MAKE THE RIGHT IMPRESSION
Many business and social occasions take place in restaurants. There are a number of steps you can take to make the right impression on your fellow diners and have an enjoyable experience in restaurants.
This advice will help you find the right restaurant:
- In a new city, ask your friends and business associates to tell you the names of their favorite restaurants. When you are traveling, use the Internet (e.g., search “the best San Francisco restaurants”), guidebooks and travel magazines to decide which restaurants to go to. If you are staying at a hotel that has a concierge, this person is usually knowledgeable about local restaurants, including their price ranges.
- If you are hosting a dinner for individuals from another country, do not assume they would prefer to go to a restaurant featuring the food of their country. For example, it is not necessary to take Chinese friends to a Chinese restaurant.
- The first time you go to a restaurant, find out beforehand if it accepts your type of credit card if you want to use it to pay for the meal. Some restaurants only accept cash, especially outside of major cities.
- When you are going to a restaurant for a “fine dining experience,” do not go on a Sunday or Monday as they are usually the head chef’s days off.
- Some excellent online websites for restaurant information are www.OpenTable.com (for the U.S., Canada and some worldwide major cities), www.Zamato.com (for the U.S., Canada and an increasing number of other countries), www.zagat.com (for most major cities in the U.S. and Canada, plus Athens, London, Paris, Rome and Tokyo), www.citysearch.com (for the U.S.), www.timeout.com (for major cities worldwide), www.fodors.com, www.economist.com and the city-specific websites for most locations of any size. Some of these sites are also accessible through smartphones, including OpenTable and Zomato.
- Based in France, the Michelin tire company has been producing guidebooks covering restaurants, hotels and sightseeing for over 100 years. Each year, Michelin publishes a series of Red Guides that award one, two or three stars to those it considers to be the finest restaurants in the countries covered. Invariably, these establishments are also extremely expensive. In addition to parts of England and Europe, Michelin now also publishes its Red Guides for hotels and restaurants in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo, plus some major centers in Asia.
The biggest, most pleasurable development in the restaurant business over the last ten years is the proliferation of different ethnic restaurants in most major cities, offering delicious, moderately priced food in a casual setting. Be adventuresome and try these different cuisines from around the world.
For most medium-priced to expensive restaurants, it is usually a good idea to reserve a table in advance. Here’s how to do so:
- Simply call the restaurant and firmly say, “Hello, I would like to make a reservation for a table for four people for 8:00 PM on Wednesday, August 4th.” If you are familiar with the restaurant physically, you can also request a table in the specific area where you want to be located in the restaurant. When you are hosting a group of six or more people, request a circular table if one is available as this makes it easier for everyone to converse with each other.
- At the more popular restaurants, you need to call to make a reservation at least one or two weeks beforehand. Otherwise, calling two to three days in advance is usually sufficient. Avoid calling during the peak lunch and dinner times to book a reservation. Also, your chances of getting a table are better when you ask for a reservation at 6:45 or 8:30 PM than for one at 7:30 PM (as that time means the restaurant will likely only get one seating for the table).
- If something comes up and you are not going to be able to go to a restaurant where you have a reservation, always call to cancel your reservation as soon as possible. It is just common courtesy to do so. Similarly, let the restaurant know if you are going to be more than 10 to 15 minutes late in arriving for your reservation.
- To book a restaurant table ahead of time when you are traveling, you can call directly yourself, e-mail the restaurant or ask your hotel (or its concierge) to make the reservation. Increasingly, reservations are also being made through multi-restaurant online booking sites, such as www.Opentable.com and www.Zamato.com in the U.S. and Canada, and OpenTable.co.uk for London and the U.K. Most of these sites are also accessible through smartphones. In addition, many popular restaurants are opening their own websites to facilitate making reservations. The Michelin Red Guides (www.ViaMichelin.com) give the e-mail address for many of their listed restaurants.
- When you make an e-mail reservation directly yourself or through an online booking site, do not assume you have a reservation until you receive a confirmation. Always bring a copy of this confirmation with you to the restaurant in case there are any problems with your reservation.
