An informational article containing step by step instructions on how to be an affluent diner. Not only will you impress your company, but you will avoid making waitstaff angry and potentially tampering with your food.
Have you ever been to a restaurant where you felt out of place? Maybe it was a fancy restaurant which was new to you, or you simply felt like everything you did made the staff dislike you. Ever wondered if your food has been tampered with because you did or said something that upset the staff? Believe it or not, there are several items of etiquette to dining which any restaurant employee and affluent diner can spot. If you aren't a well-versed diner you may quite easily stick out like a sore thumb. If this is you, rest assured; if you follow the instructions listed henceforth not only will you impress your dinner company and server when out to eat, but you can also ensure that if your server seems upset, its not about you and you don't have to worry about reliving any horror you may have feared such as in the movie Waiting when a rude woman's food is spit in (among other things).
The first thing an affluent diner is aware of is the fact that when they are out to eat, they are as guests in a person's home. Being a guest in a person's home entails many assumptions and unwritten laws. First of all, when entering a person's home you should expect a warm greet. Now, lets be realistic for a moment. Just because we have ideals that we would like to have about our dining experiences, all humans are imperfect and life, well, just sorta happens sometimes. When entering the home of a host you may not always get the kind of warm greet one may expect. It could be more of a "Hey, come party!", or "Hey, its been a crazy day, but come on in, let's eat!" Sometimes the party may be so busy that the host is busy attending to someone else, and in such a situation one would respectfully be patient until they get a chance to greet the host. The same rules apply in the restaurant. While your work day may be ending, and theirs appears to just be beginning, think again. They may have been in school all day or at a full-time job, fighting the busy traffic just like yourself. When entering a restaurant it is important to be mindful of these natural life situations and not look at the staff as if they are just starting their jobs; and if they in fact are, think about how you like to be treated by those you encounter at work at 8 am. Treat them with the same respect you yourself are anticipating for the evening and you are off to a great start.
Once you have been greeted the host will then lead you to the party to either sit or mingle, get drinks, etc. This should be a time of joy and not of snobbery. If you were entering into another person's home and they seated you at their table would you complain to them and demand to sit near a window, or threaten to leave? Absolutely not. The same should be respected in a restaurant. With exception to people who simply require more training on the job, a host knows who is coming and at what time. They are also familiar with the traffic flow and have a system to their method. If you are so specific about a table, make a reservation. If you cannot do that, do not be upset if you have to wait at the bar and mingle for an hour or so before dinner is served.
If you wait for drinks at the bar, use this opportunity to become more acquainted with the essence of the restaurant and staff. A good bartender can be a great source of knowledge and entertainment while you wait. Another great distraction (other than alcohol) is an appetizer. Chill out and unwind with a little food and drink to hold you over. At a party it would be as if you were sipping champagne and sampling a tray pass. Or, if you're one of our most amateur diners, drinking beer and eating chicken wings.
Once seated at your table you should find one of two types of settings. Either a simple (basic glasses/tableware) or elegant (several items on the table). The most extremely elegant of settings would have several dishes, utensils and glasses. Just note that the silverware starts from the outside utensils being used for starters, working their way in to the larger utensils designated for the main course. The shortest stemmed glasses are for water, red wine glasses are long stemmed with a large chalice and white wine glasses are more narrow and small. There may even be a champagne flute which is smaller and thinner than a white wine glass. If there is a small spoon above the plate it is for dessert, so just leave it. The largest spoons are for soup, the smallest for hours d'oeuvres. Smallest plates are for butter and tiny forks are for seafood. Tiny knives are for butter and we all know what a steak knife looks like, right? Salad forks are smaller than dinner forks and to the right of them.
If the hosts pulls out your chair for you politely oblige and have a seat, although wait for them to scoot the chair in before plopping down on your tush. If they grab your napkin, don't be alarmed. They will drape it over your lap. If they don't, it is proper to do that once seated. Also, if they offer you black linen, take a look at what you are wearing. It is most likely due to the fact that you are wearing dark colors and if they have white linen at tables they don't want you to be covered in white linen lint. Politely oblige and show appreciation. Great service loves nothing more than educated affluent diners who truly appreciate it.
