September 2008

Dining Out: Behavior Tips

A 15 percent solution to better etiquette


Proper tipping etiquette Dwight Eschliman

Mention manners, and people think of phrases like please and thank you and about behaving in a civilized manner where food is served—-good qualities to have and the absence of which will only result in people not inviting you out.

I mean, what you want to do with food in your home or automobile is between you and your conscience—-what you do in a restaurant is between you and the world. There’s a reason pulling down your underwear in your own home is encouraged and doing it in public is not.

But tipping doesn’t seem to make the grade when good manners are considered-—and that’s, well, wrong.

Tipping is not only part of everyday life, it’s how many people support themselves. Bartenders and servers must legally claim 15 percent of their gross sales. However, this only works well if people tip. If you don’t have the decency to leave a tip, your waitperson is effectively chipping in for your dinner.

Tipping is like drinking. If you’re not good at it, stay home.

I was fortunate to have waited tables for a good five years when I first moved to L.A. I was also lucky to be fired from just about every place that hired me.

Although I was an efficient waitress, I had little patience for people who were devoid of common courtesy, and I had no issue with confronting them on their way out the door-—or in the parking lot. I’ve never excelled at biting my tongue, mostly because for a long time I thought biting your tongue meant just that. Why would anyone do that?

Since most restaurant managers aren’t supportive of their staff accosting the customers, I would be firmly reminded that I was in the service industry and the customer was always right...even if he was wrong.

My feeling was that if someone misbehaved, I was doing them a huge favor by nipping it in the bud. I couldn’t help asking a 45-year-old woman out with her family if her mother approved of her spitting out her food and yelling at a perfect stranger because her penne puttanesca wasn’t al dente.

After I reminded her that I wasn’t the one who actually cooked the food, I explained all she had to do was ask me nicely and I would have been happy to get her a more al dente puttanesca. “In the future,” I told her, “if you prefer your pasta al dente, mention it before you order. Not after.”

After that, I looked at her husband and said, “Good luck with your life.” Here are some rules for dining out:

• Decide what you’re going to eat before your server is standing there. If you’re not ready when they arrive, just ask him or her to come back.

• It should not take a full 40 minutes to decide what kind of pasta you want for lunch. You’re not adopting a baby.

•If someone dumped you, it is not okay to take it out on someone else who makes his or her living on tips.

• Do not flag down your server with a napkin. This isn’t a bullfight.

• If you can’t afford to tip the bare-minimum 15 percent, order takeout.

I’m also astonished at people’s lack of eye contact. It’s a fundamental rule of being a human being. You’re talking to others of your species. Have the decency to look them in the eye. This goes for valets, busboys, flight attendants and, most important, prostitutes. These are all people serving you and helping to make your life easier.

Why wouldn’t you want to be nice to them? Manners and compassion go together. Pay attention: Sometimes you learn the most from people who are not trying to teach you anything.

CHELSEA HANDLER helms Chelsea Lately on E! Her latest book is the bestseller Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.