Restaurant Etiquette: A Crash Course


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This is a training module I created for others to train people in basic restaurant etiquette. This module started its life as a quick and dirty guide that we could use to instruct our students in matters of basic etiquette before taking them on a series of field trips throughout the state of West Virginia. I mentioned the guide in passing to my VISTA site supervisors Reba Crossen and Danna Grant, and they both enjoyed the idea of it so much that they suggested I develop the course into a training module to share. So that's what I did, and that's what you see here!

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Restaurant Etiquette: A Crash Course

  1. 1. Restaurant Etiquette: A Crash Course
  2. 2. Table of Contents -Title Page- -Table of Contents- -Time Frame- -List of Materials- -Icebreaker- -Training Contents/Agenda- -Lesson 1: Plain Good Manners- -Lesson 2: Table Placement--Lesson 3: What to Do When You Get to the Restaurant- -Lesson 4: Proper Eating Style- -Lesson 5: After the Meal- -Handouts-
  3. 3. Time FrameIcebreaker – 5 minutesIntroduction – 2 minutesLesson One – 5 minutesLesson Two – 10 minutesLesson Three – 15 minutesLesson Four – 20 minutesLesson Five – 5 minutesConclusion/Q&A – 15 minutesTotal amount of time: 77 minutes, approx.Be sure to allow some wiggle room for opendiscussion. 80-90 minutes total should suffice.
  4. 4. List of Materials-This training booklet.-Enough copies of the enclosedhandouts for every participant.-If you are doing demonstrationsof any of the techniques describedhere, you will need the requiredequipment, but this is optional.
  5. 5. IcebreakerEach participant will introduce themselves with theirname, where they’re from, why they’re taking theclass (if applicable), and one piece of etiquetteadvice that they heard growing up and alwaysfollow today. (No repeats, if possible!)This icebreaker doesn’t really have a name—it issimply designed to make the participants a littlemore comfortable with their fellow trainees andshare a little about themselves with the group. Itwill also give the trainer an opportunity to knowwhat etiquette rules their students are following sothat they can emphasize them (or correct them) intheir presentation.
  6. 6. Training Contents1) Restaurant Etiquette: A Crash Course – brief introduction, handouts distributed2) Icebreaker and Introduction3) Lesson 1 – Plain Good Manners4) Lesson 2 – Table Placement5) Lesson 3 – What to Do When You Get to the Restaurant6) Lesson 4 – Proper Eating Style7) Lesson 5 – After the Meal8) Conclusion/Question & Answer Period Pause frequently for questions or clarification.
  7. 7. Plain Good Manners-If you receive a dinner invitation, it is best to respond to it as promptly aspossible. Did you know that the traditional ―RSVP‖ you see on invitations is fromthe French for “répondez sil vous plaît” or ―Please respond.‖ If you wish to bring aguest, contact the host and ask if this is acceptable to do if the invitation does notaddress it.-If there is a recommended dress code, try to stick with it. It is bad form to out-dress the host as much as it is to under-dress for the occasion. Business casualwill suffice for nearly all occasions.-Punctuality is a virtue—make it a point to never be more than ten minutes lateunless it is absolutely unavoidable, and if you know you‘re going to be late, attemptto let your host know ahead of time so they know not to wait on you.-In some cases (such as a hosted dinner party), it is considered good manners tobring a small gift for the host, such as flowers, chocolates, or wine.-Memorizing rules is all well and good, but perhaps the most important rule totake away from any etiquette class is to not violate the law of excessivebehavior. This means exactly what it implies: excessive drinking, excessive talkingat an excessive volume, excessive joke telling – especially bad ones, excessivelylarge mouthfuls of an excessive amount of food, and an excessive amount ofnegativity in conversational subject matter. As long as you can avoid any trulyexcessive behavior, it is unlikely that you will commit any major etiquette faux pas.Even then, any minor mishaps you may have will occur quietly, and will likely notbe noticed by other diners.-The most important thing at any dinner is to relax, enjoy, and have fun. Dowhat you feel is right, and as long as you have a good sense of humor about anypotential etiquette gaffes, your fellow diners likely will, too.
