The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.
Experienced restaurant-goers know that more than a little thought goes into ordering, from choosing pre-dinner cocktails to picking the meal courses to selecting the wines served during the meal. They also know how important it is to have made up their minds by the time they let the server know he can take their orders. If you aren't ready, simply tell your server that you need more time. Holding him there as you keep changing your mind has repercussions: New arrivals at his other tables become impatient, some patrons have to wait longer to order, and the food your server is responsible for delivering to someone else must wait in the kitchen or under a heat lamp. Two other important points:
The signal that says you're ready to order is a closed menu.
If those in your group want separate checks, make the request of your server at the start, even before you order a drink or appetizer. Asking for individual checks at the end of the meal slows down service for everyone in the restaurant because the server will have to spend time preparing them. Keep in mind that there's always the chance that a restaurant won't allow separate checks. If you plan to request them, find out if it's permissible by calling in advance or asking when you arrive.
It's fine to order beverages the first time the waiter asks, even if every guest at your table hasn't been seated; latecomers can order when the server returns with the first round. If there is a host, he can take charge and ask the guests what they would like.
Is it necessary to order the same number of courses everyone else does? Not really, especially when you're going Dutch. If you're the only one who orders an appetizer. you needn't ask the server to bring it with everyone else's main course-unless that's the extent of your meal; your companions have drinks, the bread basket, and conversation to occupy them until their dishes arrive. At a hosted meal, you should order an appetizer or first course or dessert when no one else does only at the host's urging.
Once you've narrowed down your choices, it's fine to ask your server which dish she recommends. When she recites a list of daily specials, it's smart to ask the cost of the dishes that interest you (specials are generally on the expensive side). If you're the guest at a meal, however, it's best to leave questions of cost to the host.
It's fine to tell the server that you'd like to share an appetizer or dessert-and possibly even a main course if you know the servings to be huge. Just be sure to compensate the server with a more generous tip unless an "extra plate" fee is charged. She would have received a larger tip for two full meals, so you might want keep that in mind when calculating how much to leave.
If you aim to have a leisurely conversation during the meal, order foods that can be eaten with ease. Lobster or crab in the shell, unboned fish, and pastas that may be messy or difficult to eat could make more demands on your time and concentration than you'd like. Also think twice about ordering a food that is unfamiliar to you. Unless you know how to eat an artichoke or tackle the crab claw in a bouillabaisse, stick with a dish that poses no unexpected challenges.
Wine Ordering Etiquette
Dinner wine is really a condiment for food, so it's best ordered after the menu choices have been made.
The orderer (preferably the most qualified person at the table) can either choose a wine that goes best with the greatest number of dishes or ask the advice of the server.
An easy alternative to a shared bottle is wine ordered by the glass, which allows the diners to match the wine with their meals.
When the server brings the unopened bottle to the table, he shows it to the orderer. If this is you, confirm the choice with a nod. The server then uncorks the bottle and pours a small amount of wine into your glass, which you sniff before taking a sip; a simple "That's fine" will let him know that the wine neither smells nor tastes off. (Briefly swirling the wine in the glass before sniffing releases its aromas.) If you recognize the smell of a tainted, or "corked," wine, sniff the cork if the waiter hands it to you. Otherwise, put the cork directly on the service plate or on the table.
The server pours the wine, serving the host or orderer last. (A diner who doesn't care to drink wine should either momentarily place her fingers over the glass when her turn comes or simply say, "No thank you"; turning the glass upside down is never the signal to use.) From that point on, it's up to the orderer to refill the guests' glasses if the waiter doesn't return to pour.
White-wine glasses are traditionally filled threequarters full; red-wine glasses, which are larger, are filled halfway.
Visit our wine etiquette section for more wine ordering information.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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