Variety is, after all, the spice of life.
As readers of this blog well know, Reggie regularly eats out with pleasure in New York City's restaurants, and has reviewed a number of them here on this blog. He believes that one of the great pleasures of living in New York is the access it provides to excellent, varied, and superb restaurants, and he believes that refraining from going to them would be silliness indeed. He's working on a number of additional restaurant reviews at this time that he looks forward to posting for his readers' delectation in the not-too-distant future.
|Fewer restaurants provide table-side service these days,|
but it is such a pleasure when they do
In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful, Dear Reader, if I were to outline my basic rules for dining in what I call "better" restaurants, which is the type of restaurant I (mostly) choose to frequent these days when out for an evening in New York (or elsewhere, for that matter). I have divided my essay into two parts: the first focuses on the primary, or most important, rules for doing so, and the second outlines additional rules of a more miscellaneous nature. I may even add a third one, if I feel it appropriate to do so.
Reggie's Rules for Dining in Better Restaurants, Part I
1. Dress appropriately for the establishment
It may be fine to wear cargo shorts and a tee shirt to a quick gobble at a pizza parlor or the Olive Garden (a "casual dining" restaurant chain that Reggie has never eaten in, but is familiar with from having seen their impossibly cheery commercials on television), but it is not at all appropriate, in his view, to wear such an outfit to what I call "better restaurants," namely those where the food is superior to the run-of-the-mill, the rooms are carefully and (sometimes) expensively decorated, the tables are covered with cloths, and the maître d' is dressed in a suit, or an approximation of same.
|One should dress appropriately when dining in "better" restaurants,|
such as at the Four Seasons on Park Avenue
Reggie is routinely shocked at what he sees people showing up wearing at such restaurants these days, and dismayed that the miscreants who do so are rarely turned away by management, despite said diners' brazen flouting of the establishment's (oftentimes) published dress codes. Reggie firmly believes that if one is going to a "better" restaurant one should wear "better" clothes to do so, both out of respect for the establishment and for the sensibilities of the other diners who have made the effort to dress appropriately.
2. When shown to your table, if you are not satisfied with its location it is in your right to request to be seated elsewhere
Sometimes a restaurant's maître d' will initially show diners to a room's less desirable tables, hoping that they can fill them before surrendering the room's better-placed, or more desirable tables. While Reggie is sympathetic to the desire to spread diners throughout a restaurant's rooms, he believes one needn't accept a table located next to the kitchen's swinging doors or a busy serving station, simply because that is what one is first offered. It is more than acceptable, in his view, when shown to such a table to nicely ask to be seated instead at a different table, if one is available. All one need say is, "I would prefer to have a table over there, if possible, please," and nod in the direction of where one would like to be seated. You may not get the exact table you wish for, but odds are high that you will at least be seated at a better table than what you have initially been offered.
3. If the restaurant's tables are packed together, it is appropriate to acknowledge the diners on either side of you
Popular New York restaurants often jam their tables close together, with diners at neighboring tables sitting cheek to jowl. If you should find yourself being seated in such a restaurant, it is basic good manners to acknowledge the diners at the tables on either side of yours, particularly if you have to "excuse me" your way between the tables to reach your seat. A simple "Good evening" will do.
4. Be polite and pleasant to the staff
Once you have been seated, have good manners and acknowledge your servers as they go about their business of attending to you, since they are human beings and have feelings, too. Do thank the person who takes your order and delivers your food, and also the busboy when he pours your water or removes your plate at the end of the meal. You needn't go overboard in doing it, but you shouldn't ignore them, either.
|A well run restaurant, such as Swifty's on Manhattan's UES,|
is staffed with professionals trained to serve you expertly
If your server appears to be somewhat over-familiar with you, and asks a few too many questions along the lines of "How are we doing tonight?" it is appropriate to respond "Well, thank you," and leave it at that. You needn't feel compelled to ask them how they are "doing" or engage in exchanging names with them, at least if you are not so inclined. Do be polite, however.
