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Dining Out 101: A Refresher Course on Restaurant Etiquette

"Good manners reflect something from inside ― an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self."
― Emily Post

Dining out can be fun and exciting. It’s a chance to meet new people, catch up with old friends, or simply spend time with yourself or those who matter most to you.

For some people, though, eating out, especially when it’s in fine dining restaurants or other upscale places, can be quite nerve-wracking. Concerns like how to eat steak properly, knowing which fork to use, or who gets to pay for the meal are just some of the common apprehensions that besiege some diners.

However, there is no cause for worry as we have compiled some basic dos and don’ts when dining out. Read on below and brush up on your table manners with our simple refresher course on restaurant etiquette.

Manners matter

As Emily Post, the doyenne of etiquette has said, good manners are a reflection of one’s consideration and respect. These values will then naturally manifest themselves when you are interacting with those around you. Knowing how and when to act properly and accordingly are very useful especially in social situations.

Good manners are especially helpful when you find yourself invited to the best steakhouse in town or when you have a get-together at a fine dining establishment. Though it might seem intimidating at first, just knowing the basics will go a long way. Practicing good etiquette will not only please the company you’re with but also allow everyone to have a good time.

Here are some of the top tips and tricks on table manners that you should put into practice so you can best savor your dining experience:

1. Making reservations

If you’re the host, it’s especially a good idea if you make a reservation. Doing so will not only secure a table for your party but also give you a window to check other details such as parking availability, dress code, or payment options.

This will also provide you with the opportunity to make special requests such as getting a table in a quiet corner or leaving instructions regarding food allergies or dietary restrictions.

2. Dress code and grooming

If you’re invited to dine out, especially for a formal occasion or special celebration, it won’t hurt if you ask if there’s a dress code. Hotels and other upscale establishments will most likely have a dress code, as well.

Since a meal is an occasion by itself, make sure that you are appropriately dressed and properly groomed.

3. Arrive promptly

Whether you’re the host or the guest, it would do well if you arrive promptly. It’s one of those common courtesies that are not so common anymore.

Always arrive on time or within the next ten minutes of the agreed-upon time. Arriving too early may be awkward for your host or interrupt the restaurant preparations.

4. Gadgets and devices

It is highly suggested that you turn off your cellphone or any communication device that you have with you when dining out. This is a sign of respect for other diners. Some restaurants will also require you to do so.

If you are on-call or have kids left behind at home, then you can put it on vibrate or silent mode. Should you need to take a call, excuse yourself from the table and take the call outside.

5. Don’t forget the table napkin

After being seated, you should place your table napkin on your lap, half-folded, and with the crease closest to you. At some posh places, the maître d’ or the waiter will do it for you.

Use the napkin to dab or blot – not wipe – your mouth while eating, but never use it as a tissue paper. If you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself from the table and do it in the privacy of the lavatory.

If you leave the table during a meal or at the end of your meal, loosely fold your napkin (with soiled spots hidden) and put the napkin at the left side of your place setting.

6. Ordering

While you may be eager to order, never call the attention of your waiter by yelling or waving at the servers frantically. Instead, catch the eye of a waiter or raise your index finger at about head level to call them to your table. Remember to treat waiters or servers with respect.

Make sure that everyone at your table is ready before ordering. Politely tell your server if you aren’t. Close your menu as a signal to the waiter that you are ready to place your orders.

7. Using utensils

The array of forks, knives, plates, and spoons may confuse you. To keep it simple as to which one to use, the usual order to work your way in as the courses progress. Smaller forks and knives are used for appetizers, salads, or a fish course while larger ones are for the main course.

Knowing which are the “resting” and “finished” positions of your utensils will also help. Putting the fork and knife at a slightly angled “V” position on your plate tells your server that you are not finished with your meal. When you are, place your fork and knife side by side and diagonally on your plate.

Remember also to sit straight and bring the food to your mouth instead of leaning down and bringing your mouth closer to the food.

8. Breaking bread

When eating out, you should take the expression “breaking bread” literally. The proper way to eat bread is to break it in half and butter it piece by piece as you eat it. You do not slice the dinner roll nor do you break bread in half and put it back in the communal breadbasket.

9. Savoring steaks

While it is usually recommended to order steaks medium-rare or medium, you can go ahead and order it as you like it. Just remember not to cut up all the meat on your plate before eating it. Also, avoid smothering it with sauce or gravy.

Instead, cut a small piece and chew on it as noiselessly as possible before you cut another one. Chew slowly, don’t talk when your mouth is full, and only sip a drink when you do not have food in your mouth.

10. Footing the bill

If you’re the host, then you should pay the bill. It is best to come to the restaurant a few minutes early to let the maître d’ know in advance to hand the check to you after the meal. Another option is to excuse yourself to go to the lavatory. On your way there, you can ask the maître d’ to prepare the bill, and you can settle it on your way back from the restroom.

As a guest, do not try to grab the check or pressure the host to let you pay for the meal. Politely thank your host for the meal – even better if you can send a handwritten thank you note a day after.

Etiquette encounters

Etiquette comes in handy, especially during social situations. Whether you are dining out on business, with family or friends, or even by yourself, it is best that you observe table manners to avoid offending fellow diners.

Even the most basic courtesies, such as the ones mentioned above, will be appreciated by everyone around you as these help foster a pleasant, enjoyable atmosphere while you dine.