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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Restaurant Guidelines

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Restaurant etiquette isn't good to know only for a Valentine's date, but for business as well meeting the future in-laws, so listen up. Your guidelines for tipping and taking charge of your restaurant experience from Didi Lorillard at Didi's Manners.

Q.  I'm a little nervous about my boyfriend taking me to an expensive restaurant because I am worried he won't know how to behave or what do. We're really looking forward to it but I want to sure it is not a disaster, especially since it is Valentine's night. What do we have to know so we don't make fools of ourselves?  AG, Pawtucket, RI
A.  When your bf makes a reservation at an upscale restaurant, he should ask about the dress code. Does he need to wear a jacket and tie? Do they take credit cards?  
When you arrive let the waitstaff check your coats, as bulky winter parkas can be cumbersome draped over the back on a chair. Especially on Valentine's, tables are packed tightly leaving little space for puffy parkas. The staff would rather you check your coats. He should have two dollars in his pocket to tip the person who retrieves your coat when you leave. If the waiter doesn't pull out your chair for you to sit down, your bf should do the honors. He should not sit down until you are comfortably seated.
Showing the waitstaff you have good manners goes a long way toward experiencing good service. For instance, in this country, the woman goes first when following the maitre d' to your table. She also takes the lead toward the door when leaving the table. Some couples find it sexy when the woman tells her date what she would like to eat and he orders for both of them. Old-fashioned? Seductive, and very Valentine-like. In other words, the man is the one who talks to the waitstaff, even if she's paying.
Listen for the specials before the waiter takes your order. Specials are often exactly what they call them, special. Take advantage of a creative chef. If you don't know what something is or how an entrée is prepared, ask your waiter. It is better to know that the halibut entree you're hoping to order is stuffed with crab, if you're allergic to shellfish, so you can order something else.
If you are not ordering wine by the glass, and wish to share a bottle, ask to speak with sommelier. Give him a price. He will pair you up with the best wine he has at the price.
Don't excuse yourself to go to the restroom. There is nothing drearier than being stuck alone at a table in a busy restaurant while your fb is checking his messages in the restroom. It goes without saying that neither of you would use your cellphone in a restaurant, even to text. If you have to go, go, but place your napkin loosely folded to the left of your plate. Leaving it on your seat, you could come back to find it on the floor. Let the waitstaff retrieve and replace any napkin or utensil that slides to the floor.
The bread and butter plate: Use the butter plate to contain the bread crumbs otherwise you'll find yourself picking up crumbs one by one. Before the dessert course, a good waiter cleans off your crumbs with a 'waiter's crumb scraper.' Break the bread or roll into small pieces over the butter plate; leave those pieces on the butter plate to eat one at a time; spread butter on each piece while it is lying flat on the butter plate. (You shouldn't hold the roll in one hand in the air while buttering it with a knife in your other hand.) 
Utensils: After you've ordered, the waiter takes away the utensils you won't be needing and replaces them with what you will be needing. For instance, a soup spoon or fish knife will be provided before those courses are served. Never wave your utensils. Often you see diners in animated conversation gesturing with their knives and forks while talking. You should never treat utensils like small flags at a parade.
Treat staff as you would wish to be treated: say please and thank you. When the bill arrives, check to see if the tip or gratuity has been included. 
Many fine-dining restaurants are phasing out tipping. The new compensation model is that waiters share in the profits and customers give feedback on a one-to-five scale. Otherwise, that forty-dollar tip doesn't go to the waiter because it is shared by all staff members who receives tips.
If gratuity is not included, leave at least a 20% tip. By moving the decimal to the left one space (which is ten percent of the bill) and doubling that amount you add a 20% gratuity. Approximate. You can always tip more. Or less, if the service was perfectly dreadful.
 Basically, you don't want to make a scene. Nor complain about the cooking or the service. Unless a dish is undercooked or isn't what you ordered, don't send it back. Don't call attention to yourself by resting any part of your body -- including elbows, arms and hands -- on the table. Don't pick your nose or lick your fingers. If there is something in your mouth you don't want to swallow, discreetly put your fork or spoon to your mouth and slide the irritant onto the spoon with your tongue. Leave it on the side of your plate.
If, however, you spot an extra glass of wine on the bill that you didn't order, speak up.
But don't freak out if a glass of water or wine spills onto the sparkling white table cloth. Making a big deal out of it only draws attention to your clumsiness. We've all done it. If need be, lay your folded napkin on top of the spill. An attentive waiter will thoughtfully replace your napkin.

Didi Lorillard researches manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners. Your questions can be answered anonymously or personally.


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