  8. 8. Table Placement-Most restaurants today do not bother with a full table setting. More than likely,your table setting (even in nicer places) will look something like this:-On the off chance that you are dining in a more upscale restaurant, or are at awedding or catered event, however, here is a more detailed look at table settings, aswell as a couple of rules to live by.
  9. 9. -Always work from the OUTSIDE, to the INSIDE. Example: When you havetwo forks, the one on the outside is the fork for your first course (salad normally)and the one on the inside is for your main entrée. This rule is the same no matterhow many forks you have—just work from the outside, in.-Knives and spoons are always on the right, forks are always on the left.-Dessert cutlery, if there is any, will be placed at the top of the place setting,with forks facing left, and spoons facing right.-Glassware will always be positioned above the knives. No matter how manywines are being served, or how many glasses, the order will always be: Water—Champagne—White Wine—Red Wine—Dessert Wine-The side plate or ―butter plate‖ will typically be to the left of the forks with a sideknife for butter.-Here‘s an easy way to remember which side is which for the bread plate and whichside is for the drinks: b d. Bread on the left, drinks on the right, both lettersfacing inward.
  10. 10. Here is an example of what a nicely set table might look like. Don’t beintimidated! Just follow the guidelines for table placement, and you’ll be just fine!
  11. 11. What To Do When You Get to the Restaurant-If you are unhappy with the table the host or hostess places you at, it is importantto try to speak up as soon as possible, and preferably before you’re seated. Ifyou are seated under an air-conditioner, don‘t be afraid to tell the hostess that youare freezing—they may move you to another table, or in some cases even offer you ashawl, but they will likely not raise the thermostat.-When seated, unfold your napkin and place it across your lap. The napkinmay be used along the course of the meal for occasionally wiping your lips orfingers, but NEVER your nose or the cutlery. At the end of the meal, place thenapkin tidily on the left of the place setting. Some etiquette experts believe thatyou should place the napkin across the back of the chair when finished, but this istypically only done at very upscale establishments—don‘t do it with paper napkins!-It is commonly known that you should keep your elbows off of the table whileyou are eating, and keep your left hand in your lap unless you are using it to eatwith. Before the food arrives, however, it is acceptable to use elbows on thetable as a way to lean closer to someone with whom you are conversing toshow that you are interested.-If bread rolls are served as a pre-meal appetizer, it is more correct to break thebread with your fingers than it is to cut into the bread with the butter knife.-It is considered polite to wait for everyone at the table to receive their foodbefore starting to eat your own, unless otherwise indicated by the host orhostess. In some cases, if the food is hot, etiquette dictates that you starteating when it is served to you, whether or not the rest of the table has receivedtheir dishes. Use your instincts, and follow the lead of the rest of the table.
  12. 12. -If you would like butter, bread, or some kind of condiment, ask the personclosest to it if they can pass it to you so that you don‘t have to reach across thetable for it.-When looking over a menu and unsure of what to select, it is not considered badform to ask the server their opinion with open-ended questions. Ratherthan ―Is the trout good?‖ questions like ―I‘m in the mood for fish. Do you have anysuggestions?‖ will help the server help you.-Many restaurants have signature and seasonal dishes, which are normally markedon the menu. Seasonal dishes have a tendency to use fresher localingredients that the chef has selected and signature dishes are dishes forwhich the chef or restaurant is well known. These are normally good picksfor those who are open to sampling new things. However, note that sometimesthe specials are in a higher price bracket. Don‘t be afraid to ask the waiter whichprice point the specials fall into—this is a good way of asking the price of a specialwithout dropping the dreaded ―And how much is that?‖ question.-When ordering food from the waiter or waitress, a little courtesy will get you along way. Always say ‗please‘ when requesting and ‗thank you‘ when receiving.Though it‘s hardly a rule set in stone, you‘ll get on your server‘s good side when youpreface your order with “I’ll have…” or “I’d like…” rather than “Give me…” or “Iwant…” In a similar vein, if a server offers their name, don‘t be afraid to use it—however, badgering the server for details about their personal life may put them off.