Dining Etiquette

Oct. 10, 2010 | 1 Comment
Tips on tipping

A tip is a recognition of good service in a restaurant. It is often shared by your server with the kitchen and bus staff. How much should you tip?

» Sit-down dining: 15 to 20 percent; 25 percent for extraordinary service.

» Casual restaurants: No tipping is necessary if you order at the counter, even if the food is delivered to your table. If you receive other service, such as refilling of drinks, a 5 to 10 percent tip is nice.

» At buffets: If your server takes drink orders and checks on you, $1 to $2 per person is appreciated. At fancy buffets a gratuity is often automatically added to the bill, especially for large parties.

» Tip jar: Optional, but if your order is large or complicated, a 5 to 10 percent tip is considerate.

» At the bar: 10 to 15 percent of bar bill.

» If the owner or chef serves you: You should still tip. The cash will probably go to the kitchen and dining room staff.

» And remember: Base your tip on the value of your meal before any discounts such as coupons or gift certificates are applied. If the chef sends out a complimentary dish, take that into account as well.

Source: itipping.com, What’s Cooking America

Vince Balao sets tables at Alan Wong's, an Oahu establishment where reservations are critical. If you plan ahead and are flexible, though, it's not that hard to get a table.

Yes, you can get a reservation

Think you don’t have a shot at scoring a reservation at the hottest new eatery in town? What about claiming the best table at the busiest? Yes, you do, says Amy Finsilver, general manager at XV Beacon Hotel and former chef concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. So how do you do it? Get to know the people at the restaurant you want to visit. If it’s an exclusive restaurant, plan in advance. Many restaurants use OpenTable, the online reservation service at www.opentable.com. Learn how to use it so you can see what’s going on before you make your first call. Finsilver offered these tips:

So there’s wiggle room?

There is flexibility and accommodation. Any restaurant can make room for you, if you can make adjustments for them. If you say, “I’d like to come in on a weeknight,” or “I want to eat around 7 p.m.,” we can look and see what we’ve got on the books.

Maybe you come in at 6:45 p.m. on a busy night. Restaurateurs want your business. If you can be flexible, usually we can accommodate you.

But doesn’t that only work for regular customers?

A regular guest already has a built-in rapport. If you don’t know a restaurant or it’s new, call them up and say, “I’m interested in dining at your restaurant,” and take it from there.

When I worked as a concierge, I always had my staff call ahead and ask the restaurant about when they might have an opening. That would work.

Also, you can just tell them, “I’d like to eat at your restaurant. Call me when you have any openings.” They are going to call because they don’t want to leave a table open. And there are always cancellations.

Some places insist they don’t take reservations. Is there any way around that?

There are restaurants that don’t take reservations, but they will still accommodate you for a special event — an anniversary or a large party — because they don’t want to get slammed any more than they want to lose your business.

Asking in person can help. And being flexible is key. If you call and ask what time you have the best chance, you’re probably going to get an answer that lets you get dinner. You might have to wait at the bar, but at least you know going in.

Sometimes it seems like VIPs get whisked right in while the rest of us are left to cool our heels. Does that happen?

No. It might look like they do, but, of course, they called ahead. When we’ve had heads of state or someone in the public eye where security is an issue, we might have a team that comes in before.

Often we have bodyguards or security or staff concerns, and they might be seated at tables next to them. And even when they don’t eat, they pay for the service and the tables.

Sometimes this frustrates other guests, but they have to know the discussion about that dinner probably started weeks in advance.

What’s the worst time to try to get a reservation?

It’s always hard to get in when a restaurant first opens or after it is reviewed in the newspaper.

Some people want to be at the restaurant right at the beginning. That’s fine, but I always tell people it might be better to head back later when things have settled. I always wait for a few weeks until the new staff gets everything the way they want it.

What about getting the best table?

There’s no such thing as one great table in any restaurant because what’s a great table to you might not be a great table for me.

One person thinks the best table is in the center. Another wants to be off to the side. It’s all perception. Or it changes by occasion.

We’ll get calls where a guy says he wants to propose, and he doesn’t want to be the center of attention, so the best table for him is the one in the corner.

—Boston Globe