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15 Things Polite People Don’t Do in Restaurants

Updated: Mar. 15, 2024

You're not actually being that helpful when you reach for the mound of plates the server is holding.

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dinner table overhead

What diners shouldn’t do

Dining out at a restaurant is often a special occasion and a way to “treat yourself,” but that doesn’t mean you can act however you want—far from it. Along with the table etiquette mistakes you need to stop making, here are some all-too-common behaviors that etiquette experts, as well as restaurant workers and patrons, agree actually have no place in restaurants.

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restaurant overview
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Disturbing other diners

No, a restaurant is not a library; of course it’s acceptable to laugh and talk, and plenty of more casual restaurants can even be on the noisy side. But you and your party are not the only ones in the establishment. If you’re all but yelling or being rowdy, you’re not being respectful of other diners. Another behavior that restaurant workers and patrons alike say is all too common is when parents let their children run around the restaurant and bother other diners. There are playgrounds, museums, and backyards for that.

Restaurant patron Antoinette Kuritz remembers one time in particular when she was dining at a La Jolla, California restaurant. “A family of about eight or ten people arrived and were seated at a table in the middle of the room,” she says. “The adults proceeded to converse loudly as the children ran through the room playing tag.” She told RD.com that management was alerted, but did nothing. “Once home, I called the restaurant and told them how good the food was, how great the service was, and why I would neither frequent nor recommend their establishment again,” she remembers.

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server at restaurant
Jacob Lund

Treating your server like they’re “beneath” you

This is widely considered one of the most disrespectful restaurant behaviors possible. There’s considerable research that being rude to your server can instantly make you unappealing on a date. In addition to behaviors like yelling and raising your voice to get your server’s attention, simply your demeanor can come off as condescending to waitstaff. For instance, don’t forget simple courtesies like “please” and “thank you”! In general, as Kalev Rudolph, food and lifestyle writer for insurantly.com, puts it: Just remember that your server is just doing his or her job. “Your waiter is at work, and while they are there to make you feel comfortable and cared for, they are still a professional employee,” he told RD.com. “Just because someone is ‘serving’ you, please try not to forget that the people behind the notepad or refilling a glass are just that: people.” That pretty much sums it up!

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Taking everything out on your server

The rule of “don’t-be-nasty-to-your-server” applies even when your dining experience isn’t going your way. As Rudolph points out, plenty of common restaurant issues aren’t the fault of your server—but they’re the ones who take the brunt of the complaints for it. “Customers often take out frustrations about delays on food or bad restaurant management on servers who have no control over what happens in the kitchen,” he says. “Of course, this does not mean you can’t be frustrated if a server doesn’t check on your table (or downright ignores you). But, if food is taking a while and your server lets you know, please be kind to them.” Learn more secrets your restaurant server isn’t telling you.

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Coffee Shop: Server Picking Up a Cash Tip
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

Asking for something in exchange for a tip

“I’ll give you a good tip if you bring me some extra guac!” Whether this is supposed to be a joke or not, it’s basically bribery and is not appropriate. And it’s not like your server would be allowed to comply! In addition, servers would also prefer that you didn’t say, “We’re in a hurry, can you keep things moving?” or something to that effect. Again—the speed of things is, in most cases, not in the server’s control. Tipping can be confusing, but we have a guide for how much to tip in different situations.

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Party dinner table, celebrating with friends of family served at home or in a restaurant.
Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock

Bringing in outside food

“That to-go cup of coffee you grabbed as you were waiting for your brunch table to be ready? Ditch it before you go in to the restaurant,” says Nick Leighton, etiquette expert for Were You Raised by Wolves. Many restaurants do have signs asking that you not bring in food or drink you got elsewhere, and it’s one rule that polite restaurant patrons follow.

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A business sign that says 'Come in We're Open' on Cafe / Restaurant window.

Arriving right before closing time

Or right before the kitchen closes, or whatever the variation is for your chosen establishment. It’ll certainly make the restaurant staff’s jobs harder, but it really is a lose-lose for you too. You’ll get rushed service and your server will probably be annoyed.

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restaurant menu
Leonardo Izar/Shutterstock

Complaining about the price

It’s the same scenario as when you complain to your server about kitchen errors. The waitstaff does not make the prices. So saying, “That’s a little pricey for [insert menu item here], isn’t it?” is not going to benefit you in any way. It’ll just make you seem annoying.

