We all know chefs and servers sometimes make mistakes, but don't forget that diners can too. These mistakes could cost or the restaurant money, annoy other customers, or even turn what should be a fun night out into an embarrassing experience. (Though there are always more embarrassing experiences out there.) Here are 15 mistakes that restaurant customers often make and how to avoid them.
YOU ONLY CHECKED YELP FOR REVIEWS
Crowd-sourced restaurant review sites such as Yelp can be a helpful resource, but you should always read with a grain of salt. A review from someone who was angry about their experience will probably stick in the mind more than the reviews of customers who were satisfied. For a more balanced view, always check the reviews and opinions of local dining critics.
YOU WENT DURING THE BUSIEST HOURS
If you don't want to spend a long time waiting for a table, avoid restaurants' busiest hours at lunch and dinner. Unless you're constrained by work, have lunch at 1 p.m. instead of 11:30 a.m. And if you can be flexible at dinner time, go before 7 p.m. or after 9 p.m. to avoid a packed restaurant. You'll likely get more attentive service during those off hours, and enjoy a more relaxed dining experience.
YOU DIDN'T MAKE A RESERVATION
Even if you don't expect a restaurant to be busy, it always pays to make a reservation when you can, especially with sites such as OpenTable making it easier to make and break dinner plans. Some restaurants use computers to track customers and reservations, so if you visit a spot often, it can't hurt to show you're a regular — you may even get a bit of preferential treatment. And if a restaurant is very popular, you may not even get in for dinner without a reservation. Plan ahead and it will pay off.
YOU DIDN'T GO DURING HAPPY HOUR
If your state allows for happy hour specials — some still don't — make sure you check those specials. Besides discounts and deals on alcoholic drinks, many restaurants offer food at discounted prices. Be sure to find what specific days and times the specials are available, and see if they're good only in the bar area or the whole restaurant, so you're not caught off guard.
YOU DIDN'T CHECK THE MENU OUT FIRST
Most restaurants now post menus online, so there's no reason to be caught off guard by higher-than-expected prices or discover you can't get something you'd enjoy. If a restaurant doesn't have its own website, check for a social media page, such as on Facebook, where it may list a menu.
YOU SHOWED UP WITH FEWER PEOPLE IN YOUR PARTY
So you did a good thing and made a reservation for a party of six, but then some friends cancel and you show up to the restaurant as a party of two. As soon as you know your party size is changing, let the restaurant know. They operate on slim profit margins and are losing out on covers that could have been rebooked if given proper warning.
YOU FAKED A FOOD ALLERGY
Serious food allergies are no joke, and restaurants take them seriously. So if you simply don't like an ingredient listed on the menu, ask your server if the kitchen can make the dish without it, instead of telling your server you have an allergy. Kitchens take huge steps to prevent allergen cross-contamination, so by being honest that it's a preference and not an allergy, you're saving the kitchen extra work and hassle.
YOU MISSED THE ADDED GRATUITY
If you're planning on dining with a group of six or more, research ahead of time to see if the restaurant has a policy on automatically added gratuities. Most restaurants do it to protect servers from when big groups don't tip enough. Be aware of the charge going in, look for it on the bill, and add to it if service was exceptional.
YOU DON'T TIP PROPERLY
Servers depend on tips in many places to get their pay above minimum wage. It's a difficult job that requires you to be on your feet all day and deal with sometimes difficult customers. Leaving no tip at all is the worst thing you can do to a server.
YOU ORDERED FROM THE KIDS MENU
If your friends decide to go to a Mexican restaurant, but you hate anything spicy so you order a hamburger from the kids menu, chances are it's not going to be very good, since it's not their specialty. If you're trepidatious about a menu, ask your server for suggestions. They want you to enjoy the meal just as much as you do.
YOU DIDN'T TRUST THE CHEF
At many high-end restaurants, there's something called a tasting menu: You get a set number of courses, but there are no choices or substitutions — you get what the chef gives you. If you're spending a lot of money on a tasting menu and you've done your research, be prepared to get out of your comfort zone and trust the abilities of the chef. Chances are you'll enjoy your meal.
YOU FORGOT YOUR TABLE MANNERS
Even if you're dining at a family restaurant chain, some basic table manners still apply. Don't talk with your mouth full of food, don't allow your kids to run around other tables, and don't shout. If you're dining at a high-end restaurant, be aware of any dress code so you don't show up and get turned away or feel underdressed for the occasion.z
YOU TOUCHED YOUR SERVER TO GET THEIR ATTENTION
There is no reason to touch your server, even if it's just a pat on the arm. Would you find any reason to touch the cashier at a grocery store? Probably not, so the same rules apply to the service industry. It's just not appropriate and could come off as creepy.
YOU LEFT UNHAPPY WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE
Ask any restaurant manager how they'd prefer to handle complaints, and they'll likely say they should be handled as soon as the problem arises. If there's something wrong with an order, bring it up politely to the server; and if the problem isn't resolved, ask to speak to a manager. Everyone at the restaurant wants you to be happy, so give them a chance to fix the problem before you go home and write an angry Yelp review.
YOU BLABBED ON YOUR CELLPHONE
We've all been near someone in a restaurant who is talking — or worse, video chatting — at their table. Almost always, they're speaking loudly and annoying everyone around them. And if you're on the phone for any amount of time while dining in a group, that's extra rude. Don't be that person. If you need to take or make a call, just excuse yourself politely and step outside.