How Not to Behave When You Go to a Restaurant

Paul Ryburn

These show a total lack of consideration for others. If you do any of them, please stop
Photo by natasha t on Unsplash

When you dine at home, you have the right to behave however you want as you eat. You want to put your bare feet on the table? Fine. You want to blast thrash metal as you chew? It’s all good. You want to let the cat sit on the table and share food on your plate? Hey, that’s your call.

When you go out for food or drink, however, and you choose to dine in, it is not just your experience. It’s a shared experience with all the other patrons of the restaurant, particularly those seated near you. You should be respectful of them. You should be respectful of your server. You should be respectful of the restaurant itself.

I dine out at restaurants and bars frequently, and I have seen all kinds of behaviors that indicate a lack of consideration of anyone else. Have you ever done any of these?

Making multiple reservations

The woman next to me at the bar told me, “When my girlfriends and I went out to dinner last week, we couldn’t decide where to go. So we did the smart thing and made reservations for 6:30 Friday at Roxy, Elmwood Cafe, and Center Grille. That way we made sure there’d be room for us, wherever we decided to go.”

“How long before 6:30 Friday did your group make its final decision?” I asked her.

“At the last minute,” she said. “We got on group text and decided on Center Grille.”

“Did you call Roxy and Elmwood Cafe and cancel your reservations at those places?” I then asked.

“Naaaah… we never bother doing that,” was her reply.

Okay. Full stop. Making multiple reservations and then standing up all but one restaurant is not smart. It is inconsiderate.

  • It’s inconsiderate of the restaurant, which will now have an empty table it could have given to someone else.
  • It’s inconsiderate of the server who would have been working that table, who will make a tip of $0 on it for however long it was reserved.
  • It’s inconsiderate of other diners, who call the restaurant and get told, “Sorry, we’re fully booked” when in fact there was an unused table.

Make a decision in advance and only make one reservation, and if you can’t keep that one, inform the restaurant at your earliest possible convenience.

This has been happening a lot lately in the neighborhood where I live. Restaurants are dealing with it in various ways.

  • Some require a credit card deposit in advance. If you don’t cancel 24 hours in advance and you no-show, you forfeit the deposit. If you do show up and your check is less than the amount of the deposit, they refund the difference.
  • Some restaurants will only take reservations for 5 for fewer; big tables of 6 or more are first-come, first-served to guarantee they're filled as often as demand allows.
  • Some restaurants won’t take reservations at all, and people line up at the door to get tables as they become available.

Dining in when you’re sick

One day I was sitting in the restaurant’s bar area, and a man pulled up right next to me and waited to get the bartender’s attention. He coughed a couple of times.

“Sorry,” he said to me. “I have a cold.”

Well, at least he was considerate enough to apologize. But, if he’s sick with a cold, what is he doing out among people, in close quarters, potentially infecting them?

Also, how did he know it was a cold? In case he hasn’t heard, there’s a pandemic going on, a coronavirus which can have very similar symptoms!

If you want restaurant food when you’re sick, call in advance and pick it up. If you want drinks when you’re sick, make a trip to the liquor store and drink at home.

Bringing in your hyper dog

I’m not sure whether this still violates health regulations. Whether it does or not, a lot more restaurants have been letting patrons bring their dogs inside.

If the dog is well-behaved and sits by its owner’s side, I don’t mind it being in the restaurant while I’m eating.

It’s a different matter, though, when someone brings in a poorly trained, hyper dog. I don’t want to be jumped on while I’m eating. I don’t want the hand I am using to eat to be slobbered all over.

It’s especially problematic when the hyper dog is a large one, one that’s tall enough to reach the table or bar where I’m sitting. Then I have to worry that the dog will get my phone with one of his furry paws and knock it off the bar.

If you invite me to your home, your dog has every right to do whatever he wants; he’s a member of the family, and I’m merely a guest. However, if you take him out to a public place, you need to keep in mind that not everyone wants an animal in their personal space.

Sending a drink back because “I don’t like it”

“Now, a Pink Petal, what goes in that exactly?” a woman asked the bartender.

The bartender explained each of the five ingredients, bringing each liquor bottle over so the customer could inspect it.

“That sounds good. Give me one of those,” the woman said.

The bartender made the drink right in front of her, carefully pouring each mentioned ingredient.

The woman took two or three sips. “No, I don’t like it. I want to send this back and try another cocktail that’s the same price.”

So the bartender described the Summer Wind, and the woman said, “Yeah, I’ll go with that.”

She sent that one back too.

Finally, on the third try, she found something she liked.

Now, it’s true the woman had only consumed 1 drink plus a couple of sips of 2 others. But the bartender poured 3 drinks! It’s not like the liquor could be put back in the bottle once the cocktails were sent back.

If the drink hadn’t been made correctly, I understand sending that back and not expecting to pay for it. But the bartender carefully explained each ingredient and then poured it right in front of her.

“What chu got?”