-Perhaps one of the most boorish things you can do in a restaurant is,when the server introduces his or herself and asks how you are, bark out“we’re hungry!” You may think that it‘s funny, but it sends an unflatteringmessage about you to the server.-Do not immediately ask anything of the server if they seem rushed. When theserver says they‘ll be with you in a minute, believe them, and wait for them toreturn before placing any orders or requests.-When you want to attract your server‘s attention, it is considered impolite togesture across the restaurant, stand up, raise your glass or generally make aspectacle of yourself to flag down your server. Eye contact and a nod will do inmost cases.-Don‘t be afraid to engage your fellow diners in conversation! Polite conversationat a volume that is appropriate for the restaurant setting is, after all, the
  13. 13. whole point of dining in a group. However, certain topics are consideredinappropriate while eating. Examples of these include personal family problems,graphic medical issues, and topics which may be inflammatory or hurtfulto your fellow diners.-Always taste your food before adding seasonings to it. To do otherwisesuggests that you don‘t believe the dish is palatable as it is. Taste the dish firstbefore requesting the salt and pepper.-Speaking of salt and pepper, these two condiments should always be passed andreceived as a set. Even if you only want the salt, these condiments should be kepttogether on the table to prevent confusion later on.-A note for diners with allergies: if you are unsure if a dish you are about to orderhas an ingredient to which you are allergic, it is fine to ask your server thedetails of the dish or to request that a specific dish not contain theoffending ingredient. It is VERY IMPORTANT to note, however, that beingallergic to an ingredient is very different from disliking an ingredient. Ifyou dislike an ingredient, simply request that a dish be served without it and mostservers and chefs will accommodate your request. But to lie and say you are allergiccreates extra unnecessary work for the server and chef, and should you be foundout, you will look very boorish indeed. It is in your best interest not to annoy theserver or cook with unnecessary requests.-If you receive your food and it is genuinely not to your liking (i.e. noticeablyburnt/undercooked, etc.) it is acceptable to send it back, provided you arepolite. ―This isn‘t what the menu was offering‖ is a good line to drop without beingtoo personal about the food. However, if your food arrives and it’s simply amatter of you remembering that you don’t like one of the ingredients, thenthat is your problem.-If you have a coughing fit or need to blow your nose, or if you need to use atoothpick or check your makeup, excuse yourself to the restroom by saying “Excuseme,” or “I’ll be right back” before leaving the table. Do not announce that youare going to the restroom, and regardless of what you do there, always wash yourhands before returning to the table.
  14. 14. Proper Eating Style-There are notable differences between the American and Continental styles ofdining etiquette. For our purposes, we will focus on the American style.-If there is a soup course, always move the spoon away from you to the otherside of the dish, using the opposite side of the bowl as a place to catch drips from thespoon, and sip (don’t slurp) the liquid QUIETLY from the spoon. The whole ofthe spoon should not enter your mouth while eating.-If your food is too hot, take the hint and wait for it to cool before eating it.Blowing on your food is not considered good table manners, although to do soquietly and discreetly will often pass without comment from other diners.-Hold your fork and knife in a relaxed and natural manner—do not grip yourcutlery with clenched fists. Keep the handles in the palm of the hand, with yourforefinger on top and thumb underneath.-The knife goes in the right hand, and the fork in the left (with the positionsswapped if you are a lefty). It is acceptable for Americans to cut up several parts oftheir meat at once, then place the knife down on the edge of the plate, move the forkto the right (or left) hand, and spear the food with your fork to eat. It is alsoacceptable to place your knife and fork down on either sides of the plate in betweenmouthfuls or to take a drink. Once used, however, your utensils must nevertouch the table again, only the plate.-It is not considered proper to chew with your mouth open or to makeexcessive smacking noises while chewing. Both of these problems are easy toavoid by making sure that you take polite-sized bites, i.e. no more than a third ofthe fork‘s worth of food. Taking small bites will also take less time to chew andswallow, which will save you from another etiquette sin: talking with yourmouth full. Make sure your food is chewed and swallowed completely beforeattempting to engage a fellow diner in conversation. Burping audibly is also,obviously, impolite at the table.
