People Are Sharing The One Piece Of "Restaurant Etiquette" That They Believe Everyone Should Follow
"I am a parent of a toddler, and if we're out at a restaurant and they start to have a meltdown, we pay the bill and leave. It doesn't matter if we've just sat down or are in the middle of eating. It is so disrespectful and selfish to subject the entire restaurant to your child's outbursts just because you want to finish your food."
In the past three years, American dining has evolved in ways that are pretty unbelievable. Many restaurants are still struggling to stay afloat in a pandemic-influenced world; 11% of restaurants in the United States have closed since 2019, and even the lucky ones with their doors still open are contending with sky-high food and equipment costs, staffing shortages, and rising rents. But the most insidious challenges for restaurants and the people who work in them? The customers — and they've gotten worse than ever.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why restaurant etiquette has become so abysmal in recent years. Maybe it's dwindling patience in general, or just increased self-importance in a world that's all about convenience. Or, perhaps people still need a crash course on human interaction after three years of less of it. Either way, the "why" is less important than the results of this shift in behavior. The way you act while dining out doesn't only affect your server's mood; it can color the experiences of everyone around you, and ultimately harm restaurants in ways much deeper than a mere dining faux pas.
To help combat the ever-growing trend of chaotic customer behavior as of late, I asked BuzzFeed staffers of different ages, home bases, and familial situations to share their most passionate dos and don'ts when it comes to dining out. Many are modern takes on the experience of eating at a restaurant, and several are tried-and-true rules that bear repeating, but all of them are important guidelines for being a decent customer in this day and age. From making that initial reservation to sharing your experience on social media (and even ordering the "right" way), these are the rules you'll need to follow to be a kind and respectful patron and dinner companion in 2023.
1. "If you book a reservation through an app — or through any method that isn't the restaurant's own website or phone number, really — call the restaurant ahead of time to ensure that the booking went through."
"Reservation apps might be hella convenient, but they don't always work with 100% accuracy. It's best to call ahead of time to double-check that your table has been reserved. It'll save a major potential headache for both you and the restaurant's staff."
2. "A party of eight or more should never expect to be seated promptly at a restaurant without calling ahead first."
"I'm not even saying that you have to make a reservation, but even calling 30 minutes before you arrive with your massive group will make a world of difference in actually being able to dine out with a group that large."
3. "Whoever picks the restaurant should make sure other folks in the party know how expensive the food will be."
"It's 2023, and everything is expensive. People should have the opportunity to veto pricier spots before they're stuck splitting a $75/person bill, and if they do admit that it's just not in their budget at the moment, they should be met with respect."
4. "For reservations that charge a fee for no-shows: The only circumstance in which it's appropriate to call a restaurant to ask for your deposit back is a literal family emergency, serious illness, or death."
"Having a date or friend bail on you, or merely changing your plans, does not count. Any restaurant that holds your credit card in the event of a no-show is likely charging some pretty serious money to begin with — unless something truly horrible came up, you really shouldn't dispute a no-show charge."
5. "Don't ask to be seated at a restaurant that's closing in the next 30 minutes...but if for some wild reason you absolutely must, order and eat as quickly as possible."
"Realistically, you should just find another restaurant that closes later...but if you can be in and out — in other words, don't be the last people in the restaurant — you're probably OK."
6. "If you have a group reservation for 7:30 p.m., that means EVERYBODY IN THE GROUP needs to be there by 7:30 p.m. Not 'some of us will get there and hold the table and y’all can come after.'"
"I hate group birthdays when everyone doesn't show up on time. Like, most restaurants these days will only give you the table if everyone is present. SO, LIKE, EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE PRESENT."
7. "If you're meeting a date and you're running behind, you have a five-minute grace period. For friends, 10 minutes. (And don't lie about getting stuck in traffic.)"
"There's nothing more uncomfortable than sitting alone at a restaurant table waiting for your absent date, significant other, or friend...even worse is awkwardly hovering by the entrance when you can't be seated as an 'incomplete party.' It's 2023, and your smartphone can expertly detect traffic or travel interruptions — make planning ahead the norm."
