Tom Sietsema answers your dining questions every Wednesday at 11 a.m. But when the answer to a query is more than bite-sized, he'll offer a main course. Today, Tom responds to a reader's request for an etiquette refresher. Submit your question for Tom.
To text or not to text in a restaurant?
That was among the questions I asked of Pamela Eyring during a recent chat with the president of the Protocol School of Washington in McLean. Unshockingly, the manners maven says she’s generally not in favor of diners using their phones, which should be turned off and kept out of sight.
“Let the phones go!” she implores (firmly but cordially).
Eyring makes exceptions for solo restaurant-goers, as long as they’re discreet and provided they don’t text or make calls when a server is trying to take their order. Diners who are expecting an important text or call should excuse themselves from the table if they want to type or talk, then make it short. “You don’t want to share your conversation” with the restaurant, explains Eyring.
• About toasting: Eyring frowns on clinking glasses in a formal setting, but acknowledges lots of diners enjoy starting a meal with what they see as a festive gesture. While the etiquette expert says she never initiates clinking, she advises glass-bumpers to “tap lightly” to avoid accidents.
• Hygiene – or lack thereof – is a sore point with Eyring, who in a restaurant recently observed a couple of young professional women, one of whom ended her meal by … flossing her teeth. “That’s gutsy,” she says, then quickly adds, “That’s disgusting.” And make-up, even lipstick, should be applied only in the restroom.
• Eyring’s No. 1 dining peeve is “the mistreatment of the server or staff” by customers. No matter how bad a waiter is, she says, yelling is not a proper response when service goes south. Problems should be dealt with firmly but quietly so as not to disrupt other patrons.
• What to do with your napkin if you’re stepping away momentarily? Place it on your seat. That’s a sign to the server that you’ll be back, says Eyring. If you’re concluding a meal, however, the napkin goes on the table. Diners worried about picking up germs when they put napkins on their chairs – Eyring refers to them as “bottom phobic” – should use the inside of their napkin for wiping their mouths, then fold the linen over itself so the unused side rests on the seat.
• Overly-chatty waiters have become the norm in a lot of dining rooms. If Eyring is the host, she avoids the problem up front by arriving early for a reservation and letting the staff know she needs a minimum of interaction with them. At the table, after orders are taken, the protocol instructor clues in servers by saying “We have a lot to talk about” and prefer not to be interrupted “for a good long while” — delivered with a smile, of course.
Proper etiquette, says Eyring, “makes you look successful. Who wouldn’t want to be like that?”