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The “customer is always right” mantra isn’t necessarily true in restaurants. Your behavior can dictate your experience and the quality of service you receive. Hospitality professionals aim to please, however, it’s a challenging job that requires balancing a number of moving parts. So, even VIP guests need to mind their manners when dining out.

Empathy is a driving force for restaurants to understand and serve guests to the best of their ability. And sometimes, a bit of empathy on behalf of the guest is needed in return.

Whether you’re elbowing up to a hot new table or sliding in to your favorite booth at a cozy, casual Mom and Pop joint, there are unbreakable rules that will get you seated faster, get you better service and enhance your overall dining experience.

Show Up to Your Reservation on Time

If you are running late, call the restaurant and provide an accurate arrival time. While restaurants are often empathetic to guests who arrive late, be aware that parties arriving more than 15 minutes after their scheduled reservation may wait significantly longer for a table.

Arrive With Your Complete Party

If all of your guests aren’t present, don’t be surprised if a restaurant is unable to seat you. At face value, this may seem inhospitable, but there’s a valid reason. Let’s say your other guests don’t arrive for another 45 minutes. The time you would be occupying a table disrupts the dining room flow, while a complete party could be almost finished eating.

Photo by Petr Sevcovic on Unsplash
If you have a reservation, showing up on time will make for a better overall dining experience. (Photo by Petr Sevcovic on Unsplash)

Tell the Restaurant if Your Party Size Changes

Mapping out a dining room can be like playing a game of Tetris for the hosts (especially in tiny restaurants on busy summer nights). The hosts need your most accurate information to make strategic decisions. It might seem simple to pull up an extra chair to your table, but if the restaurant is expecting five guests and you show up with six, a seating delay is more than likely.

Avoid a Last-Minute Cancellation

Restaurants are getting smarter and have started adding cancellation fees to bookings. While fees have helped minimize last-minute cancellations and flat-out no-shows, if you have a history of this behavior the restaurant may double book your spot (or create an additional wait upon arrival).

Stick to Simple Drinks for Prompt Service

Your drink order is a server’s first task, and restaurants have cocktail lists for a reason — their bartenders are trained to make those drinks with speed. Don’t be surprised when you order your highly modified cocktail (and dismiss the list or classic cocktail options) that your table’s drinks take a moment to arrive (cue empathy). While the goal in my restaurants is for you to get your drink in two minutes, in some instances restaurants can’t operate with such speed. If you are looking for the fastest route when ordering, a glass of wine or liquor on the rocks is always your best bet.

Wine drinks overhead
Stick to the basics when ordering your first drink if you want to get faster service. (Photo by kelsey chance / Unsplash)

Politely Return Disliked or Wrong Items

So your cocktail is too sweet or your steak is overcooked. Your server should be by the table at least a couple minutes after the drink or food arrives for a visual or verbal quality check. Don’t wait to ask for what you want or need. Once you drink an entire cocktail or consume your whole dinner, it’s too late to effectively file a complaint. Be specific about what’s wrong and allow the restaurant to fix the dish, or remove it from the bill.

Treat Staff the Same Way You Want to Be Treated

Tip your servers generously, or at least fairly (20% after tax is the industry standard in the US). And make sure to communicate to everyone around you with respect. Snapping and clapping at servers is inappropriate. Rather, politely call their attention with eye contact and a smile. Remembering “please” and “thank you” goes without saying, right?

Be Straightforward

Signaling that you are finished with a course can sometimes be confusing for servers to read. Classically, a guest will place their fork and knife together on the plate with the handles, like hands on a clock, facing four and 10. While these nonverbal cues are helpful, this rule isn’t universally followed. A server may extend their hand to a plate that they believe is finished — either allow them to take it or don’t!

For the American style of service, plates are cleared as finished to allow the guest more space and to maintain a table free of dirty plates. With a European style of service, servers wait for all guests to finish eating before removing plates. I know you have your preference — and so does the restaurant. If their style of clearing isn’t to your liking, alert the manager or server before the meal begins.

Don’t ‘Camp’ at Your Table After Dinner

While it’s important to enjoy the dining experience, don’t overstay your welcome. Spending more than two hours at a table indicates that you’re oblivious to the fact that other guests are also waiting for seats.

Featured photo by dan gold / Unsplash.

Know before you go.

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