8. "Whether you're running five minutes late or 45 minutes, call the restaurant to let them know."
"It's so much better than just letting the restaurant assume you're a no-show, and honestly, sometimes hosts can work miracles and still find a way to get you seated with advance notice."
9. "Even if a reservation you booked won't charge you in the event of a no-show, calling to let them know you can no longer make it is always the right thing to do."
"You should call as soon as you know you're not gonna make it, but even calling them up until five minutes after your reservation is helpful. It means the restaurant will get more covers in, which can make a huge difference in the long run."
10. "When eating at a place where you seat yourself, choose the smallest available table for your party size."
"For example, let's say you're a party of two, and two tables are available; one for two people and another for four. Choose the table for two. I've been to so many places where someone takes a larger table for no reason, leaving another party screwed out of a table. If there are no other tables, it is acceptable to take a table larger than needed...however, if a smaller table opens up nearby before receiving your food, you should move. And if the spot is busy and it's appropriate, offer to share larger tables with another party."
11. "If you're seated at a two-top with a chair on one side and a long, communal bench on the other, do not sit side-by-side with your companion."
"It encroaches on the space of the other diners sitting on the bench and makes it incredibly difficult for other diners to get up. I'm firmly against couples sitting on the same side of the table while dining out in the first place, but this in particular is just rude to others."
12. "As a paying customer, you definitely have the authority to ask for a different table, but if the request can't be accommodated, you don't have the right to be an asshole about it."
"And remember: Not every open table you see is actually open. Restaurants are basically a complicated puzzle of incoming and outgoing guests, so tables that look open almost always aren't."
13. "If you're eating at the bar, which I highly recommend, choose the seat(s) that'll leave pairs open next to you, even if it means you're sitting pretty close to a total stranger on one side."
"There's nothing worse than forcing a couple to ask people to move over just so they can sit together, as a result of people wanting empty seats around them."
14. "If you grab drinks at the bar while waiting for a table, close out that tab first before you're seated, even if the restaurant says you can just carry it over to your table."
"Many people will spend 20-30 minutes drinking at the bar and even ordering an appetizer if there's a long wait, and that's fine! But it's good etiquette to close out before heading over to your table. The bartender who made your drinks while you were waiting deserves that tip; you can start a new bill with your server."
15. "It's never, ever OK to go up to the bar and help yourself to the bartender's fruit tray with lemons, limes, and other garnishes. Just ask for what you need, even if it means you'll have to wait a minute."
"Your bartender will be happy to help you. But don't grab the fruit yourself — imagine if every customer stuck their dirty hands in there?! Gross!"
16. "If you have food allergies, and especially if you have multiple, make it easy on the kitchen (and safer for yourself) by giving your server a copy of them."
"My mother-in-law, who has several serious allergies, begins every meal out by handing the server a business card-sized list of her allergies, which she typed up and prints out copies of from time to time. When traveling, she carries translated copies, too. Her servers are always so grateful because they can use the list to advise her about what to order and then give the list to the kitchen, just to be safe."
17. "If you're on a special diet or have any dietary restrictions, pick a restaurant that will be able to accommodate your requests easily, or with as few special requests as possible."
"There are apps and websites to find gluten-free-friendly restaurants just about everywhere, and at the end of the day, you can look at basically every single restaurant menu online ahead of time. Putting in the extra effort to find a spot where you can easily order is much easier than asking your server to create a near-custom dish."
18. "You could ask the waiter to reveal their 'favorite thing on the menu,' but unless they're asking you what you normally like to eat and customizing their pick to your tastes, I can assure you're they're reciting the same spiel they tell everyone...and it's a more common question than you'd think."
"Instead, do your research ahead of time if you really want to figure out The Order; the restaurant's Instagram is a great place to start, as are the photos in Google reviews, which tend to be more helpful and down-to-earth than many other online review aggregators."
