dining 101 | dine well, dine right...

Diner's Checklist:

1. Call ahead

  • Go ahead and book a table now for New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion.  These dates tend to be pretty static year-in and year-out.
  • If it is a celebration, inform the person taking the reservation of the particulars; name of the birthday guest, an anniversary, etc.
  • This would be a good time to request a special table, particular waiter or alert the Chef to any food allergies. 

2. Inform the restaurant of changes to your party
  • Most restaurants have a finite number of deuces, four- tops and larger tables.
  • A party of 3 or 4 is different from a party of 2 and a party of 5 or more is quite a bit different than a party of 4. 
  • The restaurant may not be able to immediately accommodate a last minute change in the total number for your party which may have an adverse impact your dining experience. 

3. Dress appropriately for the restaurant

  • I realize that people want to be comfortable and I think they should be, but wearing flip- flops, bathing trunks, under-shirts, etc. in a white-tablecloth restaurant is disrespectful to the Chef, staff and your fellow diners.
  • Modern etiquette dictates that men remove their hats indoors (especially at night).
  • A word about fragrance/cologne: Don't do it. A tiny drop on your pulse points is the goal, not overwhelming your $100 dinner.

4. Checking in with the Host/Maitre'd
  • All 9 of you needn't swarm the host stand. Perhaps you can elect a representitive that can check in for the group. Let the host know if the number of guests in your party has changed.
  • This would be a good time to go to the restroom to dispose of your gum or you can go to the bar and request a paper napkin. Smacking gum once you are sat at your table just doesn't look sexy or sophisticated. Plus, the staff doesn't appreciate scraping the piles of gum from the bottom of the table tops every 6 months either.
  • I know the bar is crowded, but it is never a good idea to stand in the service well area of the bar.

5. Arriving at the table
  • Modern etiquette dictates that the woman should sit facing the dining room (on banquette). The man sits between the woman and dining room (to protect her from rubes and the like). In the event that 2 ladies are wearing the same outfit they will be able to stager their trips to the buffet/restroom.
  • Sit straight up with BOTH feet on the floor (yoga will be for later).
  • Coats and umbrellas need to go to coat hooks. Purses should go on purse hooks (see Shop for gear). 
  • Keys, sunglasses, phones, etc. are not to be left on table-top.
  • Bringing in coffee, water, smoothie, etc. from outside the restaurant would be bad form. However, bringing your own bottle of wine is fine. Most restaurants charge a corkage fee.
  • I don't recommend bringing in champagne or white wine because it probably won't be chilled properly. Why don't you bring in that special bottle of red you,ve been saving and buy your champagne/white from the restaurant?
  • Arriving drunk would also be considered bad form.
  • The napkin goes in your lap right away. It stays on your lap or on your chair until you leave the building.
  • Please try to resist moving your china,silverware and glassware around. It is placed there for a reason. For instance, your bread plate is always on the left and your water glass is always on the right.

6. After you are seated
  • Make eye contact with the waiter; It's the nice thing to do.
  • The restaurant wants to make sure you are comfortable. Is the temperature OK? Is the sound level OK?
  • No multi-tasking right now; Let's take a break from talking on the cell phones and texting and get our meal under way. You can excuse yourself from the table later to do that. 
  • Let's have something to drink. If you came to my home, I would ask you if I can get you a little something-something to drink. A restaurant is kind of the same way.
  • You knew you were going out to dinner all day. Perhaps you can start thinking of what you would like to drink on the drive over.
  • I recommend a glass of champagne, white wine or Martini as an aperitif. The goal here is to help you relax, stimulate conversation and whet your appetite. The alcohol will relax your stomach lining giving your body the perception that you are hungry. You likely will savor your meal more. The acidity in your drink will activate you saliva glands and actually help you digest. 
  • Sweet/fruity cocktails before a fine dining experience will have the opposite effect.  Nothing beats a pina colada pool side, a lemon drop at a night club or the occasional white russian as a meal substitute but not so much before dinner. The sugar will actually depress your appetite just like a candy bar or piece of fruit does for you at mid-afternoon.
  • This is a great time to experience the forte of this restaurant.  Are they known for classic cocktails? Inovative cocktails? Or perhaps a great wine-by-the-glass program. 
  • I don't recommend ordering drinks outside the place's focus. Example: You wouldn't order a glass of Chianti at a Mexican restaurant so why do you order a Margarita at an Italian restaurant, a Black & Tan at an Asian restaurant, a Sake at a Spanish restaurant...you get it.

