Going out to eat is a huge part of many people's social lives, so your behavior at a meal with someone is important. Most of us know to keep our elbows off of the table, but there are a number of other etiquette rules to follow when doing out with others. Whether it's a first date or a dinner party, many meals are the first time you meet someone, and you don't want to do anything that would rub them the wrong way or leave a bad impression.
"All scenarios require etiquette because it's the highest form and expression of our humanity and respect for one another," says psychologist Anjhula Mya Singh Bais over email. "Quite often etiquette suffers a reputation of being old fashioned, stuffy or beset by snobbery, where people tend to be unaware because it's not 'cool' anymore. In truth, etiquette is relevant and I would argue, more necessary than ever. Etiquette has, is, and will always be intended to facilitate ease to the other person."
Of course, eating some tacos at happy hour with friends is different than having a formal dinner with your significant other's parents, but you can use your best judgment when it comes to your manners. Here are nine etiquette rules you didn't realize you should follow when dining out with others.
It seems so obvious, but with all these new ways to receive an invitation via technology, many people forget to send an RSVP. "No response is not the equivalent or new age way of saying "No," says Bais. "Items require a response either way. Countless research shows that people become flustered, offended, and upset when they don't hear back, and that what is more painful than a no is not knowing."
2. Keep Your Belongings Off The Table
Not all restaurants have hooks for your purse, but that doesn't mean your personal belongings have a spot on the table. "Leaving a clutch on the table, a mobile phone, elbows on the table, or doing makeup at that table is considered inappropriate," says Bais.
3. Stay Off Your Phone
"Square away your issues, calls, and needing to be on call," says Bais. "Unless you're an ER doctor, nothing is life and death, and you would do well to honor your dinner companions by fully focusing on them for two hours. Consider it an investment in your mental health and your friendships."
4. Don't Leave a Non-Drinker Stuck With Paying For Everyone Else's Drinks
Splitting the bill can be an easy way to manage payment, but if someone is drinking their fair share of wine, they shouldn't be held responsible for your many bottles. "It is attention to detail and considered highly respectful where in 'dutch' situations, the fact that someone does not drink is acknowledged, and their share of the bill reflects this," says Bais. "It should not be 'split even' at all costs."
5. Decide Ahead Of Time How The Bill Will Be Handled
On that note, to avoid any awkward conversations, decide before the dinner begins how the check will be handled. Ask the waiter ahead of time if they can take multiple cards or divvy out separate checks. "Hosting dynamics differ from culture to culture," says Bais. "In the West, hosting often means the one organizing the location, issuing the invitations and convening everyone together, but everyone splits the bill. In the East, there is a greater likelihood that hosting becomes synonymous with getting the bill. Play it by ear but be prepared for either."
6. Know Where To Put Your Napkin
Leaving the table? You'll want to put your napkin in the right place. "When excusing yourself during the meal, put the napkin on the seat of the chair," says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman over email. "At the end of the meal, the napkin is placed on the left side of your dessert plate."
7. Keep Your Utensils Down
"Avoid gesturing with eating utensils," says Gottsman. "If you’re an energetic conversationalist and tend to 'talk with your hands,' take heed. Place your utensils on your plate when considering effusive animation."
8. Wait To Be Seated Before Everyone Has Arrived
If you've arrived early, it's tempting to go sit down and give your legs a rest, but it's polite to wait until the rest of your party has arrived. "If you're waiting for friends to show up, please wait for them at the coat check or maî·tre d'," says Bais. "Do not go ahead and sit down at the table."
9. Pace Yourself
Dining out involves more than just eating — you're spending time with someone, so don't scarf down your food while others hold a conversation. "Do pace yourself so that you are finishing your meal at the same time as your table mates," says etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith over email.