Dining etiquette. Is it a dying, historical art or current, useful consideration? This is not about which fork or knife to use, nor the antiquated finger bowl. It’s about how we handle the barrage of technology at our fingertips these days while dining, among other niceties that have largely gone by the wayside.
I’m sure you all have gone out to lunch or dinner and see fellow dining companions texting away (or maybe this is you) while you’re mid-sentence, or worse – conversing away (loudly, on the cell phone, on the Bluetooth, or even video conferencing) as if there are dueling dining and social events happening. Find yourself in this situation and not sure how to handle it? Yes, me too.
I had the pleasure of spending a busy lunch at Bambara, one of my favorite dining establishments in Salt Lake City last month. Mike Grundy, the Restaurant Manager, who warmly receives guests with and without reservations every day in the busy downtown locale, sat down with me to dish on dining etiquette. I thought that Mike would be the perfect resource - no doubt having seen more than a few gracious guests, as well as well-meaning faux pas in his tenure.
I went with the sole mission of discussing dining etiquette in today’s fast and ever-changing world, especially as it relates to dining with technology at our fingertips. The inspiration for this conversation was inspired by my dining solo one night with the intention of observing the dining habits of others. You guessed it. Indeed – many guests were busier looking downward at their cell phones rather than displaying any interest in their dining companions, much less the wonderful food prepared especially for them.
The one thing that stays constant in this techno-busy world of ours is the fact that we, as humans, need to eat. And from the looks of this particular noontime Bambara-dining crowd, we still enjoy eating with dinner companions, strangers, family and lovers. But exactly "how” are we dining? Are we enjoying the experience of the atmosphere, company, and food by being truly present? Or are we preoccupied with dashing back to the office to continually check off the proverbial to-do’s in order to get it all done to rush home to get it all done again tomorrow.
Ah, back to lunch… It was a Monday. The tables were filled, the servers were bustling about, the grill chefs were expertly searing meats, simmering sauces and tossing salads. There was an atmosphere of purpose. The place was hopping. Business and dining always seem to meld together, and that feels purposeful. Let’s face it, the world has changed dramatically since I first learned how to dine. And I wanted to now learn what dining etiquette tips might be helpful for millennials - and everyone else, for that matter, and share them.
Here’s what Mike shortlisted as the best tips for you, as a diner, to know about business lunches, dinners, and fine dining. No surprise, topping the list is communication:
1. Always make a reservation.
Don’t assume that because it’s breakfast or lunch, that a table will be ready and available when you arrive. Do call ahead. And if you are running late and you made a reservation, call to let the restaurant know. That’s one of the nice things about technology, you can call on your cell phone from the train, cab, or the freeway now. Tables are typically held for an additional 15 minutes past the reservation time - if you take the time to offer the courtesy call. When you make your reservation, be certain of the number in your party, and let them know if you are celebrating anything special, say, a birthday or anniversary. If there is a loyalty program, sign up for it! Loyalty programs like the one at Bambara offer specials for their regular customers.
2. Check the cell phone before you hit the door.
The aforementioned technology advantage we have means that, out of respect of the other diners in the restaurant, as well as those at your table, please turn off the ringer of your phone (if you must keep it on). There’s nothing more annoying than sitting near someone having a full-blown conversation near other diners. It is rude. It is considered bad manners. If you must take a call, excuse yourself and take it outside.
3. Greet the host/hostess.
This might seem like common sense, but the host/hostess is a person. Smile and greet them on your way in. “And don’t hold up your hand with the number 2, 3, 4, etc.,”says Mike. The hostess will ask you if you have a reservation, to which you may reply at that time if the number in your party has changed.
4. Acknowledge and greet your server. Listen to your server.
Again, this might seem like common sense, but many people skip the hello piece of acknowledging their server. Greet the server and do not speak while the server is speaking. When your server speaks to you, listen, and answer their questions. Your server is there to take care of you (and to do their job). Most servers at fine dining restaurants have experience and knowledge that they enjoy sharing with diners.
5. Let your server know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies - before ordering.
Though this seems only natural, Mike says you would be surprised by the people who order something without checking first to see if the dish might contain an ingredient the diner is allergic to.
6. Mind your children
If you have small children, practice dining at home so they are familiar with the customs of fine dining. If your child is not able to handle fine dining, wait until they are ready. Seating children near a window where they can look outside to see the city or view is a good idea should they become bored. After the meal, that technology piece might come in handy to keep them occupied for a few minutes – but not the entirety of the time you are seated. It’s distracting to other diners and there’s a time and a place for playing games.
7. Place your napkin in your lap, keep your elbows off the table, and be ready to have a conversation (but please, do not speak with food in your mouth).
8. Know what you are ordering. And if you don’t…ask.
Refer back to number 5.
9. If you’re in a bad mood – leave it at the door.
Hey, everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed now and then. Just don’t take it out on your servers or dining companions. Check your attitude at the door and prepare to enjoy yourself while dining.
In a find dining restaurant, the servers are there to provide you exceptional service, and should be tipped accordingly. 18-20% is the minimum (in America) and should be reflected in your tip. If you are receiving poor service, ask for it to be corrected by a manager. Servers rely on tips to make their living, and Bambara has very little turnover of staff because servers are professionals and are compensated accordingly by their patrons.
Let’s face it. We’re all busy these days, but the new business executive generation has cell phones. It’s the reality of the world we live in today. But dining is meant to be a break in the day – and that means turning off your cell phone ringer before you reach the restaurant door. After all, it’s the “being with others” that makes dining special, so be with them. You can return the calls later.