Easy Etiquette

Advice from the Front of House for enjoying a dignified dining experience

click to enlarge Kelly Lough of Salazar
Kelly Lough of Salazar

It makes total sense. You spend your hard-earned money on a meal out, so everything should be your way or the highway, right? Well, not so fast, hot shot. While it’s true that you should expect the food to be well-prepared and delivered in a professional manner, every good relationship relies on input from both parties; your meal shouldn’t come at the expense of the hard-working restaurant staff laboring away to provide you with that pleasurable dining experience. 

And while great food is the backbone of a successful restaurant, a good chef knows that stellar service can make or break his/her establishment. So there are a few expectations of you, the dining public, when you dine out. And since we don’t see many people toting around copies of Emily Post anymore, we decided to rely on the expert opinions of two of Cincinnati’s most highly respected restaurant service professionals (aka the Front of House) — Richard Brown, restaurant consultant of Richard Brown Hospitality, and Kelly Lough of Salazar — for their thoughts on how to enjoy a night out while preserving everyone’s dignity (especially your server’s). 

Do you have special needs? Even the best restaurant staffers aren’t mind readers, so do your due diligence before you arrive. If, for instance, you’re celebrating a special occasion, or you’re a vegan, advance notice is always appreciated. “When you make your reservation or at least when you arrive, tell us if you want separate checks, you have an allergy, you’re going to the theater, etc.,” Brown says. “Telling us at the end of dinner is way too late.” 

Toting the tots. You should absolutely bring your children with you to restaurants. Both of our experts love seeing children in their establishments. In fact, says Lough, “Every child should have the opportunity to learn dining etiquette. Parents who raise their children with a certain appreciation for dining out can help mold patience, respect, good manners, positive social interaction and, certainly, an amazing palate.” 

But do keep in mind a few important caveats. “Do bring your darling if the restaurant is appropriate for the child, and the child is appropriate for the restaurant,” Brown says. “Parents, please teach your children to sit and eat like everyone else in the room.”

Call ahead to see if high chairs are available and preview the menu to make sure there’s something your child will eat; if not, it is OK to bring Cheerios. 

Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup! No chef worth his salt wants you to be unhappy with your meal. And neither does a proficiently trained FOH staff. If your meal arrives and it’s improperly prepared — cold, if it’s meant to be hot, or it’s the wrong item — by all means, send it back. If you’re trying something new and you just don’t like it, that’s on you, says Brown. Ask your server for recommendations or ordering advice based on your likes and dislikes before diving in. 

“If you send food back because you don’t understand what it is … next time just order the chicken,” Lough adds. 

Cell phones at the table, yay or nay? Restaurant staffers understand that food porn photos are here to stay. And if you’re dining alone, your phone is a fabulous dining companion, so they’re fine with phones, but please do your waitperson a solid, be polite and put it down while ordering. “Then you can play Candy Crush all night long,” Brown says.  

Show me the money. With the inception of television celebrity chefs came the misconception that everyone in the hospitality industry is living the high life. Not so much. “We only make $3.70 an hour,” Brown says. “The rest is your generosity. And we split that $10 tip with the bus-boy, bartender and food runner.”

Gratuities (aka tips) are the lifeblood of the service industry. For prompt, courteous service, 20-percent before tax is what’s customary these days, and even more is expected at a fine-dining restaurant. But let’s say you require a bit more than just a standard reservation? 

“You asked for a special favor, special time, special table, asked me to break the rules, and I went above and beyond?” Brown says. “Do you want me to honor your special requests again and again?” “You want me to show you to a table at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night without a reservation?” Lough adds. These are the instances when you should discreetly hand your maître d a little something extra ($20 is fine in Cincinnati).

Remember respect. In addition to an honest day’s wages, what your server is looking for most is respect, just like everyone else. “Understand that what we do is thoughtful,” Lough says. “While you enjoy a Saturday evening off, we are creating a great dining experience for you, a complete stranger or a regular diner who has become a friend. … We sacrifice weekends and holidays with our families to create those things for you in a caring and thoughtful manner. We are giving you something from our soul.” ©