Restaurant Etiquette – Part 2

This is a continuation of the restaurant etiquette series. In Restaurant Etiquette part 1, I wrote about the proper etiquette for getting a table, if your running late, or returning the food. This edition will discuss the etiquette behind automatic gratuity, table seating, menu specials and options.

Automatic gratuity

You are part of a party of six and you were charged a standard 15% gratuity for large parties. You received terrible service. What can you do?

Automatic gratuities are placed to ensure the waiter will receive a fair share of tips for providing a level of service. However, Brette Gabel, a waiter from Fresh restaurant in Toronto views service charges as rude and says “My service, hopefully, has been satisfying enough that they would want to tip me maybe even 20 percent.” Is there anything you can do if you have received poor service?


If a tip policy has been well advertised on the menu, then in most circumstances there is not much you can do. If you were completely unsatisfied with the service, you should discreetly speak to a manager or the maitre d’. No restaurant manager wants to hear negative word of mouth.

Make sure you clearly offer specific examples of the service such as, it took 20 minutes for our drink orders to be taken or it took 45 minutes into dinner service for our appetizers to arrive. This still won’t guarantee you from not paying the service charge, but you may be offered a discount or a complimentary meal at a later date.

Table seating

You are not happy that you have been seated next to the washroom. Should you wait and tell the waiter?

Unless you have made a request to be seated in a specific area of the restaurant, then normally you will have to accept the assigned seating from the host/hostess.


Never wait until you are seated and speak to the waiter about your table. If you are not happy, speak up right away and let the host/hostess know. Again be specific; too noisy, too tight, too close to the washroom.

Most times, the restaurant can accommodate your request unless the restaurant has reserved specific tables. If you want to avoid all the trouble, the best option is to make a reservation and specify where you prefer to sit.

Menu Specials

Your waiter has informed you of the restaurant specials for the evening but did not mention about the price. You don’t want to look cheap, but how can you find out the price?

Some restaurants will have specials written on a blackboard which will include the prices while other fine dining restaurants rely on their waitstaff to inform the customer. If you have guests with you then enquiring about the price specials may be embarrassing. How do you avoid this?


Generally, a restaurant special will be priced within the price range of the restaurant’s menu. Without sounding too direct or rude, a more polite way of asking is, “What price point are the specials?” instead of asking, “How much is that?”

Menu Options

There are too many menu choices to choose, but you are unsure which one you would like to order. Where should you start?

Ordering can be stressful for some people. A menu may be so appealing that you may feel overwhelmed with the variety of choices and you just don’t want to make the mistake of ordering something you may regret.


Keep in mind of what you enjoy and what you feel like having. Ask the waiter for recommendations, but avoid asking questions like, “Is the pork chop good?” We each have different likes and dislikes. A better approach is asking your waiter, which items are the most popular or what is his/her favorite dish?

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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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