Dining Etiquette: Julia Sexton's List of Top 10 Bad Restaurant Diner Behaviors

Check out the sinister Eater.com, Grub Street, and even Zagat.com. Much of what you will read is diners and critics crabbing about restaurants. Headlines scream “Busted Trends,” “Five Things We Hate,” “Top Ten Restaurant No-Nos and S***shows.” What about the diners? Why is no one judging them?

Below, you’ll find restaurant behaviors that drive restaurants and other diners nuts. If you believe yourself to be a sophisticate, don’t get caught in these acts:

1. Reservation Disrespect Look, when you reserve a table, you are agreeing to rent real estate for a set amount of time. The restaurant also needs to rent the table before you arrive and then again after you leave. If you show up early or late, you screw up the schedule–and leave the table un-earning for 15 to 20 minutes, a lifetime in a packed restaurant. If you show up early, you do not have the right to complain that your table is not ready. Nor do you have the right to complain if you show up late. Ditto if you arrive with more or fewer diners than you booked. And if you don’t show up for a reservation, you’re simply a jerk.

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2. The Chef Is Not Your Servant This is a confusing concept for some diners. Restaurants provide a service: they are not your servants. You don’t go to a top fashion designer’s atelier and tell him how to cut your suit. Why? Because you are paying lots of money so you can benefit from his taste and skill. So why do some diners go to great restaurants and insist on telling chefs how to prepare their food?

3. Perfume Abuse Look, I’m not judging. Maybe you dream of being Gloria Swanson soaked in clouds of Shalimar, floating through your life in a perfumed Arabian Night. Whatever. But the rest of us are trying to taste our wine and food.

4. Stupid Clothes Obviously, you don’t show up at Blue Hill at Stone Barns wearing shorts, but how about the fashionista who shows up wearing a silk slip dress and nothing else? Sure, it’s July and 85 degrees outside, but our fashionista should predict that, inside, the restaurant will have AC. The frozen fashionista has no right to insist that the restaurant turn down its AC because she wore her skivvies and didn’t bring a wrap.

5. Dining Room Disrespect Recently, at Bedford Post, I was dining to the mellow (and, PS, very quiet) folk music that this restaurant/spa/yoga barn chooses to play as part of its setting. I imagine it was acoustic Joni Mitchell or some other hard-to-hate singer. The table beside us insisted that the music be changed to something that they termed “dinner music.” (They were refused—we silently cheered—but the restaurant did lower Joni’s volume.) Look, if you choose to listen to cruise-ship Muzak at home, that’s your business—but you can’t demand that it’s played wherever you go.

6. Talking Too Loudly I realize that at some noisy restaurants, one needs to shout to be heard. I get that. But you need to modulate your table’s volume to suit the rest of the room. Recently, I dined at Restaurant North and there was a large, all-male table in the front window bellowing loud, high-fiving, financial-world braggadocio. Part of the problem was acoustical (the front window glass reflected their noise into the room), but most of it was because these diners apparently had forgotten that they were no longer in a frat house.

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7. PDA Generally, when I see people, I don’t automatically imagine them having sex. But when I see people tongue-wrestling in restaurants, or playing not-so-subtle footsie under the table, that’s where I go. And I don’t want to go there, folks—especially while I’m eating oysters.

8. Don’t You Know Who I Am?-itis Sometimes, at very hot restaurants, it’s tough for me to get a reservation in time to meet my deadline, so I show up very early or very late in hopes of snagging a walk-in spot. In that position, on my long wait, I see all sorts of disgusting people using any means necessary to get a table, including (but not reserved to) the dreaded phrase: “Don’t you know who I am?” You’re a dishrag, sir. A dishrag.

9. Tip Calculators When diners take out tip calculators, it bursts the bubble of good feeling in the room. The phrase “And Not a Penny More!” is practically audible.

10. Space Hogging The lady using the coveted barstool in a three-deep bar to hold her coat and bag. The man who pushes 12 inches away from the table edge to cross his legs. I recognize that in some restaurants, space is as tight as the cheap seats on an economy flight, but that doesn’t mean that diners can block server pathways, or occupy the space designated for other diners.

Okay, so those are my Top 10, but I’m sure that there are more. What are your least favorite diner behaviors?

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