For the most part, restaurant dining does not warrant an etiquette lesson. What I would like to discuss is the finer points of restaurant dining. These are the esoteric situations that make us pause when we do encounter them.
The eating part of the exercise is the easiest to consider, as table decorum is largely unambiguous, just a list of do’s and don’t’s. The napkin is placed on the lap as soon as one is seated. Do this even before ordering. If you are greeted by an arsenal of cutlery, simply work your way towards the plate, starting from the outermost cutlery. Big pieces of food are cut one bite-sized portion at a time. Just think, “cut-eat, cut-eat.” Any cutlery, once used, must not touch the linen. Instead, rest the cutlery on your plate between bites. To show that you have finished you meal, place the knife and fork together with the handles pointing to the 5 o’clock position.
Treat the front of house staff courteously; although they serve, they are not servants. Moderate one’s voice so that requests do not come across as orders. Do say, “Please, may I have …” or, “I would like to have the …” instead of a curt, “chicken chasseur” when asked for your order. I appreciate that tipping varies the world over, both in the amount and whether it is the “done thing” culturally. What is universal is customarily, is that one does not tip the proprietor of an establishment.
At a large table
A table with more than six people is fraught with complications, as different preferences need to be accommodated. The question, “Is anyone having a starter?” always comes up. Avoid a first course if you are the only one of your party having one, as everyone would have to wait for you to finish before they have their meal. If you are simply too famished to wait until the main course, ask for an amuse-bouche or a plate of bread and olives.
At the end of the meal, there is the problem of the bill. Do you all pay just for what you had, or do you split the bill equally? Certainly, the latter is easier, even if it is unfair to those who only had vegetables or one course.
Should you find yourself in this situation, either accept that you are paying more for your meal and think yourself generous, or say that you are paying for what you had and risk appearing parsimonious. If you know your friends have more expensive tastes than what your current finances allow, do not be the one who puts a damper on the event. You can still enjoy a meal out, just perhaps less often. This way, you will enjoy yourself more when you do not have to worry about your bank balance.
Tell us at SOTGC how you find it best to split the bill when dining as a large group.