Friday, February 1, 2008

Restaurant and Cafe etiquette

Many people have little to no idea about how to behave properly in cafes or restaurants, and often their behaviour creates an unpleasant environment for the people they're with, other patrons, and the employees.

Behaviour in general

You are in someone else's workplace. Think about your own job, and how dealing with rude patrons/customers/members of the general public affects you. Treat the staff the way you would like to be treated at your place of employment. Smile at them, and engage in small-talk. Don't unload your problems on them, they don't get paid enough to be your psychologist.

If the cafe or restaurant is close to you, and you plan on becoming a regular there, it is worth your while to put in extra effort to be nice to the staff. If you go out of your way to be pleasant and easy to deal with, not only will you have the satisfaction of knowing you've made another human being's life less miserable, you will also reap the benefits of being a valued regular. This relationship takes a while to build up, but it's definitely worth it.

Remember that waiters and baristas aren't paid very highly, and that their job requires them to be on their feet all day.

You should never, ever expect to take less than half an hour for a coffee and cake (from start to finish, not just waiting to order), and no less than 45 minutes for basic cafe food, and no less than an hour in a restaurant. If you don't have the time, don't order. Obviously, some places are much faster than this, but you won't know that unless you've been there a few times before. Err on the side of caution, rather than ordering a large meal on your 15 minute break and getting angry at the waiter when it's not there in time.

Likewise, use a friendly tone of voice when talking to your waiter. A waiter is not your indentured servant. It's true that he or she should behave in a polite manner, but this is a two-way street. The customer is not infallible. If you're in there, ordering a coffee and a sandwich, don't act as though you should be treated like you're staying in the penthouse at the Hilton. Always say "please" and "thank you", like your parents taught you.

Don't make assumptions or judgements about your waiters. Don't feel superior to them simply because they work in a cafe or restaurant. In Sydney, a great many people working in cafes or restaurants are university students. Maybe your barista is completing a PhD. Aside from the fact that it's totally inappropriate to make judgements about someone's worthiness due to their job, for many baristas and waiters this job will not be their career, but something to pay the bills between acting gigs, or to top up their Youth Allowance. You don't know what your young waiter will achieve in his or her life, so don't act as though you are superior to them. Never, ever, openly put them down because they work in a cafe.

Realise that the waiter or barista has little control over many things at their place of work. The number of toilets, menu changes, prices etc are all things that are not the fault of the waiter, so don't complain to them. There's nothing they can do about it.

The always-entertaining Graveyard Barista has written about bad cafe behaviour from the perspective of a waiter. Here are his top ten pet hates, Part One and Part Two.

Being seated

If you are in an establishment where a waiter will seat you, there will generally be a sign at the front. It is incredibly rude to seat yourself if this is the case. Otherwise, find a table for yourself, but please make sure you take a table with an appropriate number of seats for your party. It's impolite for two people to take up a table which could seat six, unless there's really no other option.

Getting the waiter's attention

Sometimes this can take a while, especially if the cafe or restaurant is very busy. Appropriate methods of getting a waiter's attention include sitting up straight and trying to make eye contact, inclining one's head, smiling, or saying "excuse me" in a friendly tone if they're right next to you (but not if they're in the middle of taking another table's order). The last one should really only happen if you've been waiting for a while. Don't make a big deal about how long you've been waiting - they're probably already aware and if the place is understaffed, or if it's a busy time, there's not much they can do. Be reasonable.

Don't ever call over a waiter from across the room, click your fingers or tap your glass with your fork. This sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable.

Sending back an incorrect order or bad food

If your order is incorrect, or worse, there's someone actually wrong with the food, feel free to send it back. The waiters will not be angry at you for wanting to eat what you ordered. I feel it's best to check with the waiter that your order is correct when you're ordering, but make sure you do this politely. Saying "Can you read back the order to me so I can make sure I haven't forgotten to order anything" is a lot better than "Read that back so I know you haven't made any mistakes". After all, mistakes in ordering can come from both sides, and it's easier to check this before the food is made, rather than afterwards.

However, if a mistake is made, or the food is bad, there is never any cause to make a scene. Give them the benefit of the doubt - things go wrong in all workplaces, especially when everyone's busy. Get the attention of the waiter and quietly explain the problem to them. If you've just gotten the wrong order, don't start eating it - it may be for another table. Don't scream or threaten anyone, it's not all a big conspiracy on behalf of the waiters to make your dining experience less enjoyable. You can get the problem fixed without being a bad customer.

