Restaurant Dos and Don'ts

Proper restaurant courtesies and other travel etiquette explained.

October 20, 2009, 8:28 AM

October 20, 2009 — -- Q: In a restaurant, I ordered something with Hollandaise sauce. I'm watching my weight, so I asked for it on the side. The waitress said no—the chef doesn't believe in sauces on the side, so he won't do them. Ever. I finally got what I wanted, but only after she made multiple trips to the kitchen. She said the chef was making a special, one-time-only exception (and acted as though I should bow down and thank him). Was my request that unreasonable?

A: They had a problem with putting sauce on the side? That's ridiculous. People ask for that all the time! I'd hate to see what would happen if a vegetarian or, worse, someone with a food allergy tried to eat there. Sounds like the chef is a wannabe dictator who needs serious customer service training—and/or therapy—if he wants his restaurant to stay afloat.

I'd get the word out about your experience. Post a review online; tell everyone you know. The chef, not you, was being unreasonable, and deserves to be called out for it.

Q: I hate the food courts at Disney. There are never enough tables, so people practically race to claim tables people are vacating. And then people sit nursing a soda for 45 minutes, while others are standing around, holding trays of food. I know we're not eating at fancy restaurant, but etiquette still applies here, right? Can you lay down some rules?

A: First, did you know Disney is actually attempting to address this very issue? They're just testing changes in a few restaurants, but let's cross our fingers that it works out.

In the meantime, everyone needs to remember that a food court, despite its lack of a Michelin star, is not an etiquette-free zone. The main problem is the shortage of seating—so if there's a wait, it's polite to do everything you can to get in and out quickly. It's called "fast food," so don't linger. Your lunchtime conversation on how Mickey can justify having both a pet dog and a friend who is a dog sounds fascinating, but you can continue it elsewhere. Leave the food court to the people actually consuming food.

Fast Food Etiquette Explained

If a table opens up and another party has been waiting longer than you, let them have it. Even—and this is important—if you could get there first. I've seen an elderly couple slowly head for a table only to have a group of teenagers sprint over and grab it—that's despicable. It won't kill you to wait your turn.

If someone has empty seats at their table, it's perfectly fine to ask if you can sit with them. And you get etiquette bonus points if you offer empty seats at your table to people who are standing around.

Finally, everyone knows to dump their trays, but please don't leave your table covered with spilled salt, straw wrappers and 500 napkins you may or may not have used. Cleaning up after yourself is just common courtesy.

Q: I'm really allergic to smoke. If I stay in a hotel and the people next door smoke on their balcony, I can't enjoy mine. Can I ask them to smoke somewhere else?

A: You can ask (as long as you aren't condescending or preachy), but if the hotel allows smoking on the balconies, your neighbors are totally within their rights to smoke there. You might want to choose a fully non-smoking hotel next time.

Lesley Carlin has been writing about travel and etiquette professionally for more than 10 years. As one of the Etiquette Grrls, she is the co-author of "Things You Need to Be Told" and "More Things You Need to Be Told" (Berkley). Have a travel etiquette question of your own? E-mail Lesley at

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