Etiquette for Eating Out

I was recently in a conversation with someone in which I found myself saying, “I have a very social group of friends.” It is funny, but true. I am an outgoing gal and I love going out with my girls and bonding. Whether it’s for lunch, dinner or cocktails after work — we love to kick up our stilettos and have a good time. One of the perks of having a regular group to hang out with is that we never feel awkward when ordering, eating or when the check arrives. I assume we’ve all been in uncomfortable situations when dining out with others. Who pays? Should we ask to split the bill? What if everything is brought on one bill? How much should I tip? Bill anxiety can be a real buzz-kill for an otherwise great experience. My friends and I are all pretty strong businesswomen who don’t have a problem speaking up. When we go out to dinner we generally request separate bills or split the bill evenly amongst us all. Does it work out to an exact science — of course not, but we all agree that it comes out as a wash eventually. Of course there are also times when one of us is feeling particularly generous and decides to pick up the whole tab on a whim. Again — it all evens out eventually. What if you’re not as familiar with your dining companions as I am? How can you alleviate some of the anxiety that goes along with handling the bill, ordering meals, taking home leftovers, how fast or slow you’re eating in comparison to others or the countless other things that may cause you concern? Take a deep breath and keep on reading! Etiquette dictates how we handle these things, but what etiquette doesn’t necessarily tell us how to handle those who we consider to be in our intimate circle. As an example, etiquette says that the person who does the inviting is the person who is responsible for the bill in its entirety. Imagine that rule governing every area of your life — you’d probably spend a lot time waiting on invitations. In your intimate social world it is perfectly acceptable to request separate bills or divide the bill in such a way that it is reasonable for each person. When I dine out with my college girlfriends a few times a year, we simply request individual bills at the beginning of the meal. That makes it clear to our server and us from the very beginning. What about ordering? Etiquette states that the guest always orders first — it is another way for the host to demonstrate admiration to them as the person of honor. If there is no formal host, who pipes up first to order? I believe it is very classy to allow others to order first. It demonstrates that you are a thoughtful person who considers the comfort and feelings of those around you. If you’re not in the habit of deferring to other people, try it out — you’d be amazed in how much higher esteem people hold you when you offer small courtesies to them. The doggie bag can be tricky in business meals and I recommend you refrain from requesting one in most situations. Socially, however, getting something to go is typically acceptable. Just be careful to only request to have your own food packaged up to go home. You never want to presume or make the decision as to what others choose to do with their food — it is theirs, after all. I have been in situations where a dining companion will request to take someone else’s leftovers home. Unless the dining companion is your spouse, partner or child, it is never in good form to lay claim to another person’s remaining food. This may come as a shock to some of you, but I talk … a lot. This means during meals I may find my eating progress a bit slower than that of my dining companions. While etiquette says that you should try to keep pace with one another, it is most important that one person does not hold up the entire meal for all of the other people. Simply put, when those with you are finished eating then you should wrap it up at that time too. I’m a big believer that meals are a time to socialize with others — just remember that it’s called a “lunch hour” for a reason. A sure way to see your invites dwindle is by holding people hostage while picking at your plate and recounting each detail of your sister’s wedding. Life is short — go out and enjoy yourself with those people who make your life more fun and a bit brighter. Eat, laugh, drink and by all means — order dessert!

Tags: Eating out, etiquette


Shelley Davis Mielock

Shelley Davis Mielock is a certified business image coach and the founder of Mieshel Image Consulting, a Lansing-based firm that specializes in image development for individuals and businesses. She is also a co-host of In Her Shoes, a a weekly women’s talk radio show. To ask Shelley an image question, please e-mail her.

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