Etiquette series: Eating Out

Etiquette series

Eating out in America is fun, to say the least. Whether your outings are restricted to the odd coffee at Starbucks or you try global cuisine every week, following these basic eating out etiquette tips will ensure you don’t stand out for the wrong reasons. Some are unique to the US, while many others are basic social dining out rules.

Now no one wants to be that person who is in everybody else’s way at Starbucks, or, the one who the waiters, at your local Thai restaurant, dread serving because of the poor tip you left the last time.  So how many of these etiquette guidelines can you proudly check off?

Wait to be seated: Sometimes, a message board will spell that out for you. Other times, it will not be so clear what is expected of you upon entry. However, at all times, you wait. While you are waiting, you don’t have to make your presence felt. Usually, it won’t take longer than a couple of minutes, if not seconds, for a host or hostess to appear and guide you to a table. Be patient and thank them when they seat you. Yes, it doesn’t seem like they have done much yet, but, it is expected and appreciated.

Napkin: As soon as you are seated, place the napkin in your lap. Do the same for your children as well. Isn’t this how kids pick up good habits? And bad ones, but let’s not go there! When they watch you do it, they repeat after you.

Greet your waitress: Respond with a smile to the “Hello, how are you?” by the wait staff. Say, “I am good. How about you?” or “I am good. Thank you” These little expressions go a long way in making your dining experience better.

Water: Water is usually served with ice. If that’s not how you like it, let the waiter or waitress know. You could say, “I will have water, no ice” or “water, easy on ice”. Don’t be afraid to ask them to replace your iced water even after they bring it out. Requested with a smile and a “please”, they will replace it. Of course, when the glass of water comes out, a “thanks” is warranted.

Menu: Say “thanks” when they hand the menu to you. Don’t be shy to ask any questions that you may have about the menu. Seek recommendations, if it’s a cuisine you are new to. Don’t feel compelled to order what they recommend though. They want you to enjoy the meal, not just please them.

Order: Speak slowly but be clear and audible when you place your order. When asked if you want a drink, order one, or say “no, thank you”.

It doesn’t hurt to learn the pronunciation of certain dishes before you head out. Look up the menu ahead. Decide what you want to eat and learn the right way to pronounce it. For example, Gnocchi is pronounced as Knaw-key. How would you know that if you haven’t heard of the dish before? Therefore, it’s okay to not know, and, point to the dish on the menu and say “I am not sure how you pronounce it, but, I would like to have that please.” It is way better than saying, “I would like to have Gno-chee, please”.

Children: Teach yourchildren how to behave in a restaurant. Children don’t realize that they are expected to behave differently at a restaurant. Carry favorite books, toys or crayons that will keep your son or daughter occupied. Remember, other people are there to have a good time, and, a noisy kid is always frowned upon. If you have a fussy eater, feed him or her before you go out to eat. More importantly, pick child-friendly restaurants or find a baby sitter when you go to a fancy place.

Food arrives: Thank the wait staff once they bring your food. Serve the children first (order finger food for the kids unless they are old enough to handle a fork without making a mess). Sharing is okay, but, ask if they can split the entrée for you when you order. Some restaurants will charge a couple of dollars extra for this service, but it will save you from splitting a messy entrée at the table.

No matter what you do, please don’t ask the wait staff to serve you a portion. They are not expected to serve the food onto individual plates; the wait staff might be shocked at best and offended at worst, if you ask them to do so. One of my friends asked the wait staff to serve and was shocked when the waiter was shocked! The waiter was rather nice and served it anyway, but this is not recommended!

Eat: You have to use a knife and fork. Unless it’s a dish that’s usually eaten with hands like burgers, pizzas or fries, there are no exceptions to this rule. Even when you are feeding your children, use silverware to do so.

Kids can be messy. If yours have been extra messy on that day, apologize. Tip extra to make up for the mess. A hefty tip may also compensate for noisy kids. Just saying.

To go: If you have leftovers, ask for a “to go box” (not “take away”). You are expected to pack your leftovers yourself. Do not ask the wait staff to do it for you, unless they offer. If they do, thank them. Again, they are not expected to do it for you, and, if they do, it qualifies as good service.

Check: When you are done with your meal, ask for the check, not bill. Put your credit card/cash in the slot inside, so it pops out partially and they know you are ready to pay. Do not wave or call for their attention once you pay, unless, they don’t show up for an unusually long time. Usually, they come back soon to pick it up.

Tipping: We tip in India too, but, here it’s a whole different ball game. In the US, wait staff is paid in part by customers (through tips). They depend on us for their wages. Whether that’s fair or not is a moot point, but, we have to play our part. I am not asking you to put up with bad service, but, 15% is what you pay if the service was “normal”. For exceptional service, you add up from the 15%. I agree it’s hard to shell out so much for “service”. An easy way to feel better is to add 15% to the price of the item you order, in your head. That Thai green curry is not $10, it is $11.5. That’s the easiest I can make it for you. The pennies have to come from you. Unfortunately, it is the norm.

* This article or any of the Etiquette series articles do not mean to offend or ridicule ones culture or habits. These tips are born from my personal experiences, social faux pas and boo boos. I hope these tips enrich your dining out experiences abroad.


Ramya Malisetty loves French food, Japanese culture, Merlot and King Charles Cavaliers. She obsesses over making a perfect bed, labeling everything in sight, Shabby Chic décor and preparing elaborate meals. She lives in sunny Phoenix, Arizona with her husband. Read about her foodie jaunts and fashion tips on her blog Wardrobe Menu.

2 Responses to Etiquette series: Eating Out

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  2. eebest8 says:

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