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How to Dine Like a New Yorker: The Five Golden Rules of Restaurant Etiquette

Updated on August 29, 2014
Dining out requires manners!
Dining out requires manners!

So You Think You Can Dine...

Last night I went to dinner for the first time with a good friend, one of the most 'refined' people I know, to Coral Gables' La Tagliatella; only to discover that the man has ZERO table manners. Not only did he eat with his mouth open (omg, barf), but he asked for a 'sippy cup' to take the remaining sangria home with him. Unbelievable. The service was impeccable so the staff graciously appeased him; on the other hand, I was mortified.

Now, as a New Yorker there was no way I was gonna let him get away with this blasphemy even if we were in Miami, which made for a very interesting night when I responded to his, "What's the big deal?" by unleashing my entire mental list of everything he had done wrong since the moment we had walked in - using his fingers to fish the fruit out of his wine glass, failing to thank the bus boy when he cleared our plates, asking the chef for the fried egg "on the side" only to add it to the dish himself right in front of the server, etc., etc. I reveled in my reprehension; he squirmed beneath the scrutiny. It was grand. Poor guy; clearly, like most non-New Yorkers, he just didn't know any better.

You see, the many years I spent supplementing my acting career working in New York City's top restaurants have given me a 'bird's eye view' about the do's and don'ts of dining out from a server's, hostess', manager's, and even a chef's perspective; and it is in honor of refined men (and women) everywhere who also don't know any better, that I offer you these five quick tips for dining out anywhere.

A small tip can go a long way...
A small tip can go a long way...

#1. Tip the Host/Hostess; they're the 'gatekeepers.'

Okay so here's the usual scenario; a guy walks up to the podium on a Saturday night at 9 pm, with 3-5 people in tow. He has no reservations; we're booked solid. He's had a few, or maybe he hasn't, maybe he's just obnoxious. "Hey sweetie," he croons. "So, we don't have any reservations, but...what do you think our chances are of getting a table?" Then he winks, and waits for me to produce a table out of thin air. Now, let's be clear. ALL hosts/hostesses in fine dining establishments have a system in which they 'hold' a table or two for just such occasions; it's how they make a little extra pocket change. Don't judge it, because that's not gonna get you the table. And PLEASE don't embarrass yourself by asking, "Do you know who I AM?" If you really want to impress your date/friends with your swag, then pull out $20, $40, or even $100 (depending on the size of your party and the inconvenience to the hostess) and, very discreetly, pay her for it. Oh yeah, and don't try to circumvent this toll by going straight to the manager; when it comes to table allocation, the host/hostess wields all the power.

You don't want this - TRUST ME!
You don't want this - TRUST ME!

#2. Do not make exceeding demands on the Chef.

About 99.99% of all New Yorkers are allergic to "gluten," a mysterious substance apparently found in every meal, on every menu, everywhere. It's...mysteriously annoying. I suspect that oftentimes, 'special requests' and 'allergies' are code for 'vanity' and 'pretension,' but supposing that all claims are legit, it begs the question - why would a person with an extensive range of dietary restrictions go out to eat with the rest of us? After all, restaurants have set menus for a reason - namely, consistency and timeliness. That you can't have peanuts, ok; that you want to skip the dressing, fine. But the guy who asks for a meat-free, gluten free, lactose free cheeseburger makes life harder for everybody in the kitchen; and they usually reciprocate. You've been warned.

NOT. CUTE.
NOT. CUTE.

#3. Close your mouth and use your silverware.

Now I sound like your mom, or maybe I don't and that's why you're still picking at your food with your fingers, pushing your food onto your fork with your thumb instead of with your knife, slurping your soup, and talking with your mouth full of food. FYI - use your 'inside voice.' Everyone doesn't have to hear about what you did last night; it's not that interesting. Do yourself a favor and, in the privacy of your own home, eat in front of a mirror. If you don't like what you see, then spare the rest of us, please. Until you learn to eat without repulsing everyone around you, stay away from the public trough. And for the millionth time - keep your elbows off the table!

Wait staff works hard; respect that or the meal may not go as planned!
Wait staff works hard; respect that or the meal may not go as planned!

#4. Be nice.

To everyone. Be nice to the hostess, the bartender, the server, the bus boy, and the coat check person; everybody and anybody who does anything for you or your guests. Tell them a joke. Say please, say thank you. And congratulate the manager for commanding a tight ship; name names, go out of your way to commend anyone who's gone out of their way to make your experience stellar. Tip, generously; and don't forget to say goodnight. Running a restaurant is no easy task; it requires a great deal of teamwork and a hundred moving parts. The staff will always remember guests who were pleasant - and those who weren't. This will be a determining factor for the service you receive the next time you show up or try to make a reservation. Believe me, you want to leave a good impression.

Fine dining is fun and easy to master - just follow my five quick tips!
Fine dining is fun and easy to master - just follow my five quick tips!

#5. If you really like the place, become a regular.

I've worked at 5-star establishments with a following of steady regulars that would come in at least once or twice a week for lunch or a drink, usually off-hours; so when they occasionally showed up without a reservation on a busy night, or when they called to book a table for an important client who suddenly popped into town, we were always happy to accommodate them. And why not? They were more than just guests trying to rack up status points, they were friends who visited when we weren't busy and shot the shiz with the rest of us. If there's a place or two you really like, try this simple tip. We're all just people at the end of the day, and a little courtesy goes a long way - especially when dining out. Bon appétit!

© 2014 nadia asencio

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