12 Dining Mistakes We Make When We’re Trying to Be Polite
Sometimes our restaurant manners can miss the mark when we're trying to do the right thing. Here's what to avoid.
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When the hostess is busy, it can be tempting just to seat yourself and save her the trouble. This might seem like helping, but it might be making her job (and the servers’ jobs) more difficult. Hosts have a system for distributing tables that keep the restaurant running smoothly. If you see the host is busy when you arrive, wait a minute or two before hailing someone for attention.
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Not listening to the specials
We get it—you’re at your favorite diner and you’re craving the usual. But please don’t interrupt the staff if they’re listing the specials and soups of the day. You might think you’re saving them time and effort, but interrupting—no matter the reason—isn’t polite.
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Cleaning up after an accident
Oops—you knocked a glass of wine off the table and you want to minimize the trouble for the staff. While this is understandable, the last thing the staff wants is for you to pick up bits of glass. An apology is enough, then let them take care of it.
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Ordering from another server
Your waiter looks swamped, so why not ask someone else for dessert or another appetizer? Because it can make things super confusing when they are trying to put together your bill. But you can politely ask another server to flag your waiter down.
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Pushing plates away when you’re finished
Again, I’ve been guilty of this. It seemed like a good signal for the plates to be cleared, but it actually makes them harder to reach and clutters up the table for your companions. Leave them be—a good waiter will watch and ask you if you’re done.
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Ordering in a language you really don’t know
Your server would prefer you to order your meal as it’s listed on the menu. If you’re at a fancy Italian restaurant, they can certainly help you through the pronunciation of pasta fagioli al forno (and we can help you find the perfect recipe). However, if you see spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, don’t ask your waiter for spaghetti e polpette (the Italian translation). This will only make your order confusing.
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Not “bothering” the staff
If you want some water or coffee, or your soup is cold, definitely let your server know. Better a polite request than a growing resentment and a small tip. Most servers really want to make sure your meal is wonderful, but they can’t read our minds.
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“Helping” with a tray
When your server comes to the table with a tray full of drinks or food, it can look like quite the balancing act. While it’s tempting to want to relieve your waitress from some of the weight, please don’t! Servers are pros at balancing even the most precarious load, and if you try and “help” by grabbing that bread basket or glass, you might throw the whole tray off kilter. You can help, though, by moving your glasses, phone or other belongings out of the way when your server puts down your plate.
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Asking for things one at a time
If you need some ketchup for your burger, do not hesitate to ask! Same goes for more cream for your coffee, a new fork, another napkin, a refill. Sometimes you might need a lot of extras and it’s tempting to tell your server your needs one at a time. You might think your waiter might forget all the odds and ends or that they might be hard to gather into one trip, but trust us—your server would rather make one big trip that multiple trips for these odds and ends. It saves them time and gives you a dining experience with fewer interruptions.
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Stacking used plates at the table
Full disclosure: I did this all the time. I thought I was doing servers a favor, but it turns out it’s icky and inconvenient. Leave your plates as they are—your waiter has a system for clearing the table.
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Splitting the check at the end
Any server is more than happy to split a bill among a few friends. If you know you plan on dividing the expense, it’s best to let your server know at the beginning of the meal so they can keep track of whose dish is whose a bit easier. Yes, the check can be split at the end, but advance notice is always appreciated (and it can help speed up the process).