That thing you do all the time when you eat out? Maybe you shouldn't. We asked industry vets to pinpoint the most common gaffes they see when they venture into a dining room.
Here are nine helpful pointers from D.C. area restaurateurs, managers and beverage directors. Think of them as your New Year's resolutions for becoming a better diner in 2016.
- Don't stack empty plates. Elizabeth Parker, general manager at Crane & Turtle. After you finish a course, it's best to leave the bussing to the staff at fine-dining restaurants. A tower of plates is "a visual signal to the people in the dining room that the service isn't good," Parker says. Additionally, though well intentioned, handing your waiter your empty plate can be counterproductive. "If I'm trying to stack things in a very safe and nice way, it ends up being not helpful."
- Don't touch your server. Justin Abad, partner at Pop's SeaBar. "It sounds pretty straightforward, but you'd be surprised," Abad says of grabby guests. "Most of the time the intent is, 'I'm excited to put this order in or ask about this,' but there's something about being tugged on the shoulder."
- Don't smell the wine cork. Sebastian Zutant, wine director at The Red Hen. You're better off just taking a sip to detect any tasting notes. "Smelling the cork doesn't tell you anything the wine won't tell you," Zutant says. "Also, it just makes you look silly." Also, Zutant suggests being up-front with your sommelier if you have little-to-no wine IQ. "I would rather someone say 'I have no idea what I'm talking about,' rather than use words they've heard, like 'fruity' and 'earthy.' "
- Don't leave a meal unhappy. Daniel Kramer, managing partner at Duke's Grocery. "If you have a problem or something isn't right, let us know so we can fix it," Kramer says. "We exist for the opportunity to make you happy. Please let us know early and often as opposed to later or never."
- Don't rub wooden chopsticks. Can Yurdagul, co-owner at Sushi Capitol. Disposable chopsticks can splinter when snapped, but avoid rubbing them together to smooth them out: It sends a subtle message. "Your host is supposed to serve you good quality chopsticks," Yurdagul says. And don't be afraid to go outside of your sushi comfort zone! "Guests come in here to try some exciting stuff," Yurdagul says. "Sometimes if a guest comes in and gets a California roll and a spicy tuna roll, we haven't connected on that level."
- Don't add ice to your whiskey. Bill Thomas, owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon. "There's no wrong way to drink whiskey - just drink whiskey," Thomas says. But if your aim is to get the full essence of the spirit, pass on the rocks. "Anything cold makes you numb and shuts down your palate. Ice doesn't allow you to get the full flavor."
- Don't hog seats on a first date. Megan Barnes, partner at Espita Mezcaleria. You may be vibing, but don't use that as an excuse to linger at a table. "People spend 20 minutes talking because they've never met, and then order one drink and sit on it for hours," Barnes says. "Be cognizant."
- Go easy on the soy sauce. Kaz Okochi, owner at Kaz Sushi Bistro. In Japan, the proper sushi etiquette is to dab - not dunk - your roll in soy sauce. "You don't want to overpower the sushi," Okochi says. "Plus, if you dip it too long the sushi rice falls apart."
- Don't play it too safe. Gabriela Febres, co-owner of Arepa Zone. "People walk away all the time," says Febres of people who are unfamiliar with her product, a Venezuelan specialty made of corn meal and often meat and cheese. "But once they stop and we explain, they're hooked." Keep an open mind and you may discover something delicious you normally wouldn't consider.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post