19. "At a 'small plates' spot, or anywhere where you'll share items with others as your mains, listen to your waiter if they tell you you're not ordering enough."
"Contrary to popular belief, they're not trying to get you to spend extra money. They know the exact amount of food you're about to get, so they're just trying to avoid a reality in which you don't get enough food for the table."
20. "If something on the plate of a guest near you looks absolutely incredible and you can't figure out what the heck it is by looking at the menu, ask them!"
"Chances are they'll be happy to tell you (and proud of their impeccable taste), and it's way less weird than asking your waiter to figure it out on the sneak. Seriously, who has ever been annoyed at someone for getting permission to boast about their above-average ordering skills?"
21. "If you intend to ask for separate checks, tell your waiter before you order."
"And if the restaurant won't accommodate separate checks, it's not your waiter's fault. Leave it be, and when it's time to pay, appoint someone to front the bill and use Venmo to figure out the rest."
22. "If your server brings you an incorrect item by accident, taking a sip or bite means that you're paying for it. Polishing off a drink or app that you didn't order while you 'wait for the correct one' is a huge no-no, in my book."
"You're not entitled to free stuff just because of an honest mistake on their end. If you don't want to eat it, let your waiter know there was a mistake, and they'll take care of it. Hell, they might even offer it free of charge in exchange for your honesty, but you should never assume."
23. "Flagging down other servers that aren't your own should only be done if your server is completely MIA."
"I totally get it if your waiter has been gone for a while, but calling over other servers by default when you can't see your own makes their job even harder."
24. "When you're in a rush — either because the wait to be seated was longer than anticipated, or you're simply crunched for time — let your waiter know ASAP, and don't be afraid to ask for the bill when you order (or when they ask 'how's everything tasting so far?')."
"If anything, it'll streamline their process and allow them to get more customers in, so they'll 100% appreciate you for being real with them."
25. "The most respectful way to get your server's attention is by making eye contact with them. They'll know what's up."
"Second best method is to verbally engage with them if they're walking near you. If that's challenging, a subtle and polite hand gesture, while you make eye contact with them, is acceptable. But it's never (I repeat, NEVER) OK to wave someone toward you or, god forbid, snap your fingers."
26. "Do your best not to send your server on multiple trips to get the things you need to enjoy your meal, like sides of sauces, special utensils, or seasonings."
"Be mentally present when your food is brought out and take stock of the extra things you might need (or what might be missing) then and there. That way, if there are multiple items you'll need, you can ask for them simultaneously instead of sending your server back and forth a zillion times."
27. "You have every right to send your food back if it's not cooked to your desired level of doneness, doesn't include special requests that you asked for, or if it's not hot...but 'please' and 'thank you' must be included in your request."
"Better than just 'please' and 'thank you,' do this with as much empathy as you could possibly muster. It's embarrassing for servers to deal with, and nine times out of 10, it's not their fault anyway. Be kind. And if you send food back merely because you don't like it, that's childish."
28. "In a post-pandemic world, you're going to have to wait longer for your food. That's just a fact."
"There's a right and wrong way to check in on the status of your meal if things seem to be running behind. The right way starts with 'I just wanted to check in,' and the wrong way is any interaction with even the slightest hint of an attitude."
29. "Louisiana hot sauce is the only appropriate condiment you can bring into a restaurant."
30. "Unless you want to embarrass your dinner companions and everyone sitting around you, do not fight over who is paying the bill. It's deeply uncomfortable to witness a Bill Fight, whether you're at the table or just seated nearby."
"If you're not splitting, the first person to grab the bill pays. You can always duke it out later via text, or send passive-aggressive Venmos, but don't have that fight at the dinner table. It's the definition of cringe."
31. "While you're at a restaurant, it's never OK to take calls or have your phone on speaker! It's so rude and just unaware."
"The number of times I've been out to dinner recently and have heard people just talking on speaker phone a few tables over?! Like, why?!"