Once seated, you should then be greeted soon after by a busser or server. You may receive waters and munchies first, but if you do not receive anything right off the bat, do not be alarmed. Some restaurants only bring water upon request, or may wait for an opportunity to sell bottled water before offering it. If it takes a long time for your server to greet you, look around the restaurant and notice if it is full to capacity, empty or half full. Take a look at the servers and staff as well and see if you can tell how many tables each server is taking care of. Four to five tables is standard, but some restaurants want to save payroll and staff a smaller amount of stronger servers who may take up to ten tables at once. If you appear to be in a busy section give it some time. Restaurants have a lot going on. You may have just been seated, but there also may be drinks that have just been ordered and food that needs to be delivered by your server, not to mention a variety of behind the scene duties they may be required to attend to. You shouldn't wait more than ten minutes. Five is pushing it if its slow, but be realistic, reasonable and patient if it is busy. If it is slow the server may not know you are there because they are doing side work and the host never alerted them that they have a table. Furthermore, if a member of your party is talking on their cell phone or in the restroom a server may elect to wait until everyone is present and attentive before approaching your table. Don't get upset about this. That is only out of respect that they do this.
Once a server approaches your table they should greet and obtain a drink and maybe an appetizer order. Your greet will differ from each restaurant to the next and some servers may tell you specials at this time while others elect to tell you specials when they bring drinks. If you are eating at a restaurant that brings everyone free bread or chips and salsa, it is unnecessary to order it. They will most likely bring them to you once they take your entire order so as to have the menus out of the way, free from impeding your experience and from getting trashed with food. Asking or demanding for these items will only mess up the routine and flow the server is so great at and may agitate them as well. If you are just starving, politely ask the server to bring them early.
A server is most likely required to know each drink they serve, how its made and what it tastes like. Some restaurants aren't so strict about servers memorizing bar drinks, but your server is to be looked at as an encyclopedia of information about the menu. If you have any questions or need a suggestion, ask your server. They love sharing their favorites and leading guests to enjoy the best of the best they have to offer. Wine knowledge should be displayed when eating at a fine dining restaurant for sure. The varietal, region and taste notes should be known by the server concerning all wines served by the glass. When it comes to bottles, just ask. If a server doesn't know about a particular bottle they will find out for you. Just be careful you aren't keeping your server at your table for an inordinately long amount of time with indecisiveness. If you have so many questions and cannot make up your mind, tell the server you need more time. Keep in mind that your server has other people to please as well and if each of them asked as many questions or took up so much time, you wouldn't see your server to get the things you need. Everyone should be cognizant of this when dining out.
Another practice amateur diners participate in is what servers like to refer to as "running". Running your server occurs when you innocently ask for something you need, then remember something else as soon as they leave to get it. Then, when your server returns, instead of having time to service their other customers, you ask for something else and they have to spend two trips bringing you a napkin and some sauce when it easily could have been done in one trip. Some tables will run a server all night and be completely oblivious to this, asking for something new each time the server comes to the table. This causes servers to have to neglect their other tables who are less demanding. If you notice you are running your sever give some serious consideration into leaving a 25-30% tip, because chances are, your neediness has cost them more than that from their other tables combined. Furthermore, next time your server is nowhere to be found scope out their section and see if you can spot a table of "runners" and don't take it personally that your server wasn't there to ask how your food tasted after you took two bites (which is a standard).
When your server greets you be polite and listen. Do not continue talking, or make them wait for you to finish conversations. This is not your home and these people are not your servants. While you have every right to a private conversation, you are in a busy public atmosphere and mutual respect must be present. How can you expect to have good service from someone you just met if you were rude to them, demanding and ignored them when they tried to service you? Keep in mind that some servers keep well paying day jobs which may serve them much more respect than you could ever imagine. Many servers make a lot of money, but this comes at a price. For some reason there is a large problem with angry people who have issues they may not even be aware of who come into restaurants and treat the staff with the utmost disrespect; releasing and projecting onto them all the anger and problems they carry from their own lives. People have a "customer is always right" mentality which basically says that because you are paying, you are the only person who matters. This may be so in a technical and legal spectrum to a portion of a degree, but it doesn't make you a well-versed affluent diner who is free from danger of having their meal tampered with.