7. The "Specials"
  • The waiter will try not to interrupt you to inform you of any additions to the menu, but this is the one juncture of the meal where all the diner's have to pay attention and listen.
  • Everyone should be present; we should wait for late arrivals and people away from the table to return so we only have to interrupt one time.
  • Even if you are not interested in the item being described, could you please not comment, shake your head or interrupt. Perhaps the other guests would like to hear about it.
  • After the specials have been announced it would be a great time to ask any questions about the menu; are there any "specialties of the house", what is very popular or what do people return for? Asking what the waiter likes is not very productive (what if she is vegetarian and you are not?).
  • Let the waiter know if you are on a time restraint. Guests going to the theater often look just like guests not going to the theater.
  • If you require separate itemized checks, it's better to tell the waiter earlier rather than later.

8. Placing your order
  • Close your menu if you are ready to order. If your menu is still open the waiter will assume you have not made your selections yet.
  • The waiter will start with the lady. If the man barks out his order first, it makes it awkward for everyone.
  • "Order in order": Appetizer/starter first then proceed through menu as you would eat, ending with entree/main course.
  • Ordering things "in season" is the right thing to do. If you are ordering asparagus & strawberries in November you are contributing significantly to global warming.
  • Dining out is a team sport. Try to be sensitive to how many courses your fellow diners are having. It's not a huge deal if you pass on one course but if one person is having three or four courses and the other only one it could be awkward.
  • Sharing is fine. It is very popular these days. I don't recommend sharing soup or ice cream...it's just weird. Be aware that anything with long noodles might be difficult to share.
  • You don't have to recite the whole description; "I'll begin with the beet salad followed by the chicken" will suffice.
  • I know that many diners are commitment-phoebes but it really is better for everyone if you place your complete order at one time. If you want the pace slowed down just let your waiter know.
  • The restaurant will try to accomodate your special requests and substitutions as much as possible but please don't order things not on the menu.
  • The waiter/chef will be happy to "course-out" your meal, but if you want to do it yourself, it generally goes like this: amuse bouche, cold/seafood appetizer, hot appetizer (soup?), salad, pasta, hot seafood, fowl, meat, cheese, sorbet, dessert, minardis/coffee.
  • Try to resist putting your bread plate, drink or other tableware right in front of you. This is where the waiter will want to place your dish...that is burning the skin off his hand. 
9. Enjoying your meal
  • Try not to mow down a whole loaf of bread before your first course arrives. It's there to help you push stuff onto your fork and to soak up sauces/juices. If you eat a whole butter sandwich before your food arrives, you run the chance of filling up and not enjoying your main course as much.
  • I feel silly mentioning this, but chewing with your mouth open is just not sexy.
  • The purpose of wine is to cleanse your palette. The alcohol will clear the oil/fat off of your taste buds so your next bite will taste as grand as your first.
  • Consider using your napkin before you take a drink of wine to keep your glass fresher looking.
  • Holding the wine glass by the STEM will also keep your glass more appetizing and preserve the temperature of the wine.
  • You must "let go" of your glass for the waiter to refill it. 
  • Once you use a utensil it is never to go on the table again. It needs to rest on your plate somehow.
  • When eating oysters, flip over shell and put it back on the platter after you have eaten each oyster. It will be easier for everyone to see how many are left. Shells don't go on your plate because they would be hard to stack.
  • You will want to cut your food into bite-size pieces and take everything on your fork into your mouth at one time. Don't have a chunk of food speared on your fork resting on your plate...unless you are a caveman.
  • Don't season your food with salt & pepper until you have tasted it.
  • Generally, you don't want to add parmesan cheese to any type of seafood. The seafood comes from the salty sea and does not need the addition of salty cheese.
