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Table Manners

Going to restaurants would be a much better experience if we all acquired some of these, believes Seema Goswami.

entertainment Updated: Jan 15, 2011 19:07 IST
Seema Goswami

I’ve always said that if you want to know how well (or ill) behaved people really are, you only have to observe them in a restaurant setting. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about eating and drinking in a public place that makes people reveal their essential selves. And going purely by my own experience, in eight cases out of 10, this is not a terribly edifying spectacle.

Among the many lovely qualities that you see on display are boastfulness, pride, self-aggrandisation, rudeness, bullying, arrogance, belligerence, with a little lying and cheating thrown in for good measure.

There will be people who arrive without a booking but expect a table on the strength of their last names, their daddy’s balance sheet, their place in the Union Cabinet or simply because they are best friends with the owner (take your pick). There will be those who take particular pride in being rude and obnoxious to the wait staff and then refuse to leave a tip on the grounds that the service simply did not cut it. And that’s not counting those who will eat their way through a large three-course meal and then summon the manager to complain about the quality in the hope that they won’t be obliged to stump up for it.

On the basis of my largely unscientific research (not to mention empirical observations) I have come up with a guide of what to do and what not to do in a restaurant. Do feel free to pass it on to all those who appear to be in dire need of such a primer!

Don’t arrive at a restaurant at peak hours without a reservation and expect to be seated immediately on the strength of that time-tested refrain: “Don’t you know who I am?” (To which the only acceptable answer is: “Why? Have you forgotten?”) If you haven’t reserved a table then get in queue like the rest of us.

If you make a reservation then make sure that you keep it. That means turning up at the restaurant at the appointed time. If you arrive half an hour late and discover that your table has been given away, don’t kick up a fuss. The management has a perfect right to do that especially if you haven’t had the courtesy of calling up and telling them that you will be late.

If you have made a reservation for four, then don’t turn up with six guests. No restaurant can miraculously whistle up two extra covers at a minute’s notice. And no, it is not possible to add two extra chairs to a table of four. The laws of physics – not to mention restaurant aesthetics – mandate against it.

Please don’t eat out when you are clearly suffering from the flu. All that sneezing and coughing is enough to put everyone else off their food. Not to mention the very real fear of infection, given how close tables are set these days.

If you want to bring along your children for lunch or dinner then look after them yourselves. If that’s too much of a strain and you must bring the nanny along, sit her down at your table and treat her like any other member of your party. Don’t make her stand behind your child’s high chair, napkin at the ready to wipe off drool and assorted food stains.

If there is something wrong with the dish you ordered or you simply don’t like it, return it immediately. Don’t eat your way through three-quarters and then demand a replacement.

If you want French fries, order your own. Don’t steal them off someone else’s plate while pretending to be an oh-so-abstemious salad-eater.

Don’t order soufflé for dessert and then complain about how long it is taking. The waiter explained when you ordered it that minimum cooking time was 25 minutes. He wasn’t kidding. It isn’t his fault that you didn’t take him seriously.

Don’t dawdle over your tea or coffee at peak times when other people are waiting to be seated for their meal. You may be well within your rights to do so, but good manners demand that you relinquish your place to those still waiting to be fed.

Your waiter is a person, not a sub-human species. So, don’t whistle or cock a finger to attract his attention. If you can’t catch his eye, a loud “Excuse me” usually does the trick. But if he is wearing a name tag then do him the courtesy of addressing him by his name. (Needless to say, the same applies to waitresses.)

If your favourite coffee place is full, it is not cool to go and stand behind a table that looks as if it may be the first to get vacated in the hope that you can grab it before anyone else. And it is downright rude to ask those seated just how long they are going to take over that cappuccino.

It doesn’t matter if a 10 per cent service charge is included in your bill. It is still a nice gesture to leave a little something behind for your waiter. For one thing, it will get you better service the next time around. But more than that, it is the right thing to do.

Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami

- From HT Brunch, Januray 16

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