“Golden Grille, may I help you?” the host answered the phone.

“Yes, I’d like to place an order,” replied a man on the other end.

“Go ahead, sir, I’m ready,” the host continued.

“I don’t know what I want… what you got?” said the man.

Seriously. He wanted the host to recite the entire menu. He had never been to the restaurant before and had absolutely no idea what they served.

The host spent a couple of minutes reading off the menu items, then the guy said, “You know what? I’ve changed my mind. I think I’m going to grab a burger from the place down the street. Thanks anyway.”

It would have taken that caller 5 seconds to search Google on his smartphone or computer and find the same information. Yet he chose to waste the host’s time.

Out-of-towners who don’t tip

I live a few blocks away from a popular entertainment district, so it’s common for tourists to be sitting at the next table over.

One day I overheard a conversation. Two tourists had just received their bill and paid it with credit cards. One of them took out a 5-dollar bill and left it on the table.

“What are you doing?” said the other, grabbing the 5 and throwing it back at him.

“Five dollars,” replied the first tourist. “My bill was about $25 so that’s 20%.”

“We’re not from here,” said the other. “We’re not going to come back here before we leave. That server will never see us again. So who cares if we stiff her?”

Who cares? Well, I’m pretty sure the server trying to raise two babies on a job that pays $2.13 an hour plus tips cares!

Remember, when you go out to eat or drink, those who serve you are people, just like you. Would you treat your sister like that?

Sweaty money

Two women who’d been out for a run decided to treat themselves to a drink on the way home. They stopped at the pizza & cocktail lounge where I hang out and each ordered a specialty drink.

“That’ll be 10 dollars each,” the bartender told them.

They each took bills out of their sports bras — after they’d run three miles, remember — and handed them to the bartender. The bills were soaked wet with sweat.

The bartender waited for them to walk out, then dropped the bills and said “Ewwww!” and ran to the sink to wash her hands. “I’m so grossed out, I’m considering throwing these away,” she told me. She picked them up with a paper towel after a minute and put them in the register.

If you put money in your bra to hand to restaurant workers — or anyone — put it inside a plastic bag, where it won’t be right against your skin.

Sending food back after eating three-fourths of it

The speakeasy where I hang out has a very popular Sunday brunch. The kitchen pumps out an incredible amount of food from 11 to 3.

“Excuse me,” said a woman who pulled up next to me at the bar, holding a plate. “I asked for my burger cooked medium, and it came out nearly well-done. I’d like to send this one back and get another burger cooked the way I requested it. You can just put that burger in a to-go box, because my friends are ready to leave.”

She was absolutely right. There was almost no pink in the beef patty. It had been overcooked relative to her specification.

The problem was that there was just a little sliver of burger left. She’d eaten most of it before she came up and complained. It looked like she left the very minimum she could to be able to demonstrate the burger was not cooked as ordered.

She had a legit complaint, but it sure seemed like she was trying to angle it to get an extra free burger.

Loud phone conversations

Some people think phones shouldn’t be out at restaurants at all. I respectfully disagree. There’s nothing wrong with making or taking the occasional short, quiet call. We live in an interconnected world, after all. It would be better to take the phone outside or conduct the conversation via text, but sometimes that’s not possible.

What’s obnoxious is when someone comes in a restaurant, orders, and then immediately gets on Facetime, on speaker with the volume turned all the way up. They proceed to talk just as loudly as the speaker’s volume, and they stay on the phone for 25 minutes.

If I can hear the person 20 feet away from me — and also the person on the other end of the call — better than I can hear the person right next to me, that’s not cool.

Overpowering cologne or perfume

We come to restaurants to have an experience. We want to savor the taste and smell of every bite of our dinner. We want to savor the cocktail we ordered with our meal.

That savory experience is taken away when the person sitting at the next table over is wearing excessively strong cologne, body spray, or perfume. It’s frustrating to order a fine steak and not be able to fully experience it because all I can smell is Axe. I feel like I haven’t gotten my money’s worth, but it isn’t the restaurant’s fault, so I can’t complain.

If you apply any kind of smell-good spray before going out to eat, please do so in moderation so that the people around you can enjoy their meals.


It all boils down to consideration of others.

If you read any of the behaviors above and thought, “I’ve done that or something similar,” I have an exercise for you. Go to a restaurant by yourself. Why by yourself? Because you’re going to need to be able to self-observe, and conversations will distract from that.

Constantly monitor yourself and ask, “Am I doing anything that would bother the people around me? Am I doing anything that would make their dining-out experience less enjoyable? Am I doing anything that would make it harder for the staff to do its job?”

It takes some self-monitoring over a period of time, but consideration for others can be learned at any age. It is so worth it too — you will become a much more desirable dining partner, and someone who the restaurant staff will enjoy seeing again.

What kinds of outrageous behaviors have you seen in restaurants? I’d love to read about them in the comments.

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Award-wining microblogger who has been covering local news since 2004.

Memphis, TN

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