Restaurant Dining Etiquette

Getting VIP Treatment

Who doesn’t relish receiving VIP treatment in a restaurant?  Once you learn the velvet ropes, you can enjoy the red carpet normally unrolled for ambassadors, movie stars, and captains of industry. 

Hard to get reservations will become available.  Maitre d’s, bartenders and waiters will greet you with a smile and your name.  You will be escorted to choice tables and be offered daily specials the hoi polloi will never know.  Your requests will be handled with respect and dispatch.  This reception cannot but impress your guests. 

Cultivating a Restaurant

The surest way of getting VIP treatment is to become a regular.  A quality restaurant must give special services to its steady customers if the management hopes to sustain their loyalty.

  1. Rule One:  You should concentrate on frequenting a small, but well-rounded list, of restaurants tailored to your needs.  A basic list might include French, Northern Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Seafood, and American Steakhouse.
  2. You must frequent the establishments enough to become a familiar face. 
  3. If you visit for the first time and want to cultivate it, the best approach is to get a regular to introduce you to the management.  If you have no contact, try discreetly giving the maitre d’ five or ten dollars on your way out.  Tell the maitre d’ that you enjoyed dining in his or her establishment and would like to make reservations for a choice table on such-and-such date in the near future.  You can almost be certain that on your next visit you will be greeted by name and assigned a better-than-average table.  Repeat this cycle until you become part of the well-entrenched clan.
  4. Cultivate other staffers too.  If you are satisfied with your captain, specifically request to sit in his or her area whenever you make reservations.  The captain will be flattered.
  5. Occasionally send a pleasant, but pertinent compliment to the chef on the back of your business card.  Before long, the chef will probably make special trips from the kitchen to your table, a sign that you are a well known regular.  Thereafter, periodically send the chef a small gift:   cuff links, earrings, twenty to fifty dollars in cash. 
Telephoning for Reservations
  1. Usually it is best to call a day or two ahead of time. 
  2. If the day and the restaurant are very popular, a week or two in advance may be advisable.  Reconfirm on the day of your visit. 
  3. Telephone during meal hours to get the official reservation taker. 
  4. Be confident.  Don’t ask for a reservation – state it.  Ask for a “good table.” 
  5. Keep a list of owners and maitre d’s of the restaurants you wish to visit again.  Your chances of getting a reservation at the last minute improve if you great the person by name. 
  6. Should the restaurant have a special off-the-menu meal or dish, consider ordering it ahead of time. 
  7. Expect special treatment when you tell the maitre d’ that the occasion is very special to you. 
  8. Cancel your reservation as soon as you know that you are not going.  Also alert the restaurant if there will be a change in your arrival time or in the size of your party.
Reservation Ploys
  1. A person who tries to slip a ten- or twenty-dollar bill into the maitre d’s palm will not be tossed.  The diner miraculously becomes the holder of the reservation for the next available table. 
  2. Tell the truth. 
Dress Code
Call to find out if the restaurant has a dress code.
Informal or Casual

Informal or casual means just that: something informal and comfortable but neat, pressed, and clean. Your attire should fit the custom of the area and occasion; for a poolside party, jeans and a T-shirt, plus your bathing suit, would usually be fine. The terms "dressy casual" and "business casual" -while confusing- are becoming more prevalent. "Dressy casual" may seem a bit of a contradiction in terms; however, in these relaxed times, it may keep people from showing up in a T-shirt and torn cutoffs. For a "dressy casual" affair, wear something nicer than ordinary everyday casual clothes but not as fancy as cocktail wear. "Business casual" usually means wearing something a little more casual than customary office attire, such as khakis, sports shirts, and blazers or sweaters.


Semiformal generally means that women wear dresses or dressy pants ensembles. Men wear either suits and ties or sports shirts, a sports jacket, a tie, and slacks. If in doubt, it is perfectly acceptable for you to check with your hostess.

Black Tie or Formal

Black tie or formal means men should wear tuxedos with a soft shirt and bow tie. Jackets may be white in the summer and black the rest of the year, and are available in patterns and many other colors. Women either wear long dresses, or a short, cocktail-length dress, depending upon what is currently customary in their area and for the occasion.

White Tie

White tie is the most formal evening wear -white tie, wing collar, and tailcoat. This is almost never required today, except for official and diplomatic occasions and the rare private ball. For a woman, "white tie" indicates that a long gown should be worn.

Obtaining a good Table
  1. Ask for one when you make the reservation
  2. When you arrive, enter the restaurant with authority.  Look the maitre d’ in the eye and say “I’m Mr. X.  I have a reservation for a table for two at 9 o’clock.  You said you would reserve a nice table for me.  I presume it’s ready.” 
  3. Banquettes or regular tables. 
    1. Socially conscious diners prefer banquettes because they can scan the room. 
    2. Executives may like standard tables to have eye-to-eye contact. 
  4. If the restaurant is multi-roomed, usually the best chamber is the one nearest the maitre d’. 
  5. If you did not ask for a good location when making the reservation, ask while you are at the maitre d’s’ stand. 
  6. If you see you are being escorted to an unpleasant table, make an urbane protest before you sit down.  Stand your ground and discreetly point at a table or general area that you would prefer. 
Human Factor
  • Waiters are human.  Make an effort to be courteous and to learn their names.