'Dining out' describes a plethora of eating experiences, but restaurant rules are universal. Although you are the customer, a little charm goes a long way, so treating your waiter or waitress respectfully will enhance your experience no end.
Whenever possible, make a reservation; always book if you are dining in a group, and discuss any special requirements with the restaurant in advance.
Choice of Table
If you are unhappy with the table you are allocated, ask whether it is possible to be accommodated elsewhere, but do this before you sit down to minimise disturbance. If the waiter assists a woman in taking her seat, she should accept the offer graciously, and wait until the chair is touching the back of her knees before beginning to sit down.
Wine and Water
Restaurants should now offer tap, as well as bottled, water. Somebody has to take control of ordering the wine in a restaurant, but that person should not necessarily select the wine single-handed.
When dining in a group, you should try to agree collectively on the number of courses. Once you have chosen, close your menu. If you know that someone else will be picking up the bill, choose modestly. If you are footing the bill, you should suggest to your guests that they have free rein.
Normally, everyone at the table is served at the same time. Wait until all dishes have arrived at the table before starting. If yours is lagging behind, insist the others start, and wait a few minutes before quietly enquiring as to where yours is.
Asking for food that is not on the menu, or for food that is listed to be cooked or served in a special way (power ordering) is increasingly common. It can, however, be rude to the host to make too much of a fuss, so keep it brief. If you are the one paying, it is less rude but may appear arrogant or neurotic, so keep it in proportion.
If you are dissatisfied with the food, say so discreetly and with minimal fuss, and request any necessary (and reasonable) changes. Keep things pleasant, and don't shoot the messenger. Be aware that excessive complaining may spoil your companions' evening.
If the event has been organised by you, it is your responsibility to pay (unless another arrangement has been agreed beforehand). If the bill is to be split, divide it equally, niggling about the comparative cost of dishes and drinks will look cheap. Always leave an appropriate tip, except when service has been exceptionally poor.
The largely American habit of asking for a doggie bag in a restaurant is still quite unusual this side of the Atlantic. In our more eco-conscious times, however, the practice is becoming more accepted.