5. When seeking the attention of the staff, do not make a show of impatiently waving your hand or—God forbid—snapping your fingers
Such activity is vulgar and is to be avoided, and is a decided disincentive to the person whose attention you are seeking to come to your assistance. Simply raising your hand and making eye contact is usually sufficient to draw the attention of a restaurant's staff. On the other hand, if you feel you are being egregiously ignored, for whatever reason, it is in your right to (discretely) bring it to the maître d's attention, so that they can remedy the situation.
6. If the food you ordered is cooked improperly, it is in your right to send it back to be remedied
A restaurant's management would rather you be a satisfied customer than a disappointed one, as satisfied customers are repeat customers and disappointed ones are not. So, if you ordered your salmon cooked "medium," and it is delivered to you either undercooked or overdone, do not hesitate to (nicely) send it back to have it cooked the way you asked for it (or replaced with one that is). That does not mean you have license to be persnickety, or unreasonable, or difficult about it—just politely ask that the food you ordered be cooked the way you requested it (and are, incidentally, paying to have provided to you). The same goes for a bottle of wine—it is appropriate to send a bottle back if it is "off," but it is not acceptable to send it back simply because after tasting it you don't care for the vintage.
7. Do not speak loudly or use vulgar language, don't fight, and do not engage in conversations that are insulting to those near enough to hear what you are saying
You are not sitting in a cone of silence. Respect the fact that the people within earshot are paying to spend a pleasant evening out, and listening to their fellow diners' foul language, squabbles, or less-than-flattering commentary is not part of what they have signed on for. Keep a lid on it when out in public, please, and confine such unbecoming chatter to when and where you don't have an audience of strangers forced to listen to it.
|A restaurant is not the proper venue to engage in fisticuffs|
Now, Reggie admits that there are certain, very rare instances when it is permissible to take off one's gloves in public and really let one's dinner companion have it, audience be damned. But Reggie believes that one should be extremely selective when doing so, and that one should only do it when one has been most shockingly and violently provoked. It should be reserved only for those once-in-a-lifetime situations where one's dinner companion has (for whatever reason) insultingly and maliciously crossed a line with you that must never be violated, where there is simply no going back. But only then. Reggie is, in fact, working on a post about just such a confrontation that he once had (rather spectacularly) in a restaurant more than a decade ago, that he looks forward to sharing with you, Dear Reader, one day.
Now, getting back to the subject at hand . . .
8. Do not allow the waiter or busboy to remove your plate until everyone else at the table has also finished eating
Many restaurants attempt to clear a diner's plate as soon as he (or she) has finished eating, even though there may be others at the table who have not yet finished. This practice is to be discouraged, regardless of the establishment's intentions or general practices. Reggie firmly believes that plates should only be allowed to be removed when everyone at the table has finished the course at hand.
|The proper knife and fork placement for signifying|
that one has not yet finished eating, and that
it is not yet appropriate to clear the plate from the table
Just so there should be no confusion in the matter, Reggie advises that when one has finished eating and others at the table are still eating, one should (a) be careful to place one's utensils on one's plate in such a manner that it is clear that one has not yet finished, and (b) if the waiter or busboy attempts to remove the plate anyway, then one should politely inform them that one has not yet finished, and only allow them to remove the plate once everyone else at the table has also finished. It is only after all of the diners at the table have finished eating that it is appropriate to arrange one's silver in the four o'clock position signifying that one is ready to have one's plate taken away.
|The proper knife and fork placement for signifying|
that one has finished eating, and that it
is now appropriate to clear the plate from the table
The point here is that it is up to the diners to dictate to the waiter or busboy when it is appropriate to clear plates from the table, and not the other way around.
9. Tip appropriately, with the general rule of thumb being 15%-20%, and higher if service has been exemplary
Restaurants in New York City charge a combined city and state sales tax of 8 ⁷⁄₈%. When determining the proper amount to tip in the city's restaurants, most diners simply double the sales tax as a tip, which is an appropriately generous payout rate of 17 ¾%. When service is better than average, though, rounding the tip up to 20% is merited, and if the service has been truly exceptional, well, then sometimes paying as much as 25% is justified.
Next: Reggie's restaurant rules pertaining to children, the use of electronic devices, doggy bags, and when one should call ahead . . .
Photographs of restaurant interiors from LIFE Images and Google Images; photographs of cutlery and plates by Reggie Darling