Miss Debrett on... Dining Out
Eating out brings multiple challenges.
Not only have do you have to negotiate
the complexities of interpreting the
menu and making a good choice
of food and wine, you also have
to interact successfully with the
waiter and your fellow diners.
At the end of the evening
there is the challenge of
paying the bill and tipping
without coming to blows.
First things first. If you ask
someone out to dinner, then the assumption is that you're going to pay. If you're organising a large group, this may not be the case, but it is vital to ensure that you agree beforehand that the bill will be split equally. Of course this arrangement may bring inequities; the brazen bon viveur who insists on all three courses and the most expensive wine will be paying the same as the modest mouse who sips mineral water and orders the cheapest plat du jour… but this isn't inevitable. If you see wild discrepancies in the ordering process - step in and point it out.
At least this way you won't be confronted at the end of the
evening with the depressing spectacle of a group of diners
huddled over a calculator, arguing about who had the pudding, the
second bottle of wine, the liqueur etc…
If you're being taken out to dinner, it's your responsibility to ensure that you're not the nightmare date with an irresistible attraction to the most expensive dishes on the menu. Of course, if your host is showcasing his wealth and generosity, then you can feel free to splash out. But in normal circumstances you would be wise to subtly discuss your choices, or ask your host what he is having. A simple question such as "are you going to have a starter?" can pre-empt a lot of embarrassment.
Acknowledge your host's expertise. If he professes to be a bit of a wine buff, graciously hand over the ordering mantle… Similarly, if your host has been to the restaurant before, it's a good idea to ask "what do you recommend?". It's flattering, and you might actually end up with the best choice, so it's win-win.
If things go wrong, take it easy. Immediately launching into a grandstanding "do you know who I am?" performance is liable to make your fellow diners very uncomfortable. Summon the waiter and have a polite word in his ear - don't shoot the messenger. If you don't get the response you expect, then ask to have a word with the manager.
Don't behave like a drama queen and storm out of the restaurant; remember that your final sanction, if things have gone disastrously wrong, is to withhold your tip - a much more effective way of registering dissatisfaction…
Miss Debrett's Top Tips
- If you ask someone out to dinner, then the assumption is that you're going to pay.
- If you're organising a large group establish at the outset that the bill is going to be divided equally - no embarrassing nitpicking over who had what.
- If you've got a complaint, speak discreetly to the waiter. Avoid voluble histrionics, which will only embarrass your fellow-diners.