15 Mistakes You're Making when Going Out to Eat


View as:

man and woman surprised by the expensive restaurant bill
Photo credit: Nicoleta Ionescu/shutterstock

We all know chefs and servers sometimes make mistakes, but don't forget that diners can too. These mistakes could cost you money, cost the restaurant money, annoy other customers, or even turn what should be a fun night out into an embarrassing experience. Here are 15 mistakes that restaurant customers often make and how to avoid them.

Yelp homepage on a ipad monitor screen
Photo credit: aradaphotography/shutterstock

Crowd-sourced restaurant review sites like Yelp can be a helpful resource, but you should always read those reviews with a grain of salt. A review from someone who was angry about their experience will probably stick in your 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.

inside view of pub for drinking and socializing
Photo credit: Bikeworldtravel/shutterstock

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 with your dinner time, go before 7 p.m. or after 9 p.m. to avoid a packed restaurant. You'll likely receive more attentive service during those off-hours, and enjoy a more relaxed dining experience.

elegant restaurant table setting service for reception with reserved card
Photo credit: Rawpixel.com/shutterstock

Even if you don't expect a restaurant to be busy, it always pays to make a reservation when you can, especially with sites like 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 receive a bit of preferential treatment. And if a restaurant is very popular, then you may not even get in for dinner without a reservation. Plan ahead and it will pay off.

five cocktails on the bar counter
Photo credit: Cristi Lucaci/shutterstock

If your state allows for happy hour specials -- as some in the U.S. don't -- make sure you check those specials out before you go. Besides discounts and deals on alcoholic drinks, many restaurants offer food at discounted prices, too. Be sure to find out what specific days and times the specials are available, and check to see if they're only good in the bar area or the whole restaurant so you're not caught off guard.

couple looking at menu seated in outdoor restaurant
Photo credit: Joshua Resnick/shutterstock

Most restaurants now have menus available to view online, so there's no reason to be caught off guard by higher-than-expected prices or sad to discover they don't offer something you'd enjoy. If a restaurant doesn't have its own website, check for a social media page, like Facebook, where they may list their menu.

woman making an order from the waitress menu
Photo credit: Demkat/shutterstock

So you did a good thing and made a reservation for a party of six, but then some friends cancel on you and you only show up to the restaurant with 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 they're losing out on covers that could have been rebooked if given proper warning.

waitress server helping client patron customer with menu order on sunny patio
Photo credit: El Nariz/shutterstock

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.

woman unhappy amount of the check
Photo credit: pashyksvsv/shutterstock

If you're planning on dining with a group of six or more, do research ahead of time to see if the restaurant has a policy on automatically added gratuity. Most restaurants do it to protect their servers from when big groups don't tip enough. Be aware of the charge going in, look for it on the bill, and then add to it if the service was exceptional.

leaving gratuity for server
Photo credit: Sean Locke Photography/shutterstock

Servers depend on tips to elevate their pay above minimum wage in many places. 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.

kids restaurant food on table
Photo credit: dasytnik/shutterstock

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 your meal just as much as you do.

crazy mad chef cook threatening with frying pan on the kitchen
Photo credit: Dean Drobot/shutterstock

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, then be prepared to get out of your comfort zone and trust the abilities of the chef. Chances are you'll enjoy your meal.

boy is laughing loudly in cafe
Photo credit: Petrovich Nataliya/shutterstock

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.

customer complaining about the food in a restaurant
Photo credit: Kamil Macniak/shutterstock

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.

hungry and angry female person at restaurant holding fork and knife
Photo credit: AlikeYou/shutterstock

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 your order, bring it up politely to your server, and if the problem isn't resolved, ask to speak to the 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.

bothered business person covering ears while person talks
Photo credit: CREATISTA/shutterstock

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 you're dining in a group, that's extra rude. Don't be that person. If you need to take or make a call, just politely excuse yourself and step outside.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.