Here are some suggestions for the start of your restaurant experience:
- Dress appropriately for the restaurant you are going to. If you look like a bum, do not be surprised when you are seated at the back of the restaurant. Some upper-end restaurants (and clubs) have a dress code that requires men to wear a jacket and tie. If you are uncertain, inquire about the restaurant’s “preferred” or “suggested” dress code when you make your reservation. Fewer and fewer restaurants, however, are still requiring that men have to wear ties.
- As you first enter a restaurant, do not just stand at the entrance. Walk up to the reception desk or area and say to the host, “Good evening (or afternoon), I’d like a table for __ people, please” (if you don’t have a reservation). If you have previously made a reservation, say, “Good evening, my name is Marie Jones and I have a reservation for __ people.” Be careful not to be late for your reservation or the restaurant may assign your table to someone else.
- At some high-end traditional restaurants, you may be greeted at the entrance of the dining area by a formally dressed male known as the “maitre d’ ” or more simply as the “headwaiter”. This person is responsible for managing the overall front area of the restaurant where the customers dine, as opposed to the kitchen and food preparation which are the responsibility of the head chef. The maitre d’ is also in charge of determining which table you are given and for escorting you to your table unless he assigns this task to an assistant or another host. Sometimes, the restaurant’s owner acts in place of the maitre d’. When the owner does so, he or she does not wear formal attire. Treat the maitre d’ or owner graciously as this person obviously can have a major influence in ensuring that you have a good dining experience.
- When a man and woman are being escorted to their table by the restaurant’s host, the man should let the woman walk in front of him. Otherwise, the man should lead the way to their table.
- When you are first taken to your table, do not accept one that is located adjacent to either a serving station or the bathrooms, or one that is facing the kitchen doors. Ask politely to be given another table. If another one is not available at the time, say you would like to wait at the bar until a more suitable table is available or alternatively request to be moved to a better table when one is freed up.
- If you as the host of your group are seated at the table before any of your guests arrive, always stand up when any of your guests come to the table. If you arrive before the host of your group, either wait for your host in the restaurant’s reception area or go to the table. In the latter case, wait for your host to arrive before you unfold your napkin, order a drink or eat any bread. Also, stand up when your host arrives at the table.
Follow these practices in ordering your meal and dealing with the wait-staff:
- Always be courteous with all members of the restaurant’s staff regardless of anyone’s position. The more you can establish a sense of cordial rapport with the people looking after you, the better your service is going to be. If you try to order around the staff in a gruff and surly manner, you are certain to have a dismal dining experience.
- Before deciding what to order, it is always a good idea to ask if there are any dishes available that are not on the menu. If it is your first time there, also ask, “Could you please tell us what are the specialties of the restaurant?” or “Could you please tell us which are the signature dishes of your restaurant?” These are usually the best dishes to order.
- After you have decided what to order, always close your menu or turn it over on the table. This signals to the order-taker that you are ready to give him or her your order.
- Look whoever is taking your order directly in the eye when you are talking to that person and giving him or her your order. Do not hesitate to describe any food allergies you have to that person if you are concerned about the ingredients in anything you are considering ordering.
- When you are uncertain about ordering a particular item on the menu, ask the order-taker whether he or she recommends that you order it. Quite often, the order-taker will steer you away from ordering something when he or she knows you are likely to be disappointed by it.
- Since you are paying real money to eat at a restaurant, do not hesitate to ask the server to replace a dish if there is definitely something wrong with it, such as the meat is overcooked or the food is cold. Just be firm and polite in saying that you would like your dish cooked again or replaced. If you are not the host of your group, ask your host beforehand if it is all right for you to do so. In any event, do not make a big deal about it.
- In cases where you have ordered a whole fish, when it arrives at the table you have the option of asking the server to remove the spine and bone the fish if you are uncertain how to do so yourself.
