating, Czink says. This is especially true if you are the host, she says. “If you know that you are paying, prearrange with the staff that the bill does not even come to your table,” she says. “That’s the most elegant solution.” Don’t want to cover the whole tab? Here’s the most polite way to split the bill.
Taking your frustrations out on your waiter
“Being rude to the waitstaff is never, ever okay,” Parker says. The waiter is your point of contact with the restaurant and should be working to make your experience as pleasant as possible, but even if they’re not doing the best job, you still need to treat them as human beings, with kindness and patience. It doesn’t mean settling for bad service; it means being a good human. There are ways to resolve complaints without being insulting, rude or condescending to your waiter, she says. On the other hand, avoid these overly polite mistakes when at a restaurant.
Bringing up provocative conversation topics
Some people think polite conversation has to be boring while others seem to enjoy the drama of raised voices and drinks thrown in faces. But this is not the type of excitement you want to bring to your meal, particularly if you’re eating in a restaurant, Parker says. Be aware of the feelings of those you are dining with and of other people within earshot of you and keep your conversations appropriate, she says.
Using your outdoor voice
An extra-loud person can ruin the meal not just for their dining companions but also for everyone in the dining area, Parker says. Just like your teacher used to tell you, use your indoor voice indoors. However, outdoor voices are totally acceptable at a stylish backyard dinner party.
Men wearing baseball caps indoors
Men: It may seem like an old-fashioned rule but it’s still considered good manners for you to remove hats indoors—and that includes casual toppers like ball caps, Parker says. If you’re at a very casual dining venue, then it may be fine to leave it on; for most places, however, take it off. Speaking of old-fashioned, here are 12 signs you’re an old-fashioned cook.
Being the etiquette police
When you notice someone breaching etiquette at a restaurant it can be oh so tempting to call them out on it. Don’t, Czink says. “Pointing out somebody’s mistake is worse than committing the faux pas yourself,” she says. If you’re concerned about teaching a child or a colleague you’re mentoring, then tell them their mistake in private, later.
Eating before everyone is served
“Beginning to eat before everyone else is served is rude,” Parker says. It’s a long-standing rule that you should wait for everyone to have their food in front of them before digging in. In an ideal situation, the kitchen would prepare all the dishes to be ready at the same time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. But if some people are served and others are still waiting, and they give you permission to eat, it’s fine to go ahead, she says. Next, learn about the etiquette tips bartenders wish you knew.