Urban Restaurant Etiquette: Volume, Phones, Cameras, Kids, Egos

by Borderstan.com October 25, 2011 at 9:50 am 1,577 5 Comments

HarrisQ, Borderstan Flickr Pool, DC Brunch Guide

Seven tips for making everyone’s restaurant experience pleasant. (HarrisQ from the Borderstan flickr pool)

From Mike Kohn. Have an etiquette issue that needs addressing? Email Mike at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @mike_kohn to right this wrong!

Restaurants these days are designed to be somewhat loud. The idea is to get the buzz going so people feel like there’s an excitement in the place, making it a destination for the trendy and chic. But doesn’t it drive you up the beautifully decorated wall when the source of all the noise is someone blabbing away on their cell phone three tables away?

We’ve all been there. You’re trying to enjoy your delightful Roasted Baby Chorizos while sipping your Gin & Orange Thyme Tonic (you caught me — I went to Estadio this week) and you’re so distracted by the guy who can’t seem to get off of his phone, despite his date looking increasingly annoyed to be neglected over dinner. If it’s not dude on the phone, it’s parent with screaming child who refuses to give into the temper tantrum, which only means that the entire restaurant is condemned to hearing the crying for the rest of the meal.

7 Etiquette Tips For Pleasant Dining

Enough of that. It’s time to take back mealtime. For some extra ammunition, I’ve called in the restaurant expert for some advice. Alejandra Owens has been to her fair share of restaurants, several of which she’s reviewed for our site, and knows how to handle herself at breakfasts, lunches and dinners alike. Between the two of us, we put together some good tips for you.

  • Shut up. Making some excuses for the high volume in restaurants, I still think personal volume could stand a little more control. I have loud friends (and am occasionally quite boisterous myself), so I know how annoying it is for everyone else.
  • You’re out to dinner to enjoy food and company, not stare at your phone. How many times have you been out with someone who can’t stop texting their bff? And apps have made it even worse these days. Can you really not take the time to put down your phone for an hour or two?
  • Lights. Camera. Off. Alejandra says it best here: “I’m a food blogger, I get that you want to snap a photo for your blog, your Instagram, your FourSquare check-in and your Food Spotting listing. I really do. But let’s use good judgement here. Fancy restaurant? No pics, or at least no flash pics. Casual brunch? Snap away, but don’t impede other people’s ability to nosh comfortably. Just be aware of time and place, folks.”
  • Keep your kids in check. Do I think we need to go so far as to ban kids in restaurants like this Pennsylvania restaurant? OK, maybe that’s a little extreme. But if you bring your child, just keep an eye on them. You know how you feel when it’s not your kid, so don’t pretend you’re innocent.
  • No, the hostess does not know who you work for. You’re a paying customer, just like everyone else. As Alejandra put it, “I know. DC is a town full of egos and personalities, but check it at the door. Unless you’re on TV or are a regular at a spot, don’t expect the host(ess) to instantly know who you are and roll out the red carpet. And s/he definitely doesn’t care who your boss is!”
  • Tip your server. There are times when your server does a bad job and they usually know it and feel terrible about it. I’m sure many of you will disagree, but rarely, in my opinion, have they been so bad that they didn’t at least deserve 15%. I know many people who have worked in a restaurant and it’s true that what you do has a significant impact on a server’s livelihoods, and can really make or break someone’s day/week/month.
  • It’s not all about the freebies, baby. “I’ve noticed a trend lately,” says Alejandra. “Folks are expecting freebies after even the slightest complaint. You didn’t have a fork at your setting? Sorry, that doesn’t equal a free glass of wine. Your steak came out more medium than medium-rare? Nope, comping your dish is not to be expected. I expect great customer service from restaurants, especially pricey ones, but making things right does not always mean getting things for free.”

What’s your biggest nightmare at a meal? Have some helpful suggestions for others out for a bite? Please share them with us in the comments. And keep your ideas for future urban etiquette columns coming! If you’ve got an issue you think should be tackled, drop me a line at [email protected] or track me down on Twitter @mike_kohn.


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