- When you need to ask for something after ordering, wait until you see the order-taker or server looking your way, make eye-contact and move your head slightly up and down. If this does not cause the server to come to your table, then hold up your right hand just above your shoulder in front of your right cheek with your index and third fingers joined together pointing upwards and your thumb over your other two fingers. See Figure 2. Lift your head up and look at the server while you are doing this. Never ever snap your fingers or verbally yell out “Server” or “Waiter” to get someone’s attention.
Figure 2: Getting the server’s attention.
Chapter 6 on Business and Social Meals
contains a number of recommendations on the protocol for ordering your meal.
Other recommendations for conducting yourself properly in a restaurant are:
- At social meals in restaurants, it is courteous for men to stand up briefly whenever their female companions either leave the table or come back to it. Similarly, when a fellow diner or the restaurant’s owner comes to the table to say hello, it is courteous for the men at the table to stand up while that person is there.
- When anyone on the restaurant’s staff drops a tray or plate, just ignore it and continue talking as if nothing happened. Whoever caused the accident will be embarrassed enough without everyone turning around and staring at the source of the noise.
- If you are served any sort of drink, such as a mixed alcoholic drink or iced tea, with a straw or tall spoon in the glass, take it out of the glass before you start to drink. Also, do not chew on your ice cubes after your drink is finished.
- At the end of the meal, you may be asked by your host if you would like to have an after-dinner drink. Only do so if your host is also having one.
- When you want to order a brandy or cognac on your own after the meal, ask to see the restaurant’s list of those that are available so that you can check the prices beforehand. Single glasses of brandy and cognac can be unbelievably expensive. The same applies to port and dessert wines.
- If you have to go to the bathroom at any time during the meal, say, “Excuse me” to your dining partners, leave the table and ask one of the restaurant’s staff for directions to the Women’s or Men’s Room. Outside of North America, you may have to use the term “toilet” for this purpose. (If you’re at someone’s residence, ask where the nearest bathroom or powder room is located).
Here are the procedures for paying the bill:
- When you are ready to leave at the end of the meal, say to the server, “Could I please have the bill (or check).” When it comes, ask whether a service or gratuity charge is included in the amount of the bill, which is often the case with groups of six or more and at restaurants in Europe. If it is, you probably should leave an additional tip of 5-10% of the bill for the wait-staff when you have received excellent service. If service is not included, leave 15-20% of the amount of the bill as a “tip”, depending on the quality of the service you received. If tipping is customary where you are and everything about the meal and service was satisfactory, I don’t believe a 10% tip is enough. In some countries such as Japan, however, it is not customary to leave any extra amount for service or a tip at a restaurant.
- Tips at restaurants should be calculated on the amount of the total bill excluding any taxes that were charged. You are not required to pay a tip on taxes.
- In the case of restaurant meals where you have served yourself from a buffet table, leave a tip of 10% of the total bill, excluding taxes.
- If a service charge is included in the bill and you received mediocre service, do not leave any extra tip. When a service charge is not included in the bill and you received mediocre service, leave only a 10% tip. If your service was really poor, just give a 5%
- Examples of poor service are the server taking forever to take your order, having to wait far too long to receive your drinks and food, the server being sloppy in serving your food, and the server being generally inattentive or even rude. In extreme cases of receiving poor service, you should ask to speak to the manager or owner so you can explain directly to that person how disappointed you are to have received such poor service.
- By all means, look over the bill before you pay to make sure it is correct and to see if there is anything on it to indicate a service charge was included. After you have done so, turn it over facedown. If you are paying with cash, put it under the bill. If you are paying with a credit card, hand the card together with the bill to the server. When he or she returns with the receipt and your credit card, always check to make certain that it is actually your card and not someone else’s.
- When a woman asks a man out to dinner at a restaurant, the woman should expect to pay the bill including the tip. The man, however, may offer to pay for some things, such as the drinks and wine.
