People dine at restaurants all the time, but that doesn’t mean they should behave the way they do when they eat in the comforts of home.
“Eating is the only biological necessity we sometimes do as a social function,” Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, told HuffPost. “We have to eat to stay alive. But we’re supposed to be eating in a way that enhances, rather than distracts from, other guests’ dining experience.”
While there are obviously countless ultra-rude restaurant scenarios we can conjure in our imaginations, there are also everyday faux pas diners should try to avoid. After all, you should strive to be on your best behaviour while dining in public.
HuffPost asked Smith and other etiquette experts to identify some rude behaviours they often observe while dining at restaurants. Read on for 10 examples.
Being On Your Phone
If you receive a phone call while dining in a restaurant, it’s best to step outside or walk to the bathroom or entry area to take it.
“People don’t need to hear your business while they’re dining,” said Patricia Rossi, a civility expert, keynote speaker and author of “Everyday Etiquette.”
Beyond phone calls, a good rule of thumb is to keep your mobile device out of sight and either on silent, airplane mode or completely off while you eat at a restaurant.
“I don’t like devices on the table where I’m going to be eating,” Smith noted. “First of all, they’re dirty. They’ve been on your ear, your hair, your back pocket. You’ve spit on them. They’ve fallen on the floor.”
The other issue is the distraction factor. Unless you have a very important reason to keep your phone out, there’s no need to look at it while sharing a meal with someone.
“When I have dinner with somebody, the whole point is to enjoy each other’s company. I want my focus to be the people around me,” Smith explained. “If I’m going to stare at my phone, I could’ve stayed home.”
Snapping Your Fingers At Servers
“You should never ever snap your fingers at a waiter or wave your arms around wildly,” Rossi emphasised. “All you have to do is make eye contact, smile and nod, and they’ll come over.”
If your server has gone MIA, you can similarly try to get another server’s attention or get up and ask the host or maître d’ to find them.
Refusing to snap your fingers is a matter of respect, and as Rossi noted, the golden rule applies.
“Think: ‘How would you want someone to treat you, or to treat your child or your parent if they were a waiter?’” she said.
Making Loud Noises
It’s OK to have an upbeat, enjoyable conversation if you’re dining with a group, but you should be aware of your fellow diners.
“Laughs and all that are great, but what’s not is the drunk, loud, sloppy, F-bombing people,” Rossi said. “Don’t be that Drunk Danny that has too many and embarrasses the table.”
The biggest thing you can do is read the room. You don’t want to create a ruckus in a subdued environment or make it impossible for your neighbours to have their own conversations.
“The guideline is that one should have good manners wherever one goes. That given, there are differences by venue,” Smith noted. “Restaurants with loud music allow patrons to have boisterous conversation. Manners are not robotic, nor are they set in stone. It is up to the individual to pause to assess the atmosphere and then adjust their manners to fit the situation.”
Not Attending To Your Children
Of course, kids will be kids, but the way adults deal with tough situations can show consideration toward others.
“It’s rude to allow your children to scream or your toddler to have a loud tantrum that isn’t attended to. We have to be aware of other people who are there for a relaxing time,” said Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “Remove them from the situation until they can calm down. Or just don’t bring kids who are exhausted and cranky to a restaurant. Don’t blame the child, they’re behaving like a child.”
While this is a situation in which taking out a mobile device may be helpful, parents should be mindful of this approach as well.
“Last week, I saw someone’s child being entertained by a loud cartoon on an iPhone!” Rossi recalled.
“Manners are not robotic, nor are they set in stone. It is up to the individual to pause to assess the atmosphere and then adjust their manners to fit the situation.”
Putting Bodily Functions On Display
“Belching ― as well as other gas ― should be restricted, as should excessive coughing or nose blowing at the table,” said Smith. “If you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself.”
She also advised against double dipping if there’s a communal plate in the middle of the table with a dip, olive oil or salsa. And of course, there’s the matter of chewing.
“Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t talk and chew at once. Don’t take giant mouthfuls of food,” Smith instructed, adding that diners should avoid hunching over and shovelling food into their mouths.
“In some cultures they do that, but you should generally try to bring your food to your face, not your face to your food,” she noted.
Taking Food Without Permission
Don’t taste food off someone else’s plate without their permission ― and if you do, don’t do it with a utensil that has already touched your lips.
“It’s rude to pick off people’s plates without permission,” said Gottsman. “Some people just reach over and grab a few fries or stick their fingers into your sauce to taste it. Or there are the people who say, ‘I’m not going to order anything because I’m not hungry’ but then eat off everyone else’s plates.”
If you’re eating with friends or family and want to share dishes, talk about it in advance. You can even inquire if it’s possible to split the food onto separate plates. If you just want a small taste, wait for your dining companion to offer it to you or politely ask.
Gottsman also recommended using a bread plate or asking for a sharing plate when offering bites to fellow diners.
Putting Your Feet Up
Even if an establishment has a more casual atmosphere, it’s very rude to put your feet up on the table or chair (unless you have a significant reason, like an injury that needs to be elevated).
“I see people put their feet up in cafes like Panera,” said Rossi. “It’s not your home! Do not put your feet up in the booth or on another chair. People are eating and don’t want to see your flip-flops and pedicure or worn-out shoes.”
Drenching Yourself In Perfume
Etiquette is rooted in consideration for others. So when dining in public, it’s good to be mindful of your odours and how they may alter other patrons’ experiences. For Rossi, this involves toning down the perfume.
“Keep your spritzing to a minimum. It can affect people’s food,” she said. “Don’t show up drowned in a perfume bottle.”
Expecting Your Companion To Pay
In business and formal dining situations, the general etiquette rule is that if you invite someone to a meal, you pay for it. So it’s best to reach for the check when it arrives.
“Don’t let the check sit there like a time bomb or wait it out to see if they’ll grab it first,” said Gottsman.
If you’re eating a casual meal with a friend, don’t assume they’ll pay either. Just see if you spent comparable amounts, and if so, split it evenly. And of course, there are evolving rules and norms in the dating arena.
“In many states, employers are allowed to pay below minimum wage for tipping jobs, so I tip a standard 20%,” said Smith. “If they ignored me throughout the meal and went out and had a smoke, I may dock to 15% but I’d never tip less than that. I’d talk to the manager instead.”
Gottsman and Rossi noted that a bad dining experience isn’t necessarily the fault of the server, and your tip can impact a larger group of workers beyond the individual waiter.
“Don’t punish the whole line of people for whom that’s their livelihood,” said Rossi, noting that tips are often split between servers, runners, bus people, hosts, bartenders and other staff.
“If your food was late, it may have been a kitchen accident, but people were still hustling. You can have a word with the manager, and maybe they’ll adjust your bill,” she added. “But if you can’t tip 20%, stay the heck home.”