32. "I am a parent of a toddler, and if we're out at a restaurant — any restaurant — and they start to have a meltdown, we pay the bill and leave. It doesn't matter if we've just sat down or are in the middle of eating."
"It's so disrespectful and selfish to subject the entire restaurant to your child's outbursts just because you want to finish your food. I made a decision to become a parent, and that means it's my responsibility to deal with the situation when my child is misbehaving. If you're dining with another adult, take your kid outside as quickly as possible and wait. The other adult can pay the bill and get the food to go. Just get out of the restaurant. You owe it to the other patrons."
33. "If you need to take your kid out to eat with you and they a) don't have a kids' menu and b) your child won't eat anything off the actual menu, ask your server for the easiest off-menu items the kitchen could whip up for them before you start requesting chicken tenders or mac 'n' cheese."
"Better yet: Do your research ahead of time and make sure you're choosing a restaurant with options your kid will enjoy."
34. "Don't fight your server on additional charges to your bill, like kitchen appreciation fees or added gratuity for large parties."
"Just don't be that person."
35. "If you're out with friends, the bill should be split evenly if the difference between everyone's meals is within a few dollars. Otherwise, everyone should just pay for what they ordered. Either way, discuss it ahead of time to make sure everyone's comfortable with whatever route you take."
"I'm a sober vegetarian (i.e. a hoot), and I cannot tell you how awkward it was literally this weekend when someone asked to split the check equally. One guy had lobster and two Aperol spritzes, and I had rice with vegetables and water! I'm not paying $75 for that!"
36. "If you're splitting the bill but one person is fronting the total, you are to send them your portion of the total as soon as humanly possible...ideally while you're still at the restaurant, but it absolutely has to be that same day."
"Don't leave it to the person grabbing the bill to have to send you various reminders to pay your fair share. They'll feel weird about it, you'll feel guilty, and it's ultimately a lose-lose situation. Just pay up while it's fresh on your mind."
37. "If you're gonna hang out after your meal is finished, be sure to sign the bill and give it to the server first."
"Many servers can't finish their checkout and leave until they have all their receipts, so they can enter their tips. That often means that they've finished with their other tables, finished with all their side work and cleaning, and they're just sitting in the back waiting for you to sign the bill so they can get home after a long day. Just sign it — you can still stay there!"
38. "Please, please, please tip a minimum of 20% to your servers in America — post-tax."
"That goes for iPad tipping and establishments where you'll pick up your food and seat yourself, too. Just because you don't have one dedicated server doesn't mean that the staff is magically receiving a living wage. Tipping is mandatory anytime you're not preparing food for yourself. If you don't want to tip, don't dine out."
39. "In 2023, the best kind of review you can leave a restaurant that really impressed you is sharing your experience on social media — ideally your Instagram stories, and ideally not using the geotag feature."
"Resist the urge to tag the restaurant as your 'location,' which does very little for the business regarding exposure, and add their direct handle as text instead. It allows your followers and friends to quickly find their page, follow them, and even plan their future visits. Bonus: The restaurant could (and likely will) share your story with its own followers. It's always fun to feel like an influencer."
40. "If your meal is subpar for any reason, whether it's the service, the food itself, or any other issue under the sun, tell your server or a manager about your experience instead of voicing all of your qualms, petty or deserved, in an online review."
"Bad reviews from customers, even the customers that pretend everything was OK in-person just to go ballistic online, can kill a restaurant. When you voice your concerns to a staff member while you're there, there's a 99% chance they can make things right, and it'll help them improve their business in the long run, too."
What's a modern-day restaurant "rule" that you 100% abide by? Do you emphatically agree (or flat-out disagree) with any of the points above? Sound off in the comments, either way. 👇
Additional contributions: Jessica Bui, Sally Elshorafa, Mia Hermsen, Raven Ishak, Natasha Jokic, Alexa Lisitza, Ryan Loya, Morgan Playle, Jon-Michael Poff, Amatullah Shaw, Morgan Sloss, Delaney Strunk, Lauren Woelfel