- If you are hosting a group of more than four people at a restaurant for lunch or dinner, it is usually a good idea to arrive a few minutes early and arrange with the manager or restaurant’s host for the bill to be paid beforehand with a certain amount of tip added automatically. If you do so, ask the restaurant to send you a copy of the bill afterwards to your office. Alternatively, at the end of the meal, excuse yourself from the table and pay the bill privately at the front of the restaurant.
- An American custom at less formal restaurants is to request a “doggie bag” to take home any left-over food for one’s pets (or oneself). Do not do so unless you are having a casual meal with friends or family.
When you’ve been served food that tasted great and was well prepared, be sure to let the server know how pleased you were with it. Similarly, if you received excellent service from your server, always tell the restaurant manager, maitre d’ or owner about how impressed you were by the server (and the food) as you are leaving the restaurant.
A major part of your social life may occur at public places other than restaurants, such as bars and clubs. Obviously, you are going to these places to have fun, meet pals and make new friends.
To maximize your enjoyment and avoid problems, keep these points in mind if you are a woman:
- It is usually not a good idea for a woman to go alone to a bar or club without a friend or companion who can watch out for you if trouble happens. The exception is the bar at a hotel where you are staying.
- If you are going to an out-of-the-way place, make sure beforehand you know exactly how you are going to be able to go home afterwards. If it is by taxi, have the phone number to call a taxi with you.
- Never accept a drink from a stranger or someone who is not a good friend unless you can see it being made at the bar or the bottle opened. This minimizes the chances of someone putting something harmful in your drink.
- It is important never to leave your drink unattended. If you want to dance with someone, ask a friend to keep an eye on your drink.
- When someone is bothering you or making you feel uncomfortable wherever you are, let one of the staff members (the bartender, server or doorman) know about the situation so he or she can watch out for you. If it continues, request that the staff member ask the person to leave the premises.
- Do not go home and leave a friend alone at a bar or club without telling her beforehand.
- When you are leaving a bar or dance club alone late at night, ask someone on the staff to call you a taxi or walk with you to your car in the parking lot. Tip them for doing so.
- Use good judgment about leaving anywhere with a stranger or accepting a ride home with a stranger, especially by yourself.
- Be cautious about meeting someone for the first time in person who you “met” beforehand on the Internet. Make certain it is at a public place where you can get assistance if something is not right.
To avoid problems, men should take these precautions:
- Refrain from playing any sort of macho role or making provocative comments that strangers might find offensive. You never know how many of their friends are there or around the corner who might want to teach you a lesson.
- Never, ever get involved in any kind of physical fight no matter how tough you think you are. The mild-looking, short individual you are about to accost may be a former middle-weight boxing champion for all you know. Fights also have a way of quickly escalating to involve more deadly weapons than fists. The risks simply are too great.
- The more alcohol that is being consumed where you are, the more you have to keep your cool, be polite and tone down your “attitude”. Whenever you go to a place where a lot of strangers are mixing with a lot of alcohol, you are always best to play it safe even when you are in your own hometown.
In the case of both men and women, to be on the safe side:
- Do not make a pass at someone else’s girlfriend or boyfriend. If anyone acts in an overtly derogatory or offensive manner toward your companion, the two of you should probably go somewhere else as opposed to making an issue out of it.
- Have the smarts to switch to water or a soft drink when you sense that you are close to having too much to drink. The danger in having even a little too much to drink is that it causes you to become overly confident and vulnerable to making poor decisions.
- If you cause an incident through an accident, such as knocking over someone’s drink, try to defuse the situation by offering, “Let me buy you and your partner a drink to make up for this.”
When you are going to a club, find out its dress code beforehand, such as whether jeans are acceptable. You can do so by calling the club ahead of time.
Increasingly, coffee shops and teahouses are replacing bars and clubs as friendly locations where you can “hang out” and meet people in a casual environment. Individuals seem more relaxed and open to starting up conversations in such places.
Chapter 6, Business and Social Meals,
also contains a number of points on your conduct in restaurants at such events. Chapter 8, Wine,
offers tips on ordering wine in restaurants and Chapter 9, Table Manners,
covers table manners.