planning a wedding? download the free debrett's wedding planner app

Debrett's Wedding Planner

Restaurant etiquette

“If a table has been booked, be punctual and greet staff politely. If the table offered is unsuitable then ask firmly and politely for another one if possible. The host or organiser should take charge and be the person who deals with the restaurant staff. It is best when booking a table to mention any special requirements in advance.

Treat waiting staff well and with respect for them as professionals, but not as new best friends. In their turn they should try to offer good professional service.

It is the responsibility of the host or organiser to tell people where to sit at the table and to respond when the waiter comes to ask about drinks or goes through the specials. Guests may order separately or through the host (the host should make it clear which they would prefer). It is also the host’s job to set the tone, for example by ordering a bottle of champagne.

A host should make it clear that guests should order whatever they wish but the guests should show some restraint. Modern menus often have lengthy descriptions but guests should choose reasonably promptly and say simply, for example, the beef or the salmon. It is reasonable to ask the waiter for an explanation of a dish but it may be boring to others to embark on a long dialogue. Asking for food that is not on the menu, or for food that is listed to be cooked or served a special way is increasingly common as so many people follow diets or have allergies or intolerances. It can, however, be rude to the host to make too much of a fuss or to hold everyone up, so keep it brief and include the host, explaining and apologising, rather than monopolising the waiter with complex demands. If you are the one paying it is less rude but may appear arrogant or neurotic, so keep it in proportion.

The waiter will normally bring the wine list to the person they perceive as the host or organiser. If you are the host and it is given to someone else then you may ask them to pass it over and take charge, but do consult others. Guests may respond if asked about particular likes or dislikes but should not try to take charge unless they are invited to do so – if, for example, they are respected wine connoisseurs. It is usual for the person who has invited the guests or suggested the dinner to pay. If this is not the case then this should be made clear when the evening is being planned. If a guest wishes to contribute then they may offer or perhaps suggest a return match another time if the host insists on paying.

If a large group of friends is sharing the bill then it is best to have an outline agreement, such as sticking to the set menu or only having one course. The normal thing is to divide the bill equally
at the end and not to argue about what any one person has ordered. However, those who order very expensive dishes with supplements, or additional wine or after-dinner drinks such as brandy, should offer to pay extra.

If things go wrong then complaining is not rude; it should be undertaken firmly but discreetly. If food needs to be sent back or wine is corked, mention it immediately. If a bill is wrong then point this out but do not spoil the occasion and embarrass others.

As a guest, do not criticise the food and wine, or take on a senior position that may undermine the host. It is not the moment to show off but to accept gracefully the host’s generosity.

Many restaurants include service, in which case a tip is not necessary other than for exceptional service. It is traditional to leave 10 per cent, but up to 15 per cent is now commonplace for good service. Try to have a coin for cloakroom attendants.”

All the latest news, discussions, events and offers from Debrett’s and receive £10 off your first purchase