Special Report

Dining-Out Etiquette Rules That Should Come Back

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1. Arrive on time

If you’re the host at a restaurant dinner, don’t leave your guests sitting alone and possibly awkwardly at the table. If you’re the guest, help the host get things started on time. If you and your dining companion or party arrive together — on time — you can reasonably expect to be seated promptly. If you’re asked to wait for a few minutes while another party pays the check or a table is reset, though, it’s not the end of the world. How long should you wait? That’s an individual choice, but 10 or 15 minutes doesn’t seem unreasonable (especially if the management buys you a drink); 30 minutes or longer does, unless you’ve scored a reservation at the hottest place in town and no amount of inconvenience will turn you away.

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2. Don’t take forever with the menu

Some menus are far too long (never a good sign in the first place; how much fresh food can the kitchen really keep on hand?), but even with shorter ones some diners seem incapable of making up their minds. They’ll consider all the possibilities, make a choice, question that choice, ask somebody else’s opinion, disregard it, invite everyone else to order first, and then still hem and haw as the server stands ready. If you’re the indecisive type, try to look at the menu ahead of time, online or posted outside the restaurant. If that’s not possible, don’t treat your dinner order like a major life choice. Just order something you know you like and if it turns out that somebody else ordered something that looks better…well, there’s always a next time.

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3. Don’t start eating until everyone is served.

This one is elementary. Dishes don’t always come out of the kitchen at exactly the same time, and you can usually afford to wait two or three minutes until everyone is served. Italians will tell you, not without reason, that one exception to this rule is with risotto, which can turn quickly from a delicious rice dish into a mess of porridge. “The diner waits for the risotto, the risotto doesn’t wait for the diner,” they say. Sometimes, a diner being forced to wait an unreasonably long time for his or her food might say to tablemates “Go ahead and start before it gets cold.” Whether you do or not is an individual decision.

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4. Use the right utensils

This really shouldn’t be as daunting as people sometimes make it out to be. Most restaurant tables today are set simply with a fork to the left of the plate and a dinner knife and spoon to the right (or with chopsticks). You can presumably figure that one out. In some fancy restaurants, there may be more than one fork or spoon, in which case start from the outside and work your way in. (The salad fork, for instance, is to the left of the dinner fork, so that’s the one you use for your appetizer salad.) The spoon (and/or sometimes fork) at the top of the plate is for dessert. In some very fancy restaurants, fresh course-specific cutlery is brought with each dish, so that one’s a no-brainer.

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5. Know the rules for family-style eating

In earlier times, it was mostly Chinese and Italian restaurants that served food on large platters to be shared around the table. Now almost any kind of restaurant might present its offerings that way. This can be a great way to eat — easy, fun, friendly — but it’s important to remember some basic rules: (1.) Pass the platter or bowl counterclockwise. Why? Tradition. The important thing is that food should always go in the same direction to avoid collisions. If you’d rather pass things clockwise, go right ahead; just make sure everybody else knows the drill. (2.) Help yourself with the serving utensils provided, not your own fork or spoon. (3.) Don’t reach across the table for food; wait till it’s passed. (4.) If the group is large and (especially) if the food is dripping with sauce, offer to serve others as they pass their plates your way. (5.) Eyeball the quantity of food served and don’t take more than your share.

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