Chefs may talk in funny ways, but their idiosyncrasies are a by-product of their passion to do one thing: serve the customer. As well-worn adages – The customer is always right! – will have it, we as diners may sometimes feel entitled to the very best, be it in terms of service, food or respect. Indeed, we are the buyers and we deserve our money’s worth. But as it turns out, people working in restaurants and kitchens, from busboys to waiters to line cooks, are people, too. Sometimes a dreadful dining experience stems from a poorly run ‘front of the house’ or passionless food. But other times, we should caution ourselves against mismanaged expectations and poor etiquette of our own. We think dining should be a pleasant experience for all parties, kitchen nightmares aside. And so, here’s a list of tips to keep in mind the next time you find yourself feeling less than pleased at a restaurant.

1. Don’t tip less during lunch.

It’s common knowledge that we tip anywhere from 15 to 25% in America. In fact, its importance has even been iconically seared into memory on the silver screen. Don’t tip less during lunch just because a friend told you to do so; waiters don’t work any less hard.


Photo by Becky Hughes

2. When given the option, don’t ask for “well-done.”

As most chefs will attest, a medium-rare steak should be the only option – when the steak is at its moist and juicy peak. Alas, this one is debatable, as some may not have a penchant for blood like others. In any case, any self-respecting foodie would not want to tarnish the quality of a well-marbled ribeye by charring it to a crisp. To those out for my blood: give it a try before closing the door.


Photo by Kathleen Lee

3. Don’t flag down a busboy to chase your food or check.

Busboys and waiters are different positions with different responsibilities. Waiters bring your food to you, replenish your water and generally attend to all diners. Busboys clean and reset tables, taking care of your dirty dishes when you’re through eating. If your order was not taken correctly, that’s the waiter’s fault. Don’t get upset with the busboy unless you want to anger Alec Baldwin.


Photo by Paul Rysz / Creative Commons

4. Don’t play with your food after eating.

Children get a pass here, of course. But for the rest of us, let’s try not to dump our half-finished milkshake onto our plate of half-finished French fries in an attempt at channelling Picasso. Even the fries don’t want to play peek-a-boo.


Photo by Stephanie Overton / Creative Commons

5. Don’t be afraid of sending back a plate of food.

We’re halfway there, so here’s a little reprieve for diners. If an oyster tastes or smells funky, send it back. If you take a bite of your fettucine carbonara and you think, “the pasta is literally melt-in-the-mouth,” send it back. If, God forbid, your chicken cacciatore is raw, please send it back. Your health and digestion are more important than a fear of confrontation.


Photo by Devon Carlson

6. Do your research and manage expectations.

The following scenarios are examples of unrealistic expectations and thus not condoned.

  • Scenario 1: Dining at a Korean BBQ restaurant and then complaining about strange music and smelling like smoke afterward.
  • Scenario 2: Walking into a tiny specialty ramen shop, ordering a rice bowl and then complaining that it was “nothing special.”
  • Scenario 3: Dining at a dim sum parlor and then expecting the waiter to give you eye contact (or good service).


    Photo by Dan Dao

7. Don’t let parking sour your meal.

Parking, as we all know, can be frustrating. But try framing the lack of parking as a built-in cost and not the restaurant’s fault. If you already planned to make the trip out, there’s absolutely no point in sulking over parking. And if you’re upset, your date will be upset, and the meal will be upsetting. Do the math: nobody wins.


Photo by Mrs Gemstone / Creative Commons

8. Exercise caution before writing a scathing Yelp review.

If a restaurant is not up to par, a less-than-stellar Yelp review is entirely warranted. After all, Yelp exists for diners to help inform one another. But before your next rant, pause for a moment and consider your victims. Established brand names have a loyal fan base with more leeway for critique. Smaller, mom-and-pop joints, on the other hand, are not as fortunate – a bad review can go a long, long way.


Photo by Michael Dorausch / Creative Commons

9. Don’t snap your fingers at waiters. Ever.

This should never happen. We all have voices, and if that doesn’t catch the waiter’s attention, a simple hand in the air will do the trick. Contrary to popular belief, waiters don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. And to bookend with another well-worn adage: patience is a virtue.


Photo by Eugene Ang