From bailing on reservations to staring at their phones, some restaurant-goers have forgotten their manners. Here’s what not to do when dining out.
A week ago Sunday, restaurants played Cupid all over Seattle, devoting themselves to providing perfect settings, searing ideal steaks and filling lovebirds’ flutes to ensure happy endings to the annual Most Important Date Night Ever. On Valentine’s Day, a restaurant doesn’t just serve food and drinks: It hosts the heart’s hopes, and maybe even a proposal, met with the entire room’s applause.
When the lovebirds fail to materialize for the magic, that’s just not nice.
Tangletown’s beloved sushi spot Kisaku had 10 — ten! — reservation no-shows on the day of love this year, taking ruefully to Facebook near midnight to wonder why people didn’t call to say they weren’t coming, why tables sat empty, jilted.
Are diners making multiple reservations — aided by the ease of OpenTable — just to keep their options open, then ignoring the common courtesy of canceling? Edouardo Jordan of new-last-spring Salare in Ravenna says they got hit too, and that next year they’ll charge a fee for Valentine no-shows as they did on New Year’s Eve. People got mad, but, Jordan notes, “Their lack of commitment is a loss of business for us and loss of opportunity for another guest who actually wanted to come to the restaurant. It’s frustrating.”
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Chefs across town report this kind of bad behavior is getting worse. There are increasing instances of reservations showing up late, and/or with more people, or fewer. Larger groups, more than one restaurateur says, seem speculative — like someone will throw out the idea to a bunch of friends, make a reservation, then see who shows up.
Yes, restaurants are there to serve us, fill and fulfill us, make us happy. But there’s also a social contract of sorts involved. Human beings are on the other side of OpenTable, and also standing at your table. While a transaction, dining out is also a matter of mutual respect and human kindness.
Consideration was given in this column recently to the interpersonal pitfalls of restaurant etiquette. In light of the Valentine’s Day reservation problem, here’s a list of dining-out don’ts for conscientious restaurant-goers who want to help make that world a better place.
1. Don’t ghost on your restaurant reservation. Human beings are waiting for your timely arrival with your lovely party of the predetermined size. It’s not an exaggeration to say that livelihoods are impacted by failure here — the server, the cooks, the dishwasher. Call if you need to make changes or if you’re not coming. Just call! It helps.
2. Don’t neglect your server/dining companion/real life in favor of your phone. In a better world, phones would be put away entirely (and they should be at better restaurants in this world). If you feel you must interact with yours in a casual restaurant, do it courteously. Be ready for your server, as they are ready for you, and eat your food while it’s hot! Mom would want this.
3. Don’t snap to get your server’s attention. Canine waiters are not a thing (yet — though with the advent of the cat cafe, who knows what awaits). People do not deserve to be snapped at. Try eye contact; if that fails, a raised hand; then the smallest of waves. The server may be struggling to keep up for reasons beyond his or her control. What if someone started snapping at you at work on a bad day?
4. Don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you.” From the host to the exit, sincere, brief pleasantries make things more pleasant. Once you engage like this, a good server will make your experience 79 percent better in whatever direction you lead (businesslike, celebratory, date-impressing).
5. Don’t try to help your server by taking dishes and such out of their hands (or handing them over) unless asked. This is admittedly a small matter, but as a counterintuitive one, it bears mentioning: Your server has done this before, and helping out isn’t necessary (and may end up messy).
6. Don’t suffer silently if there’s something wrong. Restaurants know they don’t always get it right, and they’d really like to try. If something’s amiss on your plate or you’re experiencing a lengthy wait, speak up. They want you to be happy! They want you to come back. If you’re nice about it, you might end up with free dessert.
7. Don’t take problems out on your server when it comes time to tip. Hopefully, you’ve dealt with any issues up front, but if not, have a heart. It’s rarely your server’s fault. What if your co-worker called in sick and you had to do their job, then your computer caught on fire, then someone showed up and docked your pay for your lack of speed or smile? Unless your server has deliberately injured you, tip 20 percent.
8. Don’t forget to have fun. Be sweet, and sweet things will come to you. Especially on Valentine’s Day.