6 things you should never do at a fine dining restaurant, from fighting over the bill to ordering cheap wine – according to a Michelin-starred restaurant manager
Michelin-starred restaurants are a high-pressure environment. Staff work the craziest hours to bring diners multi-course tasting menus with fresh-caught seafood and wines sourced from volcanic vineyards. Even the crisp linen tablecloths are measured with a ruler to make sure each guest’s dining experience is impeccable.
But although the staff would never say it, not every customer is as dreamy as the feather-light soufflé they’re served for dessert. So how can you make sure you’re not memorable for all the wrong reasons when you next go out for a meal?
Matthew Mawtus, the general manager of Michelin-starred restaurant Hide in London, says you can stay in your waiter’s good graces with proper etiquette and just a few smart moves.
Don’t re-seat yourself – ask the manager to move you
Michelin-starred restaurants run like clockwork due to all the planning behind the scenes. When a guest switches tables it might seem like a simple move, but it can actually throw the staff’s workload completely out of sync.
“We divide the restaurant up into sections, with a head waiter for each section,” says Mawtus. “Restaurants sit people at specific tables because they don’t want to fill up one section first and leave the others empty. The team will want to spread out the workload for the waitstaff so they don’t become overloaded and our guests receive an equal amount of attention.”
Don’t fight over the bill
Fighting over the bill may be rooted in generosity, but when you all thrust your credit cards at the waiter, it can send them into a blind panic.
“I have been caught out by this in the past where it becomes my decision to make,” says Mawtus. “It’s like, ‘I don’t really know either of you, I really wish you could sort this out between you.’ I had two ladies insist they each wanted to pay the whole bill – one had a credit card and one was paying with Apple Pay. The one who was paying by Apple Pay won because she got her iPhone closer to the card machine.”
To calm the waiter’s nerves, make the decision on who is going to pay this time or next time before the waiter comes to the table.
Stop ordering the second cheapest bottle of wine on the menu
“Ask for the sommelier. I always do, as they know what they have in their cellar,” says Mawtus. “Also, don’t be ashamed to tell the sommelier your budget.
“When I went to Eleven Madison Park in New York for dinner, the waiter said to our table of four: ‘Things get pretty crazy around here so can you give me a budget to work to?’ It makes it easier for everyone.”
He adds that you should be able to order the cheapest bottle of wine on a Michelin-starred menu and not be disappointed. “I would be ashamed if I ever put a bad wine on the list,” he said. “It’s bad business sense to serve people substandard product. If you do, they are not going to come back.”
Don’t save a complaint for TripAdvisor
If your meal or service was subpar, you don’t need to stew in disappointment until you get home to then share your thoughts online. Mawtus asks that you give restaurants a chance to remedy the situation.
“Ask for the manager who is equipped to change your section, change your dish and remedy the problem,” says Mawtus. “If you raise the issue at the time, it can be resolved, but if you go away and don’t say a word or go on TripAdvisor, they can’t turn back time and fix it.”
Don’t save your dietary requests for the last minute
From gluten to allium allergies, when a chef receives specific requests from a diner, some can be difficult to navigate. The more time you give the restaurant to accommodate your needs, the better.
“We have one lady who likes to come and support us and has a low-salt diet,” said Mawtus. “She emails us a couple of days ahead what she wants to order. We appreciate that as we’ve got time to prepare.”
Don’t forget it’s a time for human connection
One of the few places you’re guaranteed an evening of relaxation and good conversation is at a classy restaurant. Don’t waste the experience: switch off your phone and take the opportunity to spend quality time with the people around you.
“I’ve been to a table where there were four people in their mid-20s all playing Candy Crush Saga while we’re serving their dinner,” says Mawtus. “They’re missing out on an experience that ultimately they’re paying for. That’s just a shame for me.”
- Matthew Mawtus, general manager at Hide restaurant in London, encourages guests to ask the sommelier about complex wine menus and be upfront about your budget
- Highlight your dietary restrictions in advance and, instead of saving your complaints for the internet, see if staff can fix the problem during your meal