  15. 15. -Bread is to be eaten with butter—not used as a sponge for soup, or to mop upsauces from your plate. In more informal settings, it is acceptable to use certaintypes of bread (such as garlic bread) to mop up excess pasta sauce. In formalsettings, however, bread is to be broken into bite-sized bits with the fingersand buttered piece by piece as you consume it.-If the food presented is not to your liking (and it is not a matter of it beingimproperly prepared), it is polite to make an attempt to eat a small amount ofit. Failing that, it is alright to cut it up and move it around the plate a little! Toleave an entirely untouched plate, however, is a grave insult to the cook.-It is quite acceptable to leave food on your plate if you feel that you haveeaten enough. In fact, in the early days of American and European etiquette, itwas considered rude to clear one‘s plate completely! Leaving behind a small amountof food indicated that a person was well off enough that they did not need to eat allof the food presented to them. It was actually Eleanor Roosevelt who was mostinstrumental in changing American etiquette to allow a diner to clear their plate,citing the impracticality of wasting food in the aftermath of the Great Depression.Though it is now socially acceptable to eat all that you are given, it is notnecessary to attempt to scrape up every last morsel of food, either!-Picking your teeth is extremely unattractive! Refrain from doing so unlesstoothpicks have been expressly provided. The same goes for licking your fingers—that is what a napkin is for! In a nicer dining situation, if messy, hands-on foodis on the menu, finger bowls containing water and a small cloth will usually beprovided—use this instead. Failing that, many restaurants provide wet wipeswith messy courses such as ribs, lobster, or bone-in chicken.-When finished eating, position the knife and fork side by side in the centerof the plate, indicating to the wait staff that you are finished eating. Thiswill save them having to ask.-In more informal restaurants, if you would like a to-go box, wait until they comeover to collect your plate and ask for a box then. In very formal restaurants(i.e. a restaurant making full use of all of the pictured cutlery and glassware on thehandout), it is not considered good form to take food home with you. Keep this inmind as you dine!
  16. 16. After the Meal-Even if you feel you could have cooked a better meal, or if you disapproved ofsomething on the menu or the choice of wine, it is considered much more polite tokeep one‘s grievances to oneself. If you are unable or unwilling to paycompliments, then remain silent.-Standard tipping rates for solid to excellent service in restaurants today is in the15-20% range, with 20% or higher being awarded for particularly excellentservice. A 10-14% tip (or lower) implies that you were dissatisfied with theservice.-If you were, in fact, dissatisfied with the service and wish to make it known, betactful. Speak with the host or hostess about it in a polite tone of voice, no matterhow upsetting it may have been. Explain why you were upset without gettingpersonal—―I waited 20 minutes for the server to notice me,‖ is more credible andfactual than ―It took that idiot 20 minutes to serve me!‖ Most decent restaurantspride themselves on their service and will be happy to make amends. Do notdemand discounts or perks—those are for the manager to offer depending on thesize of the lapse in service quality.-It is considered good form to thank the host or hostess after the meal. In casesof a formal dinner party, it may be prudent to write up and send a thank younote to the host of the party.Remember: entertaining is intended to be ENJOYED. If you are polite andwell-mannered, the specific rules of table etiquette are less important thanthe overall attitude you take towards dining out, and any faux pas willprobably be ignored. Just relax and enjoy yourself!
  17. 17. Handouts -Diagram of a Table Setting--List of Etiquette Websites and Resources-
  18. 18. A List of Etiquette Websites and ResourcesEmily Post Institute– Emily Post‘s 1922 book ―Etiquette‖ became thegold standard for etiquette reference. This website carries on her legacyas the go-to guru on all matters big and small relating to etiquette. Hell – A website dedicated to readers sharing their etiquettehorror stories with others. Heart Etiquette – An etiquette blog by Malika S. Brown, the Presidentand CEO of Excuse Me, Please, Company, an image and etiquetteconsulting firm. Manners – A syndicated advice column dealing specifically withmatters of personal and professional etiquette. Abby – A syndicated advice column that deals with personalproblems and queries; etiquette breaches are often discussed.‘s Digest – Contains a brief overview of the catch-22 involved inmodern American etiquette, as well as a well-rounded reading list. Elegant Woman – A blog dedicated to elegance in all its forms;there is a brief section on etiquette which is very helpful. School of Protocol and Etiquette