Opinion: Top 10 Unspoken Rules of Restaurant Service Etiquette

An avid restaurant goer sounds off.


If you dine out with any regularity, it’s likely you have an opinion on how restaurant service should be. Whether you feel service is of prime importance or not, we all have our gripes. Recently, I had a particularly poor experience at a 2-Michelin-Star restaurant in NY. Since posting my recap this morning, I’ve been amazed at the number of people corralling to support me. And it makes sense! When you pay top dollar for a meal, people should treat you nicely. Oddly enough, I think too many people take service etiquette for granted. Not wanting to be curmudgeonly they keep opinions to themselves, making these rules unspoken.

Anyone who has dined with me knows I’m not shy about discussing these sticking points. So why not share with all of you? These are my top ten rules for providing great service, in no particular order. What are yours?

1. If a reserved table is not ready when a customer arrives and they have to wait any longer than 15 minutes, apologize and offer a complimentary cocktail or glass of wine.

2. When asking about water preferences, be as clear as possible. No one will be happy when they order a $20 bottle of Perrier by accident. Also, don’t make the customer feel bad if they want tap water. Asking “Bottled water or just tap?” creates this feeling.

3. Never make assumptions about someone’s wine knowledge. Ask a few questions to gauge their experience. (Just because I’m young and female, doesn’t mean I’m a novice!)

4. There is a certain rhythm to water and wine refills. Both need to be handled with enough frequency that the customer never pours for themselves but rarely enough, that they won’t feel rushed or intruded upon.

5. Good waitstaff are always available for patrons who might be seeking attention. Even when focused on something else, they should have their eyes peeled. A customer should not have to flail their arms to get somebody’s attention.

6. Do not ask if someone is finished when others are still eating that course. It makes those eating feel guilty and rushed.

7. Please do not clear plates until everyone is finished.

8. If I clean my plate, don’t make a comment about it. Yes, this girl likes to eat!

9. Please do not bring the bill until someone requests it.

10. Wait until the customer leaves to take the signed bill. It makes them feel rushed and it’s awkward to say goodbye after the tip is signed, even if the service was perfect.

In the end, your waiter/waitress is a person too and nobody is perfect. These are mere guidelines. But no matter what your profession, we should all aim to do a good job of it!

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