RESTAURANT ETIQUETTE, PART TWO: BY POPULAR DEMAND

My recent post concerning restaurant etiquette in France caused a bit of a buzz on various social media platforms. Lots of folks pointed out that most of the rules that I had proposed were simply grounded in common sense. Others replied that common sense isn't as common as it used to be. Some readers expressed disappointment that I hadn't discussed appropriate dress or the proper use of utensils or the correct way to taste wine. Rather than deprive my readers of my thoughts on these matters, freely given and worth every penny, here's Part Two.

PROPER ATTIRE: You're not going to wear that, are you?
A rule of thumb might be: The higher the expected tab, the more conservative the clothing.

Denim jeans are ubiquitous in France, on guys and gals alike. And ladies, the more bling the better. Ripped jeans are still a thing. God knows why, but She isn't telling. Don't. Just don't.

Shorts? Fine for lunch at that beach cabana. Long pants for dinner, please. Yoga pants? If you don't plan on doing the Downward-Facing Dog during dinner, don't wear the gear for it. That NY Yankee baseball cap? Ditch it before you step inside. Why the hell do so many French people wear those things, anyway? I'm a (Brooklyn) Dodger fan, myself.

Use common sense. There's that phrase again. Common Sense. If Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers) and Jeanne Phillips (Abigail 'Dear Abby' Van Buren) could make careers out of dispensing common sense, why not Ira (Ira)?

WHEN THE WINE ARRIVES: Don't pretend that you know what you're doing. You probably don't.
We usually order the house wine en pichet (in a pitcher) when it's available. But some restaurants only serve bottled wine and sometimes you want to try something special.

Unless you spot a wine that you know and particularly like on the list, ask the waiter for a suggestion. You'd like a light, fruity rosé for the start, a full-bodied red for the boeuf bourguignon? Ask. Limited budget? Add the words pas trop cher. Rather than being laughed at for trying to be the expert that you are not, you may get extra attention for being willing to place yourself in your server's hands.

When the server opens the wine and pours you a sip, you are being given the opportunity to discover if the wine is corked. Just that. A small percentage of wines with natural corks can be tainted by a chemical called TCA. Screw-top wines and wines with artificial corks cannot be tainted in that way, but you'll probably be given the opportunity to take a taste anyway. After the server pours, smell the wine and take a sip. No dramatics. Just sniff and sip. If the wine smells like your dog smells when he comes in from the rain, if it tastes flat and perhaps a bit astringent (overly acidic or bitter), the wine is corked. Not drinkable. You may return it for a replacement. 

Just about the only reason to return a bottle after first taste is if it's corked. Sweeter than you expected? Drier than you expected? That's on you. Not a sufficient reason to return.

Swirling the wine in the glass to test its 'legs' or holding the glass up to the light to see color or spending an inordinate amount of time with your nose in the glass before that first sip? You ain't Jancis Robinson. Don't pretend to be. Take the sip, nod your head, and let your server get on with it. If you feel the need to impress your table mates, do your little dance after everyone's glass has been poured.

TABLE MANNERS: Don't eat peas with your knife just about covers it.   
The best restaurants make certain that everyone at the table receives their courses at the same time. Otherwise, the rules on when you may start eating are simple, keeping in mind that it's always polite to wait until everyone is served. 
1.) If your food is served cold, as a green salad, it's proper to wait until all are served. 
2.) If your food is served warm, it is acceptable to begin immediately. A courteous table mate still waiting for service will quickly give permission. 
3.) When dining with the Queen, wait for her to begin regardless.

Europeans tend to bring food to their mouths with the tines of the fork facing down. Americans tend to eat with the tines facing up. Both methods do the job. Both methods can be abused. If the rest of the folks in the restaurant are concerned about the direction that your tines are pointing, that's their problem, not yours. Just don't slurp or burp (loudly) or chew with your mouth open or talk too loudly or laugh until the wine comes pouring out of your nose. 

TURN OFF YOUR PHONE.

And don't eat peas with your knife.

TURN OFF YOUR PHONE: Do I really have to say that? 
A reminder. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE.

THE TAB: Have the discussion sooner rather than later.
If you want separate tabs, ask for separate tabs. If you don't, decide beforehand how you will deal with the money. Will you split the bill in equal portions? Will you attempt to decipher who ordered the dry-aged Black Angus rib and who just had the mixed salad and how much was due from each? Whatever you decide, be quick about it. The meal is over. The longer you take to decide who owes what, the more likely you are to be driving home in tense silence. 

Having gone over the bill, it's alright to ask questions. Quietly and politely. I recently pointed out that our tab didn't include our carafe of wine. Really. I did. The server thought for a minute, then smiled and, walking away, simply said, "Offert." My good deed for the day and her's too. She'll remember me.

THAT'S IT: Questions will be answered in Comments.









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