The Proper Way to Enter and Exit Restaurants

Entering and Exiting Restaurants

When entering a restaurant accompanied by a lady, a gentleman leads the way to a table if the restaurant has an open-seating arrangement and there is no hostess to lead patrons to their tables, the rationale being that the gentleman will select an appropriate table, precede the lady to the table, then be in position to assist her with her chair. However, in restaurants where patrons are to wait to be seated by a hostess or maitre d’, that person leads the way to the table, followed by the lady, then the gentleman, and it is the responsibility of the hostess or maitre d’ to assist the lady with her chair. A lady is always offered the better seat—with the better view, with more room for her to place her personal belongings, away from passersby, etc.

It is appropriate, when entering or exiting a restaurant, to stop briefly at the table of a friend or acquaintance in order to exchange basic courtesies. Engaging in conversation of considerable length, however, is inappropriate since, in addition to infringing upon the maitre d’s ability to assist other customers, it disrupts the meal and/or conversation of the persons sitting at the table. “Hello, Leslie. It’s so good to see you at the club again. I’ll call you early next week for lunch,” would be about the permissible length of a gentleman’s contribution to a tableside exchange.

In this day and age, a man is no longer required to order on behalf of a lady, but he is required to allow her to indicate her choices to the waiter before indicating his own. And if it is the lady’s preference that the gentleman place her order, he should be prepared to do so elegantly, first by indicating her preferences, then his: “The lady has selected the ceviche de pescado for her first course, to be followed by the Norwegian salmon, prepared medium-rare. And I will start with the smoked eel, followed by the venison with juniper berries. I would like my venison medium-rare, but more towards rare. And can you pour us each a glass of your Tenuta San Jacopo ‘Quarto di Luna,’ 2011, please. Thank you. In the meantime, I will select something appropriate to drink with our second courses. Please let me know if the chef has any special recommendations based on the dishes we have selected.” (See chapter, “Marriage,” section, Dating).

When attempting to gain the attention of a waiter, it is improper to whistle, tap one’s glass with an eating implement, flail one’s arm in the air, or shout, “Waiter!” An attentive waiter in a properly staffed restaurant is supposed to pay full attention to the tables to which he has been assigned, and a simple nod upon making eye contact is usually sufficient to call his attention. When, for whatever reason, all reasonable attempts to make discrete eye contact have been attempted but to no avail, slightly raising one’s hand and flicking the wrist—not above one’s head, but approximately at the height where the hand is aligned with the face—will usually call the necessary attention if the waiter possesses normal peripheral vision. And, of course, addressing a waiter as “George,” unless his name is “George,” is, today, regarded as impolite—and rightfully so! A waiter or waitress whose given name is unknown to a customer should be respectfully addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am,” respectively. And no gentleman speaks condescendingly or disrespectfully to a waiter or waitress. (Besides, some of the saliva tales are true!) Customers who seize upon the opportunity to berate service staff for the slightest oversight or mistake are generally people of a bullying, domineering nature—two characteristics that are inconsistent with gentlemanly behavior. And in the rare instances where a waiter’s service is severely lacking or deplorably substandard, the matter should be brought to the attention of his immediate supervisor.

When a gentleman accidentally drops an eating implement or his napkin while dining in a restaurant, he does not reach down to retrieve it—unless, of course, it falls in an area where it is likely to cause someone to slip or fall, and there is no service staff in the immediate vicinity to immediately retrieve the item. If the item falls out of harm’s way, the gentleman should leave it where it falls, allowing the waiter to retrieve it at the appropriate time—whether upon notification or at the end of the meal. When it is in the best interest of safety that the gentleman quickly retrieve the fallen item, he should, of course, not continue using it, but should instead place it towards the edge of the table such that it can be easily recognized as being in need of replacement and then retrieved by the waiter. If the mishap goes unnoticed by the waiter, he should be discretely summoned to the table and asked to provide a replacement. There is no need to justify or to provide an explanation for the request: “Sir, would you be so kind as to provide me with another dinner fork, please?” is sufficient. The waiter will know that the fork was not accidentally consumed or that it did not run away with the dish and the spoon….

There is much debate as to where a lady should place her purse while at the dining table. If the purse has a shoulder strap, it may be hung over the back of her chair, provided that its placement does not disrupt the flow of traffic or impede the service staff. Otherwise, a lady’s purse is placed onto the floor to the immediate left or right of her feet. If sitting on a banquette, she may place her purse next to her hip. But never is a lady’s purse placed onto the dining table during the course of the meal. After dining, she is allowed to make minor touch-ups to her makeup while sitting at the table. She may, for example, with the aid of a compact-mirror, reapply lipstick or powder her nose. However, any major makeup adjustments (or “scrape-and-paint” jobs as they are humorously referred to in the Caribbean) should be done in the ladies’ powder room.

When leaving a restaurant, a gentleman assists his lady-companion with her chair, then allows her to precede him through the restaurant to the exit. Staff and management encountered en route to the exit should be thanked for their service. And very brief farewells may be extended to dining friends and acquaintances encountered in direct route to the exit. 

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