Restaurant etiquette: The new rules of modern dining decorum
Speaking with your mouth full, eating off your knife. No longer are these the bêtes noires of the diner with decorum...
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Sunday 13 April 2014
We've come a long way from the scene in Great Expectations in which posh Herbert Pocket advises new-kid-in-town Pip Pirrip about his table manners: don't eat potatoes off the end of your knife, don't fill your face to bursting point with food before chewing it… Life has moved on from the days our mothers insisted we drank soup from the side of the spoon, rested our cutlery on the plate not the table, and refrained from slurping the spaghetti.
Table manners, supposedly the sign of a gentleman, were in reality an expression of the middle class's terror of being thought "common". Today we get upset by other things: techno-irritants, boorish behaviour, casual snobbery, odd new orthodoxies of staff-client interaction. In what should be an atmosphere of relaxation and nourishment, the air can sometimes be thick with tension.
Let us attempt to relieve it then, with 10 modern commandments, for diners and restaurateurs alike to follow…
1. Thou Shalt Not Have an iPhone Before Thee
When did it become acceptable to have your mobile on the table all the way through dinner? The gesture says: "If this rings, I won't necessarily answer it – I'll just look to see who's calling. It'll remind me I have an important life." It certainly reminds your co-diner that he or she will never have your full attention.
2. Thou Shalt Neither Tweet Nor Instagram Thy Food
Yes, the pork belly/frog's leg combo looks like a Kandinsky, and deserves a photo – but do you really want people to think you've never eaten out before? And though you think you're food-blogging to a multitude of fans, you're not. You're just talking to yourself, via your keyboard, about how much you're enjoying a starter.
3. Thou Shalt Not Have E-Fags Before Us
Some restaurants now allow diners to puff the new generation of electronic cigarettes in the dining-room. You must resist the temptation and go outside with the other suckers. Otherwise, diners at neighbouring tables may a) consider you a nincompoop, and b) offer to fart in your face.
4. Thou Shalt Not Do a Stupid Squiggle in the Air
Once, to ask for the bill, you snapped your fingers and yelled, "Garçon! LaddEESHee-on!" Now you sketch a rudimentary signature in the air with a languidly imperious hand. Waiters are liable to ask if you're having a fit. Just call one over and say, "We'd like the bill please."
5. Thy Kids Shall Not Play 'Call of Duty 7' At Lunch Your tousle-haired offspring should be a charming, decorative part of the family meal out. They won't be if they spend the whole time buried in mini-games consoles, oblivious to all around them. Ban machines. Encourage them to compete in an Impersonate Gregg Wallace competition.
1. Thou Shalt Not offer Only One Dish
Steak-only restaurants are just about OK. Schnitzel restaurants serving three different meat schnitzels, we don't mind. But we're bored by the five places in Soho serving only ramen noodle soup. And we don't like the sound of the risotto-only joint. What next? The Paella Palace? The Calves' Liver Cave?
2. Thou Shalt Allow People To Book a Flipping Table
Incredible to relate, but we who were planning to spend lots of money on a meal in your establishment don't appreciate being sent to the Pig & Whistle because you have a no-bookings policy and no tables free; then summoned back if and when the management folk remember who we are.
3. Thou Shalt Not Establish a Time Limit on Our Carousings
Please do not say, "We could let you have a table around 7.30 – but you'd have to be out by 9." You see, if we're enjoying ourselves at your lovely eating-house, we may feel like sticking around. And did it not occur to you that the longer we stay, the more we're likely to spend?
4. Thou Shalt Not Utter Fatuous and annoying Remarks
"Has anyone explained the concept to you?" "These dishes are basically small plates for sharing…" "You could order four starters as the basis of a tasting menu…" and especially, "I'll be back in a few minutes for your comments…"
5. Thou Shalt Not Claim to Have a Bottle of the 2009 Nuits-St-Georges If Thou Hast Only the 2013
You don't have to be an oenophile bore to feel annoyed when the carte de vins promises a nicely aged wine but the cellar yields only the most recent version. We appreciate that wines come and go – but you could try to update the list every year or so.
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