Behaviour towards other customers

Remember that you're not the only customer in the place (unless you are, of course). Don't discuss other patrons, or if you must, be quiet and discreet. Avoid talking to other patrons at a restaurant. In a cafe, this is slightly relaxed, but use your common sense to work out when it's appropriate to say something and when it isn't. Don't try to strike up conversations with other people. Merely commenting that you love their hat, or that their baby is adorable, is completely fine, but it's inappropriate to try to make a new friend. This might be the only time they get to themselves all day.

Avoid hitting on people, unless you've been making flirty eye-contact for a while.


Tipping, in Australia, is a complicated business because there's no set amount for anything. We're only just developing a tipping culture, and many people have mixed feelings about it.

Tipping depends on your experience. If the waiter or barista does their job, serves you in a timely fashion, is polite and the food is good, it's appropriate to tip. 10% is a good standard to work from. If you've recieved any kind of special treatment, for example they've kept the kitchen open a bit longer for you, tip a bit extra. If you're a regular, tip well, it will definitely come back to you. I make a habit of tipping quite well whenever I'm flush with cash at my local cafe, and I always receive excellent service and occasionally, fun extras such as a free slice of cake. Don't expect this kind of thing, just appreciate it when it comes to you.

Tipping recognises that the waiters themselves work extremely hard. It is an extremely tough job, and it's often paid quite poorly. By tipping someone, you are acknowledging that they are a person, and that they do a good job. It's a way of thanking them directly.

Of course, if you've received poor service, don't feel obliged to tip. If you're really broke, give something, maybe 20c if you've bought a coffee, but just enough so it's clear you appreciate the effort.

Above all, just remember that your waiter or barista is a human being, not a slave. Be understanding and forgiving of small mistakes. You are not the Queen of Sheba, especially not if you're just getting a $3 latte at your local cafe.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lifts - Giving & Getting

Public transport is a wonderful thing, easy on the environment and easy on the wallet, but let's be honest, in Australia, even in the major cities, it can't get you everywhere, and that's when the trusty car comes into play. Of course, in any group of friends, especially people in their 20s, there will be some lucky folk with cars, and some without. This means that at some point, you will either have to give someone a lift, or get a lift yourself.

Giving Lifts

If you are lucky enough to have a car of your own, the world is your oyster. In particular, the plans of when you arrive and leave various events are yours to decide.

Be upfront with people that you're giving a lift to. Tell them what time you'd like them to be ready, and if you're running late, ring them and tell them the new time. Don't make a big deal about how fantastic you are for giving them a lift. Tell them the time you plan to leave the party, as well, and give them some notice before that time on the night. Telling people you want to leave in about half an hour gives them time to get their affairs in order, as it were.

Getting Lifts

It's important to be able to ask for a lift without putting the driver on the spot. It's generally best to organise a lift to and from an event as soon you can. Waiting until the driver is almost out the door is extremely bad form. Never assume you can get a lift. Even if you live next door to your best friend and they've got a car, you should still always check. Don't go to the party assuming you can magically score a lift back from some random person.

Don't ask for lifts from people whom you otherwise don't like. It's poor form, and makes you a user. Don't be that person who only ever contacts someone when they want to be driven somewhere, it's disrespectful and a bit cruel. Other people don't exist merely to do your bidding.

Avoid being passive-aggressive. When asking for a favour, always be direct and polite. Ask for what you want, but make it clear that it's fine if your friend can't grant the favour. Don't put people on the spot, or make them feel as though they have to offer you a lift. It's rude, and it will make them resent you. If they're unable to give you a lift for whatever reason, and you make them feel as though they have to give you a lift, they will feel awkward and uncomfortable. Being direct (but polite!) means they can turn you down without feeling too bad, if they have to.

Here is a correct way to ask for a lift:

"If you're planning to drive to Heather's party, would I please be able to get a lift with you, there and on the way back? It's fine if you can't, though."

The following method is incorrect.

"So... it's a really long way to Heather's party, isn't it? It's going to be really hard getting there by public transport."

If the person you ask is unable to give you a lift, be gracious. Make sure they know it's not a big crisis. If they're not planning to even attend the event, don't try to make them go just so you can get a lift.

