Whenever you're dining out, keep in mind that there are plenty of ways to ensure your overall experience is as good as it can possibly be — and just as many things you (or your fellow diners) can do to make the experience a bad one.
Spoiler alert? Telling your server that you know the owner probably isn't going to get you anywhere. But being a decent human being is always a good idea.
As someone who has worked in the industry for decades, I've served hundreds of guests and understand how all types of restaurants operate. Here are some mistakes I've seen diners make. Next time you go to a restaurant, take my advice.
Not inspecting salt and pepper shakers on the table
If the salt and pepper shakers have a grimy film inside them or if the ketchup cap is crusted over with caked-on condiment, take a moment to ask yourself, "If someone can’t be bothered to clean a salt shaker, what does the kitchen look like?" Inspect other surfaces, too. The adorable wicker basket that the free delicious bread is served in might not have made it to the dishwasher today. Or this week. Or ever.
Speaking of grime, menus are basically laminated petri dishes that get carried from table to table, collecting germs as they go. If you think the salt shaker is dirty, just keep your eyes on a menu the next time you go to a restaurant and see how many hands touch it ... and if it ever gets wiped down.
If none of these items are clean, you should probably choose a different eatery.
Never checking the restaurant's social media pages
Restaurants often announce promotions or happy hour deals online these days. If you don't know about something before you dine, it's unlikely to be revealed when you're already at the table. If you check in or tag certain places, they might even offer a complimentary something — which is always nice ... unless it’s bread in an adorable wicker basket.
Not pouring your own wine
If you do it yourself, you can control how fast you’re going through it. An overzealous server might pour the wine more often than necessary. Then, when your entree arrives, you’ll find yourself having to order a second bottle of wine when you only wanted one. This is a classic trick a lot of restaurants use to get customers to spend more money, but if you're really trying to pace yourself, it's OK to take control of your own wine destiny.
Stop being a bad group host
It's lovely if you're planning to treat other diners or just want to take care of the check for a large party, but you should know how to do it right. That means discussing this with your server before the check arrives. Avoid the awkward experience of forcing your server to listen to everyone’s reason why they should be the one who pays for dinner. Otherwise, we waiters are gonna take the first credit card that touches our hands and swipe it through.
Never asking how much specials actually cost
Just because someone says it's a "special" doesn’t mean it’s on sale (or that it's actually that special), so if you don’t ask, be prepared for an overpriced hangar steak served with a steaming side of “what the heck was I thinking?”
Menu items that appear in a box or are highlighted aren't necessarily the best thing to order — it's just what the restaurant wants you to order.
Similarly, while prix-fixe meals might seem like a great deal, they often offer smaller portions than what are normally available on the menu. Sometimes, they're a modified version of a traditional dish so if you're going to a restaurant for a specific item, always ask if the prix-fixe dish is exactly the same. If you’re dead set on having the prix-fixe and there are two of you dining, consider having one person order a la carte so you can enjoy a few different items together.
Being rude to servers and restaurant staff
This should go without saying but yes, it's true, servers are actually people! A recent poll posted on my Facebook page asking servers what customers can do in order to get great service garnered over 2,000 comments. A whopping 90% of the comments said a version of the same thing over and over again: be nice to us, treat us with respect and don’t forget that we’re human beings who want you to have a great experience at our restaurant.
But, of course, tipping for great service is always appreciated.