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Dining Out Etiquette

By: Lisa Thiel - Updated: 11 May 2010 | comments*Discuss
Restaurant Dining Etiquette Tipping Menu

The thought of going to a top-grade restaurant can be very intimidating to people who didn't grow up with butlers - dealing with the formality of a traditional place setting and allowing waiting staff to attend to your every need often detract from your enjoyment of the food. If you've no idea how to handle the situation, banish your fears by following this guide to formal dining.

Place Settings

When faced with a place setting that's got more than one fork, knife and spoon, the golden rule is to start from the outside and work in, using the smallest pair for starters and larger pairs for following courses.

Some dishes require special utensils, such as steak, which needs a sharper blade to cut it, or fish, conventionally eaten using a knife with a broad angled blade and pointed tip. If you order one of these, don't panic when the waiting staff take your knife away - they'll be bringing you the correct one shortly.

Dessert spoons sit at the top of a place setting, while soup spoons may lie alongside the knives or be brought to you when you order soup. Don't mix the two up - a narrow-bowled dessert spoon is difficult to eat soup from without slurping, while taking delicate mouthfuls of a pudding is impossible using a soup spoon!

Wine and water glasses will also be laid at place settings. The smaller wine glass is used for white wine, so drinkers can better appreciate its delicate aroma, while fuller-bodied reds go in bigger goblets. Water will usually be served in glasses similar to the red wine ones.


Don't assume that something isn't available just because it's not on the menu. If there are elements you like the look of in different on-menu dishes, ask whether you can add or substitute ingredients, or have meat cooked a little differently from what's specified in the description. Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate your wishes - though it occasionally means paying a supplement.

Unless they're included in a dish's menu description, main courses may not include vegetables. Some restaurants will serve vegetables as accompaniments in separate dishes; others will expect you to order them as side dishes. Check with the waiting staff if you're not sure what to expect.

Some top-grade restaurants will serve extra, very small courses in between the ones you've ordered. These can include an amuse-bouche, served before the starter to get the taste buds working, a palate-clearing dish between main course and dessert, and petits fours to go with coffee. Don't worry that you haven't ordered them - there shouldn't be a charge, they're just part of the experience.

Your side plate should be used for bread, and bread only - it's not a place to leave bones, the heads of prawns or anything else. If receptacles aren't provided for these sorts of things, just leave them neatly on the edge of your plate.


Restaurants usually have a separate wine list, with the very best offering the services of a sommelier (or wine waiter) to take your orders and make recommendations. If you're bewildered by what's on offer, tell the waiting staff your preferences and ask them to recommend something.

When the bottle arrives, the waiting staff will open it and ask one of your table to test it. Don't feel you need to sniff, slurp and spit like a connoisseur - just take a small sip. If it doesn't smell odd or have a peculiar taste, relax and enjoy.


Unlike America, tipping in England isn't standard practice - it's a reward for the quality of service received. If you feel a tip is in order, standard practice is to leave roughly ten per cent of the total cost of your meal. However, check your bill first to see whether there's a service charge included in the total. If this is the case, don't bother tipping - you'll be paying twice for the same thing.

If there's anything at all about the meal you weren't happy with, don't be bashful about letting the waiting staff know. It's beneficial to both sides - good staff will ensure you get compensation in the form of a discount or complimentary offering, while the restaurant needs to know what they're doing wrong so they can improve their standards.

Above all, remember that going out to eat is meant to be an enjoyable experience for you, the customer. The waiting staff should be bending over backwards to make sure you're having a good time - their livelihoods depend on making the restaurant's patrons feel welcome, comfortable, valued and, above all, full!

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