People go to restaurants for different reasons. Some people go to celebrate a special occasion; some people go because they have the money and enjoy being waited on and not having to go through the work of preparing a meal and then cleaning up afterwards; some people go because they can't cook and whatever they order will be infinitely better than anything they could have mangled, burnt, and served themselves.
In this age of ever expanding informality, people feel at home no matter where they are. On the bus, at work, and yes, even at fancy restaurants. Have you ever been stuck on a bus next to a person having a personal conversation on the phone and learned things about him or her that you REALLY didn't want to know? Lady, I want to know absolutely nothing about your intestinal functioning or what the doctor said about your recurrent gout. The worst is young mothers talking to their babies. “Who's mommy's good little boy? Who does mommy just want to gobble up? Did mommy's favorite little boy just poo in his pants?” etc. Not that this is a breach of etiquette; it's just annoying.
But back to my point. When you are at a restaurant, you are not at home. And there are other customers (although only occasionally at my restaurant) that deserve the same attention and respect as you do. Therefore, I have compiled a list of rules of restaurant etiquette.
- If there is a host/ess, wait to be seated. Don't waltz in and sit wherever you feel like. (For some reason, people always go to the largest table there is. A couple will often go to a table for 6 without considering that a group of 6 might come in and not be able to sit at a table for 2.)
- If your phone rings, don't pick up and start having a loud conversation. (It's annoying for other diners and it's rude to the person you're sitting with.)
- Do not put dirty dishes on other tables or personal affects on the chairs at other tables. (You get one table. If no one can or wants to sit there, the restaurant loses potential customers. It's like putting your groceries on the seat next to you on a crowded bus. Did your potatoes pay for a seat?)
- When the waiter comes to take your order and you say you're ready, don't start having an unrelated conversation while he stands there waiting for you. By the same token, don't start discussing with the other people at your table what you should order and argue over what side dishes you're going to get. (The waiter has other tables to take care of and does not have the time to stand there and wait for you while you quibble over the merits of french fries vs. mashed potatoes. If you don't know what you want, tell him to come back in a few minutes.)
- If you're not sure what something is, ask before you order it. (The waiter does not want to have to take it back because you thought that the beef stroganoff was a salad and don't like it.)
- Tell the waiter if you're allergic to something before you order. (A lady once finished her meal and then asked me if there was soy sauce in it because she can't eat soy sauce. Again- not etiquette, just common sense. It is however disruptive to other diners if you have to be carried out on a stretcher.)
- Don't get into a long conversation with the waiter if there are a lot of other customers. (He doesn't have time to chat. Other people are waiting and he will probably be too polite to tell you that he has no interest in your cat and that the kitchen staff is going to yell at him if he doesn't get over there pronto.)
- If you are the only one left at the restaurant and it's 11:00 at night, take a hint. (The staff wants to go home too. No one wants to have to wait for the two people who have been talking for the last half hour over empty plates.)
However, one thing that I can say about Jews is that they will always help you clear the table. I come to clear the dishes and they'll start passing me their plates like I've invited them for Shabbat lunch. It's totally natural to them. One guy felt so bad about coming in at 10:00 that he cleared his own plates. I was like, does this mean I have to give you a tip?