If you're lucky enough to score a lift somewhere, there are certain things you should do.
  • Firstly, let the driver decide what time they will pick you up, and make sure you're ready to go at the agreed time. If the driver is late, don't complain.
  • Likewise, the driver should decide when to leave. If the driver is feeling ill, or tired, or has work the next morning, be happy to go at that time. You can check what time they're planning to leave before you get to the party, so that if their preferred leaving time is completely incompatible with yours, you can organise another way home if necessary.
  • Don't ever make your lift wait around for hours while you flirt with that boy you really, really want to sleep with, unless you've discussed it with your lift beforehand and he or she is fine with waiting a bit longer in aid of your romantic pursuits.
  • Don't get excessively drunk, to the point where your lift has to leave early to take you home, or to the point where you throw up in their car or have to be carried out of it. If you throw up in someone's car, you'll probably never get a lift from them again, and your other friends may be wary of driving you anywhere, too.
  • Never offer a lift to a third party on behalf of the driver without checking with them first. Ever. You can ask the driver for a lift for yourself and others, but it's extremely rude to show up with a friend who hasn't been okayed by the driver, even if it's someone you're trying to sleep with.
  • Remember to thank the driver, when they pick you up and when they drop you off. They're your friend, not a taxi driver.
  • Give the driver clear instructions about where your house is.
  • Never, ever, criticise the car or the driver, unless they're driving in a way that makes you feel extremely unsafe (as in, they're driving over the speedlimit, or running red lights). Avoid being a backseat driver as much as you can.
  • Never feel compelled to get in a car with a driver who is under the influence of any substances.


The partner or love interest of the driver gets automatic shotgun. Don't quibble about this. Aside from that, the rules are pretty relaxed. If the car is very full, it's poor form for extremely skinny people to call shotgun. The smallest people should go in the back, so it's not too uncomfortable there. However, don't say "Well, Jane, you're a prizewinning heifer, you ride upfront." That's not good etiquette. Rather, if you're slim, just say you're happier in the back. Unless you're the partner of the driver, of course. However, injured or pregnant people should probably be given shotgun, even over the partner.

Petrol Money

Unless you're a completely broke student, I find it's impolite to always ask for petrol money. If you're driving someone to Katoomba, asking them to pitch in $5 or $10 is fine, but if you're driving them from Glebe to Stanmore, and it's on your way anyway, it's better to be a bit gracious. After all, friendships tend to even out in different ways. If you are asking for petrol money, it's best to organise it when the lift is organised, rather than getting to your destination and holding out your hand.

However, if you're the one getting the lift, you should always offer petrol money, certainly the first time you get a lift with someone. If they refuse, offer to either pay the toll, if it's a toll road, or at least to buy them a coffee next time you're together. If you live nearby close friends who are happy to give you lifts, obviously you don't have to do that every time, and continuously offering petrol money may offend them. Just try to grant them favours when they ask, if it's in your power.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


RSVP stands for Répondez s'il-vous-plaît, or, in English, "please respond". This is the method of responding to an invitation.

Weddings and Other Formal Occasions

Weddings and other formal occasions have the strictest rules and standards for RSVPs. Most of the time, half the work is done for you, and you will receive a small RSVP card with the invitation, with boxes to tick about if you are attending, how many people on the invitation will be coming, and whether you have any specific dietary requirements. However, this may not always be the case.

How To Write an RSVP for a formal event

If the RSVP simply gives an address or email to respond to, you will have to write a brief letter. The level of formality varies depending on whom the RSVP is addressed to. Here are some examples.

1. An RSVP to a host you are on close terms with, such as a friend or relative.

Dear Jane and Matthew,

Thank you so much for inviting us to celebrate your wedding. We will definitely be attending the ceremony and reception. Andrew is vegetarian, and Robert does not have any particular dietary requirements.

We can't wait, it'll be fantastic.


Andrew and Robert.


Dear Jane and Matthew,

Congratulations on the wedding! We're terribly sorry to say that we won't be able to make it, due to being overseas/having a work event/attending another wedding that day. Good luck, though, we're sure the day will be perfect. We would love to catch up with you at some point after the wedding.

Love, Andrew and Robert.

2. An RSVP to a host you are not as familiar with, such as the parents of the bride or groom.

Dear Mrs Johnson,

Thank you very much for your kind invitation to Jane and Matthew's wedding. Both of us will be attending the ceremony and reception. Andrew is vegetarian, and Robert does not have any particular dietary requirements.

We are looking forward to attending this wedding.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Smith and Robert Wilson.


Dear Mrs Johnson,

Thank you very much for your kind invitation to Jane and Matthew's wedding. Unfortunately, we are unable to attend the wedding due to a prior engagement. Please give the bride and groom our apologies, as well as our congratulations on their wedding.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Smith and Robert Wilson.

