Life is just a series of awkward social scenarios separated by nighttime and loneliness. Okay, that may be a bit harsh, but stressful questions of social norms do seem to confront us at every turn. The notion is the entire basis for Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and a million other movies and TV shows. And these incidents often arise at restaurants, when we’re sitting in public, among friends, family and strangers, wondering: How do I behave?

Splitting the bill

Like everything on this list, how you split the bill at a restaurant depends on your company. If you’re splitting a bill among four friends, let’s say, then you have a few options:

  • Split it right down the middle. This only works if the split is even, and each person spent a comparable amount on appetizers, drinks and mains. Don’t be the person who got a steak, two beers and chocolate cake when everyone else only had spring rolls and water and you suggest splitting the bill evenly. Everyone will hate you.
  • Have everyone pay for what they ordered. Easy.
  • Split the food down the middle and have people pay for the drinks they drank.

My take on paying in group scenarios is that if you have a strong opinion about not wanting to split the bill evenly, make sure to ask for separate bills up front. If it’s too late for that, pick up the bill as soon as it arrives and calculate what you owe and say that’s how much you are paying—don’t wait for someone else to decide the approach.

Last thought: bring cash. Then you can easily and honestly say you have enough cash to pay for what you ordered and nothing more. In general, be honest, and be decisive. Don’t dither and complain about it later. That’s bad etiquette.

Dress

Obviously this depends on where you are eating. If you’re wondering if you are dressed up enough, it might mean you’re not. Most mid-level and upscale places, at least where I live, are fairly casual. But I work from home, so I treat restaurant dinners as an opportunity to break out my nice shoes that I rarely get to wear otherwise. In fact, your choice of footwear can be a good pace-setting for your entire ensemble. Running shoes or sneakers (though not really nice ones) may downgrade an outfit, even if you’re nicely attired otherwise, so try to match your shoes to the prices of the restaurant, in addition to the overall vibe. Twenty-five-dollar plates might suggest better than running shoes and casual sports attire. But if you’re rocking fashionable athletic-tech, maybe you can pull it off. Who am I to judge? You do you. You look great.

But no hats indoors!

Dad jokes

Totally okay. But if you have teenage kids, beware of violent eye-rolling.

Tipping

Yes, you need to tip. 15 percent is a good starting point. If the service was awful, consider going closer to 10. If it was great, think about 20.

Cell phones or other devices

I’m going against the grain on this one. Having your cell phone out at a restaurant is not always a big deal. It really depends on the restaurant and your tablemates. If it’s a casual dinner among friends with loose chatter and stories, then having your cell phone out isn’t a big deal. Heck, you might want to Google something someone says to see if they’re full of BS, or show off a pic of your cat. But if it’s almost any other occasion—a romantic dinner, a rare family outing, a special event of any kind—common courtesy suggests you keep your phone out of sight, so that the conversation and camaraderie can have your full attention.

What are your restaurant etiquette dos and don’ts? Let us know in the comments section below!

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