We rightfully ask a lot of the chefs and servers at our restaurants; they’re taking our cash, and we’re asking for quality goods and friendly service in return. But at what point do we, as diners, cross that fuzzy gray line that separates “assertive diner” and “jerk”? Or the other line dividing “jerk” from “total jackass”?
The following thoughts — culled from observation and remarks made by a panel of anonymous Minneapolis chefs — are a good starting point for the civilized diner. (And for comparison’s sake, check out 25 Things Diners Hate About Restaurants.)
Call if you’re canceling reservations. Don’t just ditch. It takes 10 seconds, and it’s a common courtesy that helps the whole place function more smoothly.
Don’t be an extortionist. We all love free food, but trying to lawyer your way into a dinner for two because a burger was overcooked is a chump move.
No snapping or whistling or clicking at the servers. They’re people.
Do you think it’s okay to make out for two hours in a fine dining restaurant? Seriously, people.
Don’t send food back after you’ve eaten more than a quarter of it. If there’s something clearly wrong, point it out right away. Exception: Discovering a horrible foreign object halfway through your food.
If a restaurant buys you something, tip on what your bill would have been if they made you pay for it all. The servers and chefs still had to work to bring you that free food / those comped drinks. Honor that.
Don’t linger when people are jostling to get seated. It’s a fine line. You’ve got a right, particularly at a fine dining establishment, to enjoy a leisurely meal with dessert, coffee, and conversation. But when you’re at the Nook for lunch and there are 12 people packed into the entryway, finish your Jucy Nookie, get the check, and split. Grab coffee elsewhere if you want to linger and catch up on the grandchildren.
Don’t sit down at a table, look at the menu, and then get up and leave. The cut-and-run point is at the door, or better yet, the Internet before you arrive.
You can’t have the bar menu in the dining room. That’s why it’s the bar menu.
Tip your bartender. This is as much about self-interest as ethics, but a buck a drink is fair, two if the drink is $12 and complicated.
Don’t order a “Disaronno on the rocks,” unless you enjoy the ridicule of working people.
If you’re going to bring in your own food and have the restaurant serve it for you (a birthday cake, for example), ask first.
Don’t ask for half of your steak medium rare and the other half well done.
Splitting a soup four ways is just not acceptable.
Everybody hates allergy babies. Many food allergies are totally legitimate. But if you don’t like onions, say: “Would it be possible to get this without onions? I don’t care for them.”
If you have a dietary restriction and have to ask for a dish without something, it’s no problem to bulk up on another ingredient that’s already in the dish, but don’t try to add new ingredients to the dish.
If you’ve got serious allergies (nut or gluten), mention it before your entree arrives.
Avoid “one timing.” Don’t ask your server for a side of mayo and then, on the return, ask for a lemon wedge. This wastes the entire restaurant’s time.
When at a cafe, look for a bus tub. If you see one, bus your stuff.
Don’t linger for hours with your laptop in a cafe after buying a single small coffee. If you’re turning a cafe into a study hall, at least have the good grace to keep putting a bit of money into the establishment’s pockets as you go. A lot of good cafes close because of cheap moochers and overly polite baristas.
Don’t order off-the-menu items unless you’re Jack Nicholson. You create logistical headaches, pricing dilemmas, and un-needed angst. The menus capture the essence of the restaurant and make it possible for the chefs to turn out a lot of good food in a timely manner.
Don’t abuse good food. High-quality steaks, burgers, and fish suffer when they’re cooked until well done. Chefs will do it for you, but it hurts them inside.
Don’t change an order after it has been sent to the kitchen. There’s a ballet of timing involved in any busy kitchen, and when you change your steak to a chicken after ordering, you throw ball bearings onto the dancefloor.
It’s technically OK to show up five minutes before close and order a big meal, but if you’re going to do it, be gracious and quick about it.
Try to finish your cellphone call before it’s time to order. Better yet: don’t take calls while you’re dining. Step outside.