How To Dine At A Restaurant Without Embarrassing Anyone—Including Yourself
Do not flag down your waiter or waitress
We had just polished off a belly-busting meal of succulent siew mai, peachy crystal prawns wrapped in translucent skin and unctous roasted pork with charred tips. In usual fashion, tea was in order to wash down the lardaceous feast but alas! The pot of tie guan yin needed refilling. My father raised his arm and in one swift motion, snapped his finger to signal for the nearest waitress. I was horrified. And as if it weren’t detrimental enough to my spirits, he proceeded to lift the teapot lid and drum his fingers with a rhythmic impatience against the white linen splayed table tops. Like an ostrich, I wanted to bury my head in the sandpit. The seemingly bustling trade experienced by the restaurant on a weekend afternoon further prolonging my mortifying embarrassment. So here’s rule one; for the love of God, do not flag down your waiter.
A while later, the tables were turned on me. The intention was to call for the bill; my arm involuntarily went up above the table tops and almost immediately I got cautioned by my companion’s Danish husband that by Scandinavian standards, a gesture like that was deemed to be extremely rude. He proceeded to demonstrate a mellower way of catching the waiter’s eye, a gentle dip of the head and a ridiculous circling of the wrist as though you’re conjuring some form of voodoo magic. I didn’t buy it, but was relentless in my attempt to avoid being associated with the influx of Chinese tourists to the city, each touting less than acceptable mannerisms, lacking in couth. However, second time and I still failed miserably in earning the gaze of my blue-eyed waiter. Perhaps the damage had already been done.
Don’t be a jerk: Tip.
When travelling, always make it an effort to find out if service charges are implemented straight into the bill or not. If it isn’t, don’t skimp on the tip. Depending on the restaurant, your waiter may not be earning an hourly wage, which means that they depend on your tip for their livelihood. I’ve been on the other side of the fence before, busting tables, handling complaints (mind you, we only serve the food, not cook it. So we would appreciate that you don’t unleash your fury upon us) and cleaning up after your pesky kids’ mess you so ignorantly left behind. It’s not pretty. Think twice if you’re going to be dishing out spare change as tips, if doing so, forget about making a return trip to the establishment. We commit such hideousness to memory. Tip 15 to 20% of the all for satisfactory service and 25% for exemplary service.
Use the right utensils
I witnessed him struggle. Not a fumble but like a visible mental struggle as to which utensil to pick up to dismantle the seared cod sitting on a bed of squid ink risotto rice. And as much as my heart ached to reach out with valuable advice, egos were at stake and no way I was risking spoiling date night vibes just to appease the pet peeves. Besides, the evidence of bread crumbs from the crusty bread rolls flaked underneath the master plate was plain proof that the bread-and-butter plate had been rendered obsolete in the course of breaking bread. Things weren’t getting off to a flying start.
Let me break it down, everything revolves around the plate, forks to the left, spoons and knives to the right. When it comes to silverware, you start on the outside and work inward. It’s not rocket science. At the end of the meal, signal that you’re finished by placing your knife and fork in the 4:20 position. Realistically speaking, it is the most stable position for your silverware when the wait staff seeks to clear your place to make space for desserts or drinks.
And to that poor boy whom I never quite saw again. Bread rolls ought to be broken in half with fingers, a bite-sized piece pulled from the broken half, held against the bread-and-butter plate and buttered a bite at a time. Have a bit of class, would you?
Do not chew with your mouth open
Equally devastating is when you’re consumed with the wretched noise of chewing at the table. Then there’s the wariness that stems from an innate fear of foreign food particles landing on your face throughout the meal. Yes, in the year 2017, we still have a problem with diners chewing with their mouths wide open. Dubbed as a condition called misophonia, we now have a legitimate reason to be driven into a rage by the sound of people chewing. So if you have something to say, refrain from filling your mouth the moment before. The days of stuffing your mouth with as much food as it can hold are over.
Do not check your device
In the past, I used to get chided for reading at the table. But today, the newspaper has been replaced by the cell phone. Talking on your device or playing on your tablet are not activities bound for the dinner table. They have no place at any meal when more than one person is at the table. Talk with people, hold a proper conversation, challenge the closet introvert in you. More importantly, show some respect, nothing says “Your company is less important than a photo of my cat” than you peeking at your handphone every 5 minutes. You can live without Facebook for a night.
Food is there to be eaten, savoured in the company of people, not tweeted nor facebooked. Admittedly, I fall victim to the idiocy that the social media world is interested in every morsel of food I consume, but that’s another story left for another day.
Children, it used to be said, should be seen but not heard. Nothing has happened in the modern era to alter the soundness of this advice. We’re not saying that children should be banned from eating in the company of adults in restaurants. But imagine your last meal perturbed by wailing, shrieking, kids running around, and vocal exchanges of puke and dirty diapers from the helpless couple sitting next to you. There’s nothing more unappetising than that. So if you’re going to bring your kids, you better hold a tight leash. That’s the ticket!
Saying Thank you
Manners maketh the man and it’s in the virtue of good manners that you bid your hosts goodbye. Not just one of them—all of them. If you’re thinking of practising a French slip or eat and run, please don’t. Stick around for a while before saying goodbye to the host and expressing your gratitude for the meal. You don’t have to be a modern day Shakespeare for that.
At the end of the day, there is a universal baseline for acceptable table manners. Although in different cultures, it may differ, it’s best to use some sense and sensibility. You’re welcome.