The worst things we do when eating out
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From licking the knife to just being boorish, there's a long list of customer behaviour that leaves a nasty taste for restaurant staff, says Andy Newman.
It had to happen, I suppose. Survey after survey has revealed the irritating things that restaurant staff do (like asking 'how was your meal?' within 30 seconds of delivering it to the table and every five minutes for the rest of the evening). Now a new study has revealed the 35 biggest faux-pas committed by us, the customers, when we eat out.
Some of them are difficult to disagree with. Blowing your nose on a napkin, picking bits of food out of your teeth at the table, talking with your mouth full, and licking your knife are all up there on the disgusting scale. I'll support any restaurant which throws out the sort of Neanderthals who think such gross acts have a place at any dining table, let alone a public one.
Some of the biggest bugbears involve sheer bad manners: clicking your fingers to get the waiter's attention, failing to leave a tip, and letting kids run around the joint all show a massive lack of consideration and respect for those in whose workplace we are dining (not to mention fellow diners).
Fortunately, most waiting staff know how to reward such behaviour, and let's just say that it may involve 'enhancing' the dishes you have ordered during their journey from the kitchen to your table.
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To be honest, given the kind of behaviour that many serving staff have to put up with from too many unpleasant, rude and arrogant customers, it's a miracle that most of them remain as professional and cheerful as they do.
That said, some of the supposed 'faux-pas' are in fact a perfectly reasonable reaction to too many restaurants' failure to remember that they are there to provide a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere for us to eat, chat and enjoy ourselves.
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For example, at number three on the list of customers' bad behaviour is being too loud. Maybe if restaurants were designed to be a bit more peaceful, instead of being like industrial warehouses full of hard, echoey surfaces and music played at a volume that even Keith Moon would find excessive, we wouldn't need to shout. Just a thought.
Then we are told that asking for a knife and fork because you couldn't be bothered to use chopsticks is another social no-no. I have always thought it strange that the country which gave the world paper, printing, gunpowder, the umbrella and the toothbrush hasn't been able to work out that there are better implements with which to convey food to your mouth than a pair of knitting needles.
If someone wants to use a knife and fork instead (perhaps they have arthritic hands), that isn't a faux-pas, it's a perfectly reasonable request.
A good few of the 35 most inexcusable mistakes involve – unsurprisingly – our relationship with the waiting staff. Apparently flirting with the waiter or waitress is frowned upon. If you are dining with your other half, such flirting is just plain sleazy, but it would be a shame if flirting between single, consenting adults was to be outlawed.
The survey also showed that three in ten of us have felt embarrassed enough to apologise to staff for the behaviour of one of our fellow diners – slightly less than the number who admitted that somebody at their table had been hogwateringly drunk. Here's a tip: if someone in your party is that bladdered, and you don't think it merits an apology to your server, that person is you.
Eating out shouldn't be hog-bound by rules, that is just a way of trying to exclude people and make them feel uncomfortable. But equally, when we are in a restaurant, we are sharing our space with others, and it really comes down to a bit of consideration. If you are doing something which would annoy you/gross you out/spoil your dinner if someone else was doing it at the next table, then just stop.
One final thought: the survey showed some disagreement about the use of mobile phones at the table. This is one area where the rules are shifting, although there is nothing sadder than watching a group of people having dinner and ignoring each other as they each bury their heads in their screens.
But here is a cardinal rule: if you must take a picture of your food, turn off the flash. That is all.