Restaurant Etiquette – Part 1

The restaurant you were hoping to go to is booked. What do you do? You are late for a reservation. Do you call and let the restaurant know exactly when you will be arriving or do you bend the truth? The food has arrived and you realize that there is something that you absolutely dislike. Do you send the food back?

These are typical restaurant situations that we face as customers and what we as restaurant owners have to face everyday. Are there actual rules written in stone to what you should do? This is all part of restaurant etiquette.

Getting a table

You have been desperately trying to get into this hot restaurant but it’s always fully booked. What can you do?

Some of the hottest and trendiest restaurants are booked well in advance and some up to 2-3 months such as the French Laundry in Napa Valley. Unless you are some big shot celebrity or important business figure, scoring a table will be near impossible.


Place your name on the waiting list like everyone else. You may want to inform the host/hostess that you are open to other dates if they become available. Even the very best restaurants experience no shows and cancellations. Don’t be afraid of calling the restaurant again to check on any recent cancellations.

Running late

You are stuck in traffic and you don’t want to lose your reservation. Do you inform the restaurant you will be late?

There is a purpose of having a reservation system. Restaurants never expect all customers to arrive on time. That would be too perfect. What we do expect is a courtesy call if you are running late. The worst that can happen is you lose your current reservation but you may be able to get seated at a later time.


If you know you will be running late for a reservation, call the restaurant immediately. Most restaurants have taken into consideration a 5-10 minute delay. However, as a courtesy, it’s always better to inform the restaurant exactly how long you will be late. There is nothing worst then bending the truth and saying you will be there within 5 minutes when you know that you are really 15 minutes away. A restaurant appreciates honesty.

Remember, other customers have booked reservations. Therefore you may be delaying the next party. In a case where the restaurant has to give your table away, apologize and kindly ask if there is a later seating available.

Returning food

You just had a chance to taste your food but you don’t like it. Do you send it back to the kitchen?

Complaints are the best gift a restaurant can receive. Sounds ironic, but it’s the only way a restaurant can truly improve. So if you don’t like something about the food you ordered, you should inform a waiter or speak to a manager right away. Even if we think your wrong, we will still listen to your complaint and are open to suggestions. However, there is a fine line between when it’s the kitchen’s fault and the customer’s wrong doing.


If you noticed that the food you ordered wasn’t prepared as what the kitchen promised or what the menu described (i.e. overcooked, missing sauce) than by all means speak to the waiter and send it back to the kitchen. However, if you notice there is something on the plate that you don’t eat for some reason, then unfortunately it becomes your problem. In the case that you notice something on the plate that you are allergic to but did not realize it was in the dish, really this is still your problem.

However, if you politely inform a waiter your mistake, most restaurants will accommodate your request in offering an alternative dish. If you do have an allergy, you should always inform the waiter during ordering.

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4 Responses to “Restaurant Etiquette – Part 1”

  1. Mister E Says:

    I worked at a restaurant once where a couple would come in every Friday and the gentleman would always order the daily special regardless of what it was or if he’d ever eaten the dish before.

    He was a bit of a picky eater and there were a few things that he just simply didn’t like to eat. On several occasions he would try the special, decide he didn’t like it (always conceding it wasn’t a matter of it being improperly prepared, he just didn’t care for the dish which he had never tried before) and expect the special to be removed from his bill and then order another meal. It wasn’t every visit that he would send it back but frequently enough. We went through this several times and always did as he asked but eventually after a streak of about 4 or 5 consecutive visits where he didn’t like the special we told him that the “try before you buy” deals were over and if he wanted to order a special from that point onward he would be charged for the meal even if he didn’t like it.

  2. Joy Says:

    Great tips. I always call the restaurant if I know I’ll be late and I made a reservation. I just think it’s common courtesy to do so. :)

  3. Inestria Says:

    Yeah, more or less screw you on the whole ‘it’s your problem’ bit regarding allergies. If there were a list of allergies that may be flared by certain dishes, I wouldn’t order those.

    I’m not about to eat something that’s going to kill me. Nor am I just going to sit and pick through it. My husband’s got nut allergies. If he orders a dessert and it has nuts on it (or in it, unadvertised) do you expect him to just pick them off and swallow the oils and the like?

    Fool. I’ll expect you to pay for his funeral.

    The rest I mostly agree with you on. However, I’ll be certain to avoid your restaurant.

  4. TheRestaurantBlogger Says:

    Inestria, perhaps I should clarify my point. I absolutely agree with you that if a customer received a meal that contained something he/she was allergic to, of course I would not expect them to eat it. I would offer them a replacement so that they could enjoy a meal like everyone else. However, my point that I was trying to make was, in order to avoid this problem, a customer should inform the server of any allergies in advance or ask if a dish can be made without a particular item. In all fairness, from a restaurant’s point of view, we do not know what you are allergic to unless we are informed. On the other hand, if you had told us and we still prepared the item the same way, then the customer has the rights to complain and even sue us.

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