Restaurant Dining Etiquette
Valet and Maitre D'
If you use valet parking, be polite to the attendant and when leaving, reward him with a tip.
Once inside, if you are waiting to be seated, be careful not to block the paths of others. It is traditional for a man to check his topcoat. Ladies may or may not.
If you arrive at the restaurant before others with whom you intend to dine, wait for them before being seated. If multiple parties are joining you, you may be seated once two parties have arrived. Tell the hostess or maitre d' the names of the others.
When being seated, a woman will walk behind the hostess with the man following her. In a mixed group, all of the women precede the men to the table. It is permissible to order drinks while waiting but not food.
The Host and the Wine Glasses
If your group meal has an official host—the person who extended the invitation and is footing the bill—this person should direct everyone where to sit. If you are the host, sit with your back to the window with the great view so your guests can enjoy it. If your party has a host and a hostess, they sit opposite each other. If there is a guest of honor, e.g., a relative celebrating a birthday, they will sit to the right of the hostess if a man; to the right of the host if a woman.
Ladies, keep your handbags in your lap or by your feet but never on the table. The big wine glass is for red, the small one for white.
Waiters & Servers
When the server comes over, if you are the host, instead of making demands, say "Hello!" If he asks questions, respond with words not grunts. If he recites the specials, look at him while he does so. If he mentions a food you find repulsive don't make a face or a noise. Have a little comportment about yourself.
Ask if everyone is ready to order; if not inform the server you need more time. If you need your server, try to catch her eye and look at her expectantly. You may raise your hand only as high as your chin, if you need to signal. If you must call out "Waiter?" do so softly. This means no yelling, no frantic waving of your arms, no finger snapping. I wouldn't call her "honey" unless she is your wife or daughter.
Let's not hem and haw over the menu while your waiter stands there waiting. If you need more time, politely ask for it. The words "please" and "thank you" should be directed at your server. If you want separate checks, please tell your server right up front. Close your menu once you have decided what you want. This is a signal that you are ready.
If you are a guest at dinner, only order an appetizer or dessert if your host does. If leisurely conversation is the aim, it is recommended that you order foods which are easy to eat.
Choose and Pour the Wine
Wine is best ordered after the main courses have been chosen. The most qualified person at the table should choose the wine. When the waiter displays the bottle, confirm with a nod. If given a sample, sniff, take a sip, and say "That's fine" unless the wine is bad. You may swirl the wine a bit first, to release its aromas, but not in a showy way.
If the waiter is pouring wine and you don't want any—place your fingers over the glass. The Host should refill the glasses of his guests. Fill a white wine glass three-quarters full; red wine halfway.
Appetizers and Utensils
If a platter of appetizers is being passed around the table, each diner holds it while the person next to him serves himself. If you want to taste someone else's food, don't have them feed it to you and don't spear it off their plate. Pass them your bread plate for a spoonful. It's acceptable to take home leftovers unless you are attending a business meal or wedding reception.
If you drop a utensil, or your napkin, don't pick it up. Instead notify the waiter. Likewise, tell the waiter if you've dropped food on the floor, so it can be cleaned up before the next diners are seated. If you notice a utensil or glass is unclean, quietly tell the waiter.
Hosts, Guests, Checks, and Cell Phones
If you are host, arrive a few minutes early. Inform the maitre d' that you will be taking care of the check. If someone comes late, after you are seated, stand as you extend your greeting. Tell your guests to feel free to order anything from the menu. If someone is served the wrong food, the host should politely inform the waiter.
As you review the check, do so discretely without mentioning to your guests how much the bill is. To signal the waiter, place the check holder at the edge of the table with the money or credit card inside, sticking out a bit.
It is alright to complain discretely to management if the food or service is below par. They can't correct their flaws if not brought to their attention. On the other hand, if the food or service has been exceptional, be sure to let the manager know so your server or chef may be justly appreciated.
If you are a guest, do not order the most expensive item on the menu. Try to stay within the price range as the other guests. Only send food back if there is something wrong with it—not because you don't like it. Never complain about the food or service, as this will reflect poorly on your host's taste in restaurants.
Do not reach past your personal dining space. If you need something from the table, ask someone to please pass it to you.
When conversing at dinner, avoid unpleasant subjects such as illness or surgery. The moment you walk into a restaurant: turn off that cell phone. It's not a good idea to try and sneak the check from the host.
No Cell Phones
Children, Buffets & Fast Food
If you take your children to a restaurant, explain to them beforehand what you expect. They will order from a menu and everyone will remain in their seats during the meal. If your child is irritating other diners, put a stop to it immediately. Children have a hard time sitting still for a long time so long dinners with many courses are not a wise choice. If they get out of hand, it's best to leave.
Two final quick notes: If you eat at a buffet, use a clean plate every time you reload. If you eat fast food, hand the money to the cashier rather than putting it on the counter.