When your server does ask you what you would like to drink, do not just stare into space aimlessly or ignore him/her. Order the drink you want, or ask for more time. If you have questions, ask. Plain and simple. Allow 5-10 minutes for drinks to be delivered depending on how busy it is and if the bar is busy. If you order drinks from the bar the bartender has to make them. Bartenders typically tend to focus on their guests as priority and often put off server's drinks to the last. If your bar drinks take a long time it could mean your server is busy or it could just be the bartender. Be mindful of this and try to determine the true cause before deducting any tip %. Servers still have to tip out the bartenders a set percentage of all their alcohol sales.
If you ordered drinks by the glass the server doesn't need to be present to watch you taste them. In fact, a check back usually isn't required. You should be ordering food and such so this is the moment when you will be required to say something to your server should you not be happy with a drink. If you order a bottle of wine there is a step by step service procedure which can distinguish you instantly from the amateurs. Wine service is the fastest way to spot out amateur diners. The first give away is if you pronounce anything wrong. If you see pollo, don't know how to pronounce it and know it means chicken, just call it the chicken. Once you learn to speak the menu you can start showing it off. For wine you can get away with asking first for a red or white and saying you want something dry, fruity, earthy, balanced, European, Californian, smooth, sweet, etc. The server will then make some suggestions for you. Once you see something you like order it. You will be brought a bottle with the label facing forward. You are only required to read it to see that is what you ordered. Now is not the time to read the fine print and comment on the region, etc. Save that for after wine service when your server has time to casually chat, or bring it up with your guests during dinner.
Once you read that the server has brought you the correct bottle and year of wine, simply nod and that tells them to open it. They will take out a wine key, cut the top of the label off the cork, then twist in the cork screw almost all the way. When they pull the cork out of the bottle they should do it in such a way that the cork doesn't make a popping noise. This is a way to spot a server who knows how to give good wine service. You can even nod in approval and say "nicely done". The server will then show you or hand you the cork. Do not sniff it. That is a dead giveaway of an amateur. You are only required to look at the cork to see that it is authentic and not a boot leg cork which is more of a historical formal tradition than anything. You may have a plastic cork which I wouldn't even look at or a twist off as well. These store the wine better actually, so try not to be put off by these. If the server hands you the cork set it on the table. He/she will then pour a sample taste into your wine glass. These instructions are given to the host of the party, or the one who orders the wine. You may elect to have someone else do the tasting.
Once you have a taste pour of wine you will want to swirl it around in the glass. You may notice how it sticks to the side of the glass, this tell you how dense of a wine it is. This also opens up a wine to the air which is best for older red wines. If you order a red wine that is older and costs more than $50-100 you may want to ensure it is decanted for you as well. If this is done a server will pour the wine through a screen to separate the sediment and allow the wine to aerate. This would delay the drinking of the wine by up to 20 minutes. Assuming you didn't order an older red, you swirl the glass and sip it. Make little air bubbles with your tongue against the roof of your mouth to get the full flavor of the wine if you like. Just don't overexaggerate it. If the wine tastes good nod and the server will pour the glasses clockwise starting with the oldest woman and ending with the youngest man, then the host.
Once the wine has been poured the server will set it on the table with the label forward. Feel free to pour yourself more, but a great server will try to do it for you every time. The best thing an affluent diner can do is to truly appreciate good service and know how to spot it. Good service deserves a good 25-30% tip. The notion that the average tip is 15% is extremely outdated. Affluent diners tip a minimum of 20%, even amateurs mostly as well. If you leave a 15% tip something must have gone wrong and anything less than that is absolutely intolerable. Servers can easily become demoralized into giving mediocre service when the majority of their clientele consists of amateur, ignorant tippers. If you are part of a large party, the restaurant may have an automatic gratuity policy of 15-18%. This is done to protect a server from being stiffed when they dedicate all their efforts onto one table. Do not be offended if an automatic gratuity appears on your bill. The most affluent of guests have misinterpreted bills and forgot to tip. One thing an amateur diner does, however, is neglect to leave an extra tip. There is usually a line for additional tip and the option of cash. Take care of your server if they took care of you. It's a two-way street.
