It was one of those sunny near-fall nights so we decided to go to the lake for dinner. I dressed appropriately, spending my normal too long putting my hair together. Hurrying out to the driveway, I spotted our 1960 convertible cleaned and ready to go. "Let's take her tonight," my spouse smiled. My hair groaned.
Arriving at the restaurant, I made a beeline to the ladies' room to redo my "do." While fixing the wind damage, I got chatting with a young lady who was leaning on the sink and carefully reading the menu. I looked at her, puzzled.
"Oh, I have never eaten at this fancy a restaurant before. I'm not sure what to do or what to order," she explained, "I'm studying the menu before my date arrives." Clever, I thought.
"Do you eat out often? I could use some advice," she said. I grinned to myself; the teacher in me soared.
And so I began my lecture:
1.) Use all the manners that you use at home or at least the ones you remember - Chew with your mouth closed. Don't talk with your mouth full. Don't burp or slurp in public. Keep elbows off the table. Say excuses me, thank you and please.
2.) Treat the server with respect. True, they are paid to serve you, but they are not your personal servant. Look the server in the eye and speak clearly. Mumbling indicates your insecurity and could get you the wrong order.
3.) Relax and take pleasure in the experience. Enjoy the food, the drink, the company, the atmosphere. This is not the time to feel funny about eating in front of people. "I'm not that hungry" is not what your paying host wants to hear.
4.) Dress appropriately, but comfortably. If you are not sure what the dress code is, I say KISS - keep it simple and sophisticated. For women, a simple skirt with a little sweater/jacket will fit the bill. For men, kakis and a collared shirt are safe. Jeans are out unless you know its country western.
5.) Use the napkin. Place it on your lap before the food arrives. Wipe your mouth when needed. Leave the napkin on the right side of the place setting when leaving the table.
6.) When using your flatware or silverware, start from the outside and work in towards the plate. Leave the soiled ware on the plate when finished. Do not return it to the table cloth.
7.) Cut all foods into bite-sized pieces. No matter how hungry you are, don't stuff big pieces into your mouth. If it is a truly fine restaurant, do not use your hands even for a hot dog. Yes, it's hard to cut chicken off the bone, but do it.
8.) Ask questions. It is okay to not know anything - most of us don't know something! It can be helpful to check out the menu or the restaurant before the dinner. You can stop by or go to the website. If you don't know what to order, you can always ask your host or the wait staff, "Oh, it all looks so good, I don't know what to order, can you make a suggestion?"
9.) Order what you want unless it is outrageously expensive. If you want a special or a special drink, but think it's too expensive ask using the word "and." For example, "And how much is that veal special?" It helps you sound less, shall we say, cheap?
10.) Stick to food you know. Until you gain more experience, first timers should not order frogs' legs. If you make a mistake and don't like the food you ordered, I say, try to eat it. If it is the restaurant's mistake, it is OK to send it back. "Ugh" is not an appropriate response to food arriving at the table.
11.) Don't order more courses than your host orders. It can be uncomfortable to be the only on eating an appetizer or chowing down on dessert. If you are asked first if you would like an appetizer or dessert, look over the menu and say, "Hmmmm, I'm not sure, are you having one?"
12.) If you are the guest and you were invited, you are not expected to pay. You can offer or offer to pay the tip if you are prepared. (If you have money on you!) Always say "thank you."
Oh busboy, the restroom classroom had run overtime. My confident new student and I returned to the dining room. She joined her patient companion. I joined my not-very-patient companion. I began to explain but he interrupted, "That's the last we'll ever take the convertible!"
Restaurant Watch: Check out the novices visiting your favorite restaurant.