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Salt and black pepper shakers on a table

Asking for extra seasoning

Not every restaurant meal is going to be to your liking. And while obviously, if your order arrives wrong, it’s more than okay to ask (without being rude) for it to be switched out or fixed, don’t go overboard with asking for tweaks to your meal after the fact. “Salt, pepper, and ketchup [are] acceptable, but don’t go asking for extra cajun seasoning or garlic pepper or cinnamon from the kitchen,” says Enrique Limardo, co-owner and executive chef of Seven Reasons, in Washington, D.C. “You’re insinuating the chef did not do their best.” By the way, these are the restaurant menu items professional chefs say they’d never order.

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“Helping” your server with the plates

This is one of the rude restaurant behaviors that you probably think is actually nice! As James Metcalfe of Marathonbet, who asked his restaurant-owning friend for tips, points out, it’s natural to want to “unburden” your server when you see them coming toward you with arms piled high with food that you’re going to eat and enjoy. But this can throw off their groove, so to speak. “Besides it being quite a confrontational thing, [by] lunging at a server from your seat, you run the risk of upsetting the balance the server has carefully built up on the tray,” he says. Your server has spent plenty of time training to be able to do this. He or she is a pro. So while you do probably think you’re helping, it’s okay to stay in your seat.

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leisure, payment and people concept - happy friends with money and credit card paying bill for food at restaurant
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Belatedly asking for separate checks

Don’t get the check and then say, “Actually, could you split this five ways?” Yes, sometimes servers will plop the check on your table without asking you if you’re ready for it (or having you ask for it). But if you’re planning on asking your server for a fairly complicated check-split, the polite thing to do is to bring it to their attention before they bring over the check. In our world of PayPal and Venmo, dividing monetary totals is easier than ever, so consider your server before you ask for several individual checks. Need to hit the bathroom during your restaurant visit? Make sure you’re also following these rules of public bathroom etiquette.

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friends at dinner

Telling lots of corny jokes

Okay, so to be fair, this is not a “rude” behavior (unless, of course, the jokes are rude in nature). But it’s one that many restaurant servers do say gets on their nerves, according to Restaurant Insider‘s Ryan McSweeney. Of course, it’s not that they lack a sense of humor or can’t “have a little fun.” But they do this all day, every day, and there’s only so many times a person can take hearing some variation on “as you can see, we hated it” while you gesture to a table of empty plates, or middle-aged to older folk pretending to be offended that they’re not getting carded. Again—saying things like this isn’t “rude.” But don’t act like they’ve ruined your day if they don’t burst into hysterics.

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Waitress clearing table

Leaving a giant mess

Yes, having your server clean up your dishes is one of the nicest perks of eating out. But that really shouldn’t mean that all cleanliness bets are off and you devolve into slovenliness. “Yes, you are paying for your meal and for someone to clean up your table—but that doesn’t mean you can’t consider their work and do a tiny bit extra to wipe up that ketchup spill with a napkin,” says Rudolph. Keep in mind, though, that if there’s a big spill, it’s perfectly okay to ask your server to bring some extra napkins and accept their help. But try not to leave a table littered with stickiness or food scraps. Leaving a mess is also one of the rude habits coffee shop employees wish you’d stop.

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Horizontal image of male hand serving plate of delicious vegetarian mixed organic salad in restaurant to young smiling women. Waiter wearing black uniform.

Expecting a multitude of vegan options everywhere

It’s certainly great that many people are choosing to cut down on or completely avoid animal products. And it’s likewise great that many restaurants and food companies are responding to this trend by offering vegan or vegetarian options. But these changes should not lead you to expect that you can get choicy plant-based options anywhere and everywhere. No restaurant has every type of food, and it really comes down to reading the room. If you’re at a restaurant that clearly does not specialize in, or advertise, vegan options, don’t complain to the servers about the ones they do offer.

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food, new nordic cuisine, technology and people concept - women with smartphones having breaded fish fillet with tartar sauce and oven-baked beetroot tomato salad for dinner at restaurant
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Using your phone

We know, we know, we exhibit outdated technophobia, especially in an era when taking pictures of food is almost as much a reason people go to restaurants as eating it. And using your phone isn’t always unacceptable—say you want to show your meal companion a photo of something you’ve been talking about. But, as a general rule, don’t be on your phone when you’re eating at a restaurant. Don’t have it on the table. And definitely don’t keep the noises on. No one wants to hear intermittent chimes all through their meal.

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Top view, Group of people sitting at the wooden table having meal

Reaching over the table for something

Asking your table-mates to “pass the potatoes!” might seem like outdated advice from a 1950s etiquette guide—but it really is good table manners. If something is far enough away from you that you’d have to gracelessly lunge across the table for it, you really should be asking someone to pass it. Even if it’s not that far away, you’re avoiding any potential spills or messes by simply asking for someone to pass it. Read on for more essential etiquette rules to follow while dining at a restaurant.