Things to remember
  • Always respond by the requested date. If you are mailing the invitation, look at the address and then go to the Australia Post website and determine the number of days your response will take to arrive. The RSVP date is the date your response should arrive, not the date you should send it. RSVP as soon as you are able, rather than leaving it to the last minute. This gives you time to make changes, if necessary.
  • It is your job to inform the host of any special dietary requirements. If the RSVP does not ask specifically for them, or does not mention your particular requirement, it is still your duty to inform the host if you need vegetarian/vegan/kosher/halal/lactose intolerant/glucose intolerant etc food.
  • If the invitation does not specifically say "and guest" or "plus one", do not assume you can bring a date. Although it is the norm in America to bring a date to weddings, this is not necessarily the case in Australia. If the invitation does not ask you to bring a guest, but you are in a relationship that the hosts may not be aware of, it is acceptable to contact the hosts before the RSVP date to enquire if you may bring your partner, however please do not be offended if there is no space. Weddings are extremely expensive.
  • If the invitation is for multiple people, some of whom cannot come, it is important to specify which guests are attending and which ones are not.
  • Specifically for weddings, engagement parties and baby showers, it is considered polite to send a gift even if you are not attending, and especially if you are.
  • It is not acceptable to leave early or arrive late to formal events, unless there is an unforeseen emergency.
  • If it is a family event, you are required to attend, especially if it is for a family member you see at least once a year (for Christmas etc). Being out of the country or in hospital are some of the only excuses for not being able to attend the wedding or engagement of a close family member.
Parties and Informal Occasions

Informal occasions will very rarely require written RSVPs, but will often ask for RSVP by phone or email. There may be a RSVP date, but this is less common. Still, once again it is polite to inform the hosts as soon as you can about your availability.

How To Write an RSVP for an informal event.

Hi, Robert and Andrew,
I'm definitely coming to the party. Thank you for inviting me! Is there anything I should bring? Can I help out with anything beforehand?

See you then,


Hi, Robert and Andrew,
I'm really sorry but I can't make it due to (family commitments) (work) (essay). I hope you have a fantastic time, though, and thanks for inviting me. Hopefully we can catch up soon.

Talk soon,

Here are some very incorrect RSVPs.

Yeah, I might come, if I've got nothing better to do.


No, I'm not going, it sounds like it will suck, anyway.

There is never any cause to be impolite in response to an invitation. If you are not on particularly good terms with the host, a brief email saying you can't make it is appropriate.

Things to remember
  • It is much more acceptable to ask to bring a date or guest to an informal party. Do not feel uncomfortable about asking, especially if it's a house party. If it's a small dinner party, only ask for a guest if the guest is your partner, or a friend from out of town staying with you that night.
  • If you have to arrive very late (more than two hours) or leave early, it is polite to notify the hosts in advance.
  • Do not feel obliged to attend, especially if you do not know the hosts that well.
  • If you have to cancel at the last minute, it is polite to contact the hosts and apologise, rather than just not showing up.
Facebook Invitations

Facebook makes it extremely easy to RSVP to events, with their "attending/maybe attending/not attending" function. However, no matter what you select, it is polite to write a brief note on the event wall. Generally people only post to the wall if they can't make it, and it's a little dispiriting for a host to have a big stack of posts saying "Sorry, I can't make it." even if there's a large number of people attending. A quick "I'll be there! Should I bring anything?" will make the host happy.

Things to remember
  • The event page will give information about whether it is okay to invite other people. Please stick by these guidelines.
A final note

If you are not invited to an event, it is not acceptable to gatecrash, or to ask the hosts why you have not been invited. Perhaps there is an issue with numbers (this is particularly important for formal events). Perhaps the event has a small mix of people carefully chosen by the hosts, and you might not fit in. Perhaps the main point of the party is something you might not enjoy, for example, an election night party where everyone is a member of the Greens, and you vote Liberal. If you are very close to the hosts, and it is an informal party, they will generally contact you to explain, however, you should not automatically be offended at not receiving an invitation. The hosts are not obliged to invite anyone they don't want to.

Welcome to Chastity St James' Guide to Modern Etiquette

We no longer live in an age where one's social status can be measured by how one holds one's teacup. Many formal rules of etiquette, especially ones involving gloves, no longer apply to the modern young man or woman. However, there are still many social mores and rules of etiquette that one is expected to follow.

The etiquette and rules outlined in this blog are distinctly for an Australian audience. We live in a country where there are many standards of expected behaviour, but very little information given about these standards.

This blog will not merely answer such mysteries as what, exactly, a fish knife looks like, but will also give information about correct etiquette and proceedure for parties of all levels of formality, how to behave correctly in a cafe or restaurant, how to write a formal letter, and even how to conduct oneself in a job interview.

Happy reading!


Chastity St. James