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restaurant seating etiquette

Special Dining Etiquette Situations

Dropped items. Don't pick it up. Tell the waiter who will retrieve the item and replace it. There is one exception to this rule - for when something has fallen in the path of traffic.

Unclean flatware or glassware. Discreetly the waiter to replace the item. Don't try to clean it yourself or announce it to the table.

Hair in your food. Don't eat or drink the food or beverage. Inform the waiter. If waiting for a replacement dish, ask the other guests to continue to eat.

Food on someone's face. Discretely inform the person with food on their face.

Food in your teeth. Excuse yourself and remove the item away from the table.

Spills. Appoligize and signal the waiter if the beverage is wine.

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Restaurant Etiquette


Reserve a table before you leave for the restaurant. This enables you to give special seating preferences such as a table in the garden or one in a quiet corner. You can ask about the dress code. You may want to reconfirm the reservation one or two days before the dinner has been planned.

Ask your guests if they like or dislike certain ethnic foods (simply ask when extending the invitation). You could also give the guest a choice of two or three restaurants. If you're hosting a group, pick a restaurant with a wide range of foods so that everyone present will find something to his taste.

Choose a restaurant you know.



Saying "thank you" to the attendant as she takes your car.

Tip when your car is returned.

Maitre d'

The person(s) standing behind the podium in the entryway: the maitre d', host, or hostess.

  • Don't block traffic as you patiently await your turn; and
  • Once you're face-to-face with the maitre d', smile and say "hello."

Coat Check

A man always checks his top­coat.

A woman has the choice of taking hers to the table.

Packages, briefcases, umbrellas, and other items are usually checked.

Women take purses to the table, where they're kept in the lap or at the feet.

Diners Arriving at Different Times

The first arrival should wait for the second before being seated.

When two of group arrive together, they should ask to be seated.

Being Seated

When the maitre d' leads you to a table, is there any protocol involved? Only if you want to stand on tradition. If a man and a woman are dining together, the "rule" is for the woman to walk directly behind the maitre d', with the man following her; in a mixed group, all the women precede the men.

Don't feel insulted if you're seated in a heavily trafficked area, near an air conditioner vent, directly under a loudspeaker, or close by the kitchen, restrooms, or door. At the same time, don't hesitate to ask for another table when yours is less desirable. Just stay calm and polite: "Could we be seated a little farther from the door, please?" or "We'd prefer a table with a banquette if one is free." If you can't be accommodated, just grin and bear it if you made a reservation; if you didn't, you can say "thanks anyway" and try for a better table at another restaurant.

If a group meal has an official host, it's the host's choice whether to direct guests to chairs. If he chooses not to, guests ask where they should sit.

The better seats are those that look out on the restaurant or out a window onto scenery, not at a wall-something to keep in mind when you're hosting a meal or simply wish to give a fellow diner the better view.

At a table with a banquette, women are traditionally seated on the banquette, the men on chairs opposite them.

The host and hostess customarily sit opposite each other, and time was when couples were split up so that they would have a chance to chat with people other than their spouses. Today, seating choices depend more on the preferences of the group.

A male guest of honor-say, a relative whose birthday or retirement is being celebrated-is traditionally seated at the hostess's right; a female guest of honor, at the host's right.

The Bill

If you are the host, tell the maitre d' or waiter in advance that you should receive the check.

Discretely review the check. Signal the waiter when you would like to pay by putting the check holder to the edge of the table, with the bills or the credit card sticking out.

Tell the waiter if you would like them to keep the change.

Leftover Food

When you have food left over that you don't want to go to waste, it's usually acceptable to ask for a doggy bag-today, often a lidded container slipped into a small paper bag. When not to request one? First, at most business meals. (If you're dining with a business associate who's a close friend, it's fine to request a bag if you're going Dutch-but if she's the host, leave leftover food behind.) Second, at a wedding reception or other special function.

Ordering Etiquette

Fruit and Cheese

It's possible that a fruit course may be served at some point during the meal-either with the salad, after the main course (in that case, often with cheese), or as dessert.

The days of peeling your own fruit are largely past, but a whole fruit should be quartered, cut up, and eaten with a knife and fork.

Cheese, seen on the menu in many upscale restaurants, is served before the dessert course.

The server (a fromager [froh-mah-ZHAY] if male, fromagere [froh-mah­ZHEHRE] if female) will either bring a tray of cheeses or wheel out a cart, suggesting the most suitable choices.

Slices of different types are then arranged on a separate plate (often centered with a piece of fruit, a wedge of fig, or plum cake) for each diner.

  • While the cheese can be eaten on bread, the full flavor comes through if you eat it with a knife and fork.
  • Start with the milder cheeses and progress to the strongest.

- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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