Restaurant Etiquette Pet Peeves

Among the infinite reasons and occasions people go out to eat at restaurants the holiday season is among the top three times of year people enjoy treating others—and themselves—to a nice meal.  Yet diners and staff alike can be terrible at adhering to appropriate etiquette and behavior.  The following is a list of my friend’s “Sally’s Top 20 Restaurant Gripes” I couldn’t have put together any better myself.  As a result, Sally Bernstein has graciously given me permission to reprint her list to share with you.


Sally’s Top Twenty Restaurant Gripes
by Sally Bernstein at

1. Reservations That Aren’t Honored
When I go to the trouble to make a restaurant reservation, I expect the restaurant to be reasonably on time. I don’t expect to wait more than 10-15 minutes and I’d hope the host or hostess would be pleasant and try to accommodate my fellow diners and me.

Sally’s Right Etiquette:  It is important the restaurant owners, managers, and staff all collectively work on establishing their own systems to help insure reservations are honored on time.  If this means not turning over a table one more time in order to hold it open for the reserved party… you should do it!

2. Noisy Restaurants
When I dine out I want to be able to visit with those at my table.  The majority of restaurants today are so noisy that is often hard to do.  Much of the problem is due to the acoustics, such as bare floors (often stone), glass walls, no tablecloths, in other words, nothing to “soak up” the noise.  Soundproofing foam can be added under tables, seats, or to walls. I know owners think a loud, bustling spot means a popular spot but if you can’t visit with others, what’s the use in going out?

Sally’s Right Etiquette: If your goal is for diners to gobble up your food and leave fast because of the noise level, fine.

3. Non-Printed Menus
Although chalkboard menus seem quaint and fun, too often they are placed in a spot that makes them hard to read, the writing is not always legible and sometimes prices are not listed. These menus are acceptable for pub grub, a diner or a place where you order your food at a bar or counter but not a “real” restaurant.

4. Verbal Specials Recited Without Prices
When servers tell me the daily specials, I want to know the prices so I won’t be unpleasantly surprised when the bill arrives.

Syndi’s Right Etiquette:  I agree prices should always be shared.  If not, don’t be shy to ask.  A suggestion might be to state the price before describing the dish.  Example:  At $14.95 is our signature dish is…   By the time the waiter finishes their mouth-watering description you’ll forget all about the price and will want the dish anyway.  Another pet peeve is when the daily special board doesn’t show prices… no excuses here, it should.

5. Up Selling
I dine out to relax and I don’t want to constantly be on guard to make sure I am not going to have to pay more for my meal than I planned.  Rolls, appetizers, daily specials, side dishes and desserts are a few of the culprits in this category.

Sally’s Right Etiquette:  To me, I don’t mind waiters telling me about Specials of the Day, or trying to up-sell me, as long as it is done tastefully and without sounding like a sales pitch.  Always keep in mind, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it” that counts.

6. Iceless Table Water
The up selling to get you to buy bottled water is bad enough but even worse are restaurants that don’t even offer ice in that water.

Sally’s Right Etiquette:  Reality is, ice is not an item used in fine dining.  I agree, however, in many restaurants they could offer ice as an option.  On an aside, in San Francisco we have an ordinance that requires the availability of regular tap water, disallowing restaurants to only “sell” water.

7. Servings That Are Too Large or Too Small
I don’t eat like a pig nor do I eat like a bird.  I want to try different foods and not leave the table stuffed.  Restaurants know they can charge more if they give you more food but this doesn’t work for me.

Sally’s Right Etiquette:  I agree with this one.  When will restaurants learn to give appropriate portions of food for the funds invested to dine in their restaurant.

8. Dirty Restrooms
Another indication of a quality restaurant is a clean restroom.

Need I say more?

9. Clearing of Plates
At upscale restaurants all finished plates should be cleared at the same time. If my plate is cleared before someone else, it could make that diner feel rushed and uncomfortable. Dining out is an event and the atmosphere should be relaxed. At a less expensive diner, those rules change.

10. No Cell Phone Use
This is just plain rude and you see it more and more today.  If you must take a call, leave the dining room.  But your cell phone should be turned off or on vibrate when you dine out.

11. Spreading Germs
Menus, which are not sanitized between uses (and this includes 99.9% of all restaurants). Think about those back-woods-bumpkins who flipped those same plastic surfaced pages and/or binder covers 10 minutes ago or less, yeah the same ones responsible for making escalator hand grips the most ecoli infested surfaces around…

12. More Germs
Waiters who fill water glasses by touching the water container to the rim of the glass. Picture in your mind how many others have been similarly touched before yours…including the guy across the restaurant with the runny reddened nose. Microbiology dictates that his kooties become yours as soon as you have your first sip.

13. Too Cozy Tables
Restaurants with tables an inch away from your table. Nothing like sharing your intimate conversations with the adjacent couple, or worse yet, hearing theirs.

14. Servers Invading Your Space
Servers, yours as well as random servers passing by, invading your table space and pouring wine or bottled water without first asking. Not everyone wants a refill.  Regarding bottled water, not everyone at the table is drinking it. Regarding wine, the bottomless glass gives you no way of gauging how much you are drinking.  They seem to forget that you are paying for the item and that it is not theirs to distribute without first asking.  Doing so is bad manners not to mention invasive and disruptive, although it does seem to be common practice.

15. Loud Music
I CANNOT stand the loud, sometimes awful music restaurants play, and even worse, it is LOUDER in the LADIES’ ROOM!!!!!!!!!! I can’t even carry on a conversation in most restaurants, from chains to luxury restaurants, anymore.

16. Comment on Loud Music
As regards the ladies comment on loud music in the Ladies’ Room, I want to say that it was probably a man’s idea, designed to get them out of there quicker…

17. Kids
When you have children in your party, their food should be served as soon as possible.

18. Hard Butter
Restaurants that serve hard butter should know better.  Butter should be served at room temperature so that it is spreadable.

19. Bread
Most diners expect bread to be served at a quality restaurant and are not happy when they have to ask for it or when it arrives late.

20. Gratuity Scam (twice)
Restaurants that add gratuity to the bill without disclosing it. And restaurants that then try to trick you into giving an even larger tip by having a blank line on the credit card slip for even more gratuity, again without disclosing that they already added it into the bill.


QUESTION:  Do you have other grips/pet peeves to add to this list?  Let us hear from you by posting your comments below.  We’d love to hear from you.


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