  • If a mistake has been made or you don't care for something, let the waiter know as soon as possible so the problem can be remedied and you can stay on pace with the rest of your party.
  • Just a heads up: Generally, your food will be served from the left and cleared from the right. All beverage service is from the right.
  • If you are having multiple wines they will be poured from right to left. Try not to mix them up.
  • When you are done, put your fork and knife at the "Four O'Clock" position so the restaurant staff knows that you are done. This will also help prevent your silverware from sliding off your plate and possibly soiling you in the clearing process.
  • Nowadays it is acceptable to rest your elbows on the table between courses, but not when eating or when the waiter is "marking" the table (setting out fresh silverware for next course) or when "crumbing" the table or when delivering dessert menus.
  • You will want to time your restroom/smoke breaks right after you are done with a course. Don't wait 9 minutes and try to go right as your next course is being served...awkward.
  • Friendly reminder: You will still want to keep both feet on the floor and sit up strait; you can recline in your own lazy-boy when you get home.
  • The napkin rule still applies. Please don't wad up and throw on table...doesn't look sexy.
  • Don't stack your plates or hand dishes to the busboy: Thanks, but you are NOT helping.
10. Enjoying dessert
  • Go ahead, order dessert.
  • Coffee is served at the END of dinner. Dessert wine (port, sherry, etc.) is served with dessert.
  • It's sort of hard for the restaurant to do "something special" for the birthday person if no one orders anything.
  • Use your dessert silverware for your dessert and your teaspoon for your coffee/tea.
11. Enjoying coffee/tea/espresso
  • Having coffee or espresso is a great way to end your dining experience. Generally, you don't want to have coffee before or with food because the acid in the coffee will alter your palette.
  • Cappuccino, cafe latte, cafe mocha, etc. are considered breakfast beverages and should not be consumed after 11:00am.
  • Having a lemon twist with your espresso is a throwback to the days of bad coffee in America. Ordering a twist nowadays would be an insult to the coffee and rather gouache.
  • Cafe Americano was invented in Italy in the mid 20th century for Americans looking for American-style coffee by adding hot water to espresso. Ordering a cafe americano when regular coffee is available would just be silly.
  • Be careful ordering tea in a business situation or on a date; people might think you are persnickety.
  • Order all your accoutrement for your tea when you place your order. Making the waiter make a second trip for honey, lemon wedges, milk, etc. is not very efficient.
12. Paying your bill
  • The host of the party should ask for the check (then the waiter will know who's paying).
  • Review bill: correct table? everything on there? wine correct price? all comped items comped? did they include gratuity?
  • Put charge card or cash in such a manner so the waiter can see it. If you hide your charge card inside check presenter it will be hard to see.
  • It's fine if you want to split the check, but it should either be ALL cash or ALL charge cards (not half and half).
  • Your date and the waiter will not be impressed with your $100 bills. We will assume you are a drug dealer or a tax cheat.
  • If the magnetized strip on your charge card does not work in the slider-thingy, the restaurant gets charged a higher % fee by the bank...just so you know.
  • You should consider any comped items (remember that round of drinks or appetizers from earlier) when figuring the tip.
  • Did the waiter go above and beyond the call of duty? Did guests arrive in different intervals? Any special orders? Decant wine? Any great wine/food recommendations? Concierge duties-recommending other restaurants, night life, sights, etc.
  • Tip Fat: 40%-50% of that tip goes to the restaurant team: busboys, food runners, hosts, bartenders, sommeliers, polishers, stockers and dishwashers.
  • Rock Star diners tip in ca$h.
  • Do not steal the waiters pen. It's tacky and disrespectful.
  • Would it kill you to push your chair/bar stool back in the way you found it?
  • The goal is to not be the last party in the restaurant at the end of the night (looks like you're not a good closer).

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