Q. We in the restaurant business would appreciate your educating us about the proper etiquette for letting customers know that it's more than time to leave.
We realize that we are there to serve the customers and they have paid a lot of money for our services. However, is there a point at which they are being thoughtless to others?
Many times customers will linger at their table for hours when it's obvious that others are waiting to have dinner. Some will stay even though everyone (including their server) has long since left, and they are no longer being served anything, and anything they don't have their elbows on has been removed from the table. The lights have been turned all the way up, the music is off, and the manager is obviously waiting for them.
Are we being incredibly rude? Is there any proper way to tell them their departure is long overdue?
A. Miss Manners can understand why you think you have only one problem here, since yourposture -- standing around wondering if those people will ever get themselves up from that table -- is the same, whatever the time of night.
But wily old etiquette detects two separate problems: how to get one set of diners up to make way for another, and how to throw people out at closing time. The former is not quite as legitimate as the latter.
The fact that you want to serve two or more shifts does not make people who want a leisurely meal rude. It is in the nature of proper dining -- as opposed to fast-food gobbling -- to linger over a meal. It is not the early diners' responsibility, but yours, to arrange things so that none of your customers, early or late, are inconvenienced.
One way to do this would be to invoke a highly proper custom of private dining -- serving after-dinner coffee away from the table. If you had a side room at which you served coffee and took orders for after-dinner drinks and sweets, you could lure the over-stayers away from their table graciously. Otherwise, politeness permits your servers only to keep asking if anything else is wanted, until the customers get the hint.
But hints -- turning the lights on and the music off -- do not seem to be getting across to your customers at closing time. Fortunately, however, the manager can step forward at that time and say: "I'm afraid we're closing now. I hope you've had a pleasant evening."
Q. I have a friend whose children have, on several occasions, told mine it is impolite to point. My oldest daughter was once pointing to a picture on the wall of a museum as she was making reference to it. Another time we were trying to find a horse on a steep hillside and were reprimanded again for pointing.
I have always understood that to point at someone to make fun of them, or to point at a handicapped person, was impolite, but that to give directions or to help find someone in an audience, or to point at something in making reference, was actually proper manners. Please help us teach our children properly.
A. Teach your children that the rudest thing of all is going around offering unsolicited criticism of other people's manners. Unfortunately this means that your daughter cannot fully enjoy the triumph of her own manners over your friend's children's, because she can't point out, so to speak, their error.
However, since they bring the subject up, she can point out that the correct rule is that one must never point at people, but may, on occasion -- such as giving directions -- point at objects.
Q. My husband and I were married in a foreign country. When we returned home, we sent out announcements but did not have a reception.
The responses we got from the announcements were varied. Could you please tell me what an appropriate response would have been (e.g., gift, cash, card, or a combination). We were not registered.
A. You got varied responses because you sent your announcements to a variety of people. That is as it should be, and Miss Manners is not going to deal with any subtexts about feeling cheated out of loot.
A wedding announcement requires only a letter of congratulation. However, people who are particularly close to and fond of the couple often take that opportunity to send a symbolic representation of their affection.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.