When ordering your food, be ready to order when you say you are ready to order. Do not say you are ready, then converse with a guest or child as to what you actually want to order while your server waits there thinking of all the other things they need to be doing for their other tables. Simply ask for a minute longer if that is all you need. It is worth it for your experience and the server's. When ordering your meals, try not to recreate an entree from ingredients you see on the menu. Respect the art of the chef and do not undermine his genius through completely dissecting a menu item. Order something else or do not go out. Plain and simple. These things just create more problems in the kitchen. Allergies are one thing, but unless you already have a deal with the chef or a staff member, try not to demand things your way right away. Furthermore, if you know of sides you would like with your meal, ask for them when you order so your server can bring them with your meal. This saves the server time and you can start enjoying your meal sooner as well.
Once your meal is served you will be checked upon to see if everything is OK. If you do not like something this is the time to speak up. This is why they ask. How can a server make your experience better if you do not alert them to a discomfort? Do not leave a restaurant unhappy, complain to a manager or yelp about it later if you never even spoke up to your server to begin with. They are the fastest way toward discomfort resolution.
At the end of a meal you may be offered hot towel service. This is done in nice restaurants where seafood or ribs are served. This is a pampering service which replaces the wet nap. Your server will come to you with lemon, a bowl and hot water with a linen. They will squeeze the lemon over your hand which you should cup and place over the bowl. They will then dip the linen in steaming hot water and place it over your hands as if you were at the spa getting your nails done. It feels wonderful and cleanses your hands for dessert. A server should wait until everyone has finished eating and everything is cleared from the table before offering this. Do not expect hot towel service at restaurants below the five star level.
Paying your bill is the final step (other than a warm farewell) to showing your skills as an affluent diner. When you get your bill you should be finished with all eating and have everything cleared from your table unless you are still drinking. Your bill should be correct, and if it isn't, say something to your server, do not pay it and leave angry. People make mistakes, duh. If everything is correct you should either leave cash with the tip, ask for change or place your credit card in the check presenter so that the server can easily see it when they walk by. If you just put it in the center of the check presenter that closes like a book, how is the server to know when you are ready to pay? They are not going to walk over to your table and interrupt your conversation every couple minutes to see if there is a credit card in there. If you do this and it takes them forever to take it, I wonder why.
Let's talk about tipping. This is the most important thing to do when it comes to dining out. Do you know why? This is because sevice isn't free. If you want a server to come to your table again and bring you your food, you might want to tip him/her. Servers make as little as $2.00 per hour plus tips. Can you believe that? The restaurant isn't paying them anything more than the money to cover taxes to the government for their tips. They are getting their livelihood and income from you. This doesn't make you their boss or as a god who can tip carelessly and demand much. I mean, you are free to do that but you will stick out like a sore thumb; an amateur. Affluent diners appreciate what it is like to wait on so many different people and deal with so many different issues over food and beverage. They will tip a 20% standard. If service is poor they tip 15%. If you leave anything less for bad service you shouldn't go out. Unless the server stands on your table and defacates, tip. You wouldn't have had your meal if it weren't for them bringing it to you, and if someone else brought your food that is OK. Other servers help run each other's food as well as bussers. The servers do have to share their tips with bussers, bartenders and at some places even the host and kitchen. Keep this in mind when tipping. If the service was spectacular leave 25-30%. If you bought things on happy hour or discount like a coupon, or taco tuesday, tip based upon the original menu price of the items. If you have 50% off tacos and your bill is $20, treat it like a $40 bill and tip at least $8 because your server did the same work regardless of the discount. Why should they make half the money just because you saved half the price on your food? If anything they should get more. Careless tippers are not only the easiest way to spot an amateur, but they also are responsible for strong stereotypes in the service industry which pertain to certain subcultures and ethnic groups and the stigma that preceeds them concerning tipping. Set an example for yourself and your peers. As a result you will receive better service in the future.
At the end of your meal your server is going to thank you and welcome you back if you've been pleasant. This is a time when you should take two seconds from yourself to be polite and thank your server. You just spent a large chunk of your evening with them, so just as you would thank and give a farewell to the host of a party, so should you to your server and staff members who wish you well on your way out. If everyone were to follow these simple instructions and employ them each and every time they dined out, I can guarantee restaurants would be busier, give greater service and have happier patrons and staff. Tell your friends and family not to dine out again until reading this article. It just may save your next potential negative restaurant experience.
9 years of personal experience as an affluent diner and fine dining server