Manners and service

Courtesy is essential, although too many people today don't seem to have that quality when dining out.

By Jeremy Ryland


A few weeks ago, I wrote about the reviewer’s pet peeves. Well, staff have peeves as well, particularly with guests belittling their profession, treating wait staff like servants, using smartphones at the table and general poor manners.


Manners maketh man


There is an old saying – “manners maketh man”! Good manners used to be a common courtesy and a sign of “good breeding”. So, what happened to simple good manners like “please” and “thank you”?  It was also about respect. Opening doors for people. Respecting your elders. “Being there” when communicating with others. Treating others like you like to be treated.


100 years ago, eating could be a very formal affair with complex rituals and manners. There were separate knives for fish, for meat and for butter: there were special spoons for oysters, for crabs, for soup, for dessert, for sugar. Being able to navigate the bewildering array of knives, forks and spoons was once seen as the ultimate social test – remember the scene in “Pretty Woman”?


Today eating out is more casual – perhaps too casual? In fact, we now have splayds, knorks, and a recent survey showed that over 15 per cent of young adults use their hands to eat: they don’t know how to use a knife and fork!


The way we eat food is evolving to match our changing, busy lifestyles. However, the world is not your living room! In the comfort of your own home, you should feel free to eat in shifts, toss scraps to the dog on the floor, talk loudly on the phone, scratch whatever itches, and generally be yourself.


In public; however, there is a need to be considerate of others. There is nothing more rude than conducting your personal business in a public place. The last thing your overworked waiter/waitress wants to do is compete with your mobile phone conversation and the diners around you aren’t too thrilled about it either. Turn your smartphone off. Food should be savoured, relished, enjoyed and eaten at leisure. Take time. See and taste what you are eating! Pay your respects to the chef and enjoy your meal. If you are incapable of this, then you should order UberEats and dine in.


Smartphones are everywhere. They are now part of our lives – but they become a problem when trying to put plates down when they are scattered all over the dining table. And don’t take a phone call and then complain half an hour later that your meal is cold. Some restaurants are even insisting on you checking your phone in!


A good restaurant is a busy restaurant, and a busy restaurant has a lot of people to take care of. Keep this in mind when it takes a little while to get a seat, or the food takes some time to get from the kitchen. Remember that there is a big difference between bad service and a busy restaurant.


If you make a booking, arrive on time. And if you cannot go for any reason, call the restaurant and cancel. “No shows” are a significant problem for restaurants and are simply rude. When a restaurant accepts a booking, it puts a table aside for you and turns other potential paying guests away. Failing to turn up or failing to let the restaurant know, can make the difference between a profit and a loss for that meal. This is why more and more restaurants are not accepting bookings or require a deposit – but that’s another story.


And if you book for four people – and only two turn up: the same issue. On the other hand, if you book for four and expect the restaurant to seat six then you are also causing strain and cost as the restaurant has to juggle space to fit you in at the expense of other diners.


Follow the “golden rule”: do unto others as you would have them do unto you


Bring your manners. When you're served food that isn't to your liking, remember the waitress probably didn't cook it. Don’t take it out on her. Feel free to ask the waitress to take it back and bring you something else, but don't be argumentative. If the food was really bad, make a point of mentioning it to the hostess or the manager on your way out. Feedback is important – it is the only way things will improve.


Don’t snap your fingers or clap your hands and treat staff like servants. And when they are at the table, don’t ignore them. They are people like you! Most staff will go out of their way to make your dining experience special but they can’t read your mind and they deserve your respect.

Dining out is something we all enjoy doing from time to time. Customers may be paying but they are still guests and should behave well. Most do, but some seem to think that paying for a meal gives them the right to be rude, messy and poorly behaved. Sure, you are paying for your meal, but this does not mean you can be rude and inconsiderate. You are still a guest – albeit a paying guest. 

Courtesy is essential, although too many people today don't seem to have that quality when dining out. Treat your server as you would like to be treated on your job. Good hospitality is a two-way process - your dining experience will be so much more pleasant if you take the time to be friendly and courteous with your wait staff.