Five commandments to dining out

Failing to turn up for a restaurant booking, flouting masking rules — try not to be irresponsible or tone deaf in these trying times

Last weekend, chef Prateek Sadhu, co-founder of Masque — the Mumbai restaurant that won the Miele One to Watch Award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant earlier this year — put up an Instagram post calling out diner behaviour that has been angering many of India’s top restaurants for a while now. “Last night, on Saturday, a group of 10 guests failed to turn up after confirming their booking at Masque Lab. Now here’s the thing, we only have 12 seats in the house. Think about the implications of this reckless act,” the post reads.

No-shows are just one of the poor guest behaviours that restaurants the world over have always taken in their stride. It is a risk that you run. Period. However, with the pandemic shuttering so many businesses even as the rest struggle to survive, unthinking lack of etiquette has graver implications for our eating-out culture. Last minute cancellations mean that restaurants already operating at half their capacity are unable to sell the seats they could have otherwise. “If this continues, we may as well shut. There is no way we can survive,” says Sadhu.

Top restaurants are now devising ways in which bookings can be charged, redeemable against what you eat and drink. Till now, this has not been a wide-spread practise in India because most find it cumbersome to build in e-commerce payment links into their reservation systems. “We tried doing it through a reservation platform before the pandemic, but we found the number of bookings dropped. People did not like the idea of paying in advance,” says restaurateur Gauri Devidayal. If you are stepping out to eat out this festive season, be mindful of the new etiquette restaurant dining now demands. Much of it may seem like the obviously sensible things to do, but sense and sensibility are not equally distributed. So, here’s a checklist:

Thou shalt not go MIA

If you have made a reservation, keep it. Restaurants and their staff are struggling, and it is a crushing blow to them if guests decide to not show up. Emergencies happen, but call in advance if you can’t make it. Not wait till they have put the soufflé in the oven!

Indian Accent, Delhi

Thou shalt eat (and not only take selfies)!

Anyone visiting a restaurant is a welcome guest. However, a peculiar problem arises if guests choose to focus more on taking ‘I have arrived’ photos than actually enjoying their meal. Sure, going to a top restaurant is as much about your social media vanity as indulging your palate, but try to order a ‘reasonable’ amount of food, pocket and stomach permitting. “A group of 10 did not even run up a bill of ₹10,000 one evening, but they took 40 pictures,” says a distressed chef of a restaurant where an average meal for two is in the range of ₹4,000-₹5,000. Precisely cooking your meal, plating it up beautifully, with the sommelier recommending a wine, the waiter topping your glass with water every 10 minutes, and the hostess greeting you by name, all have a cost which is met from what you eat. So don’t get that elaborate machinery cranking if all you really want is a picture for the gram!

Thou shalt not abandon masks

Now that Gucci, Fendi and even Nykka are making necessity fashionable, use your mask to make a statement but don’t take it off the moment you hit Goa, currently the destination for vacationers, with most of its restaurants reopening. “People seem to think that the moment they get here, the pandemic has fled,” says a worried hotelier. For those who still don’t know: the protocol is to keep masks on while indoors and take them off only to eat. This ensures the safety of your fellow diners and wait staff, who are exposed to so many people every day. If tempted to be selfish, remember, no one is safe unless everyone is — that’s what the pandemic has taught us!

Thou shalt follow rules

This one is for restaurants and their owners. We know that business is limping back to pre-pandemic normal, but that is only because people are trusting owners to follow safety and hygiene protocols. Please don’t be tempted to cut corners. Hand sanitising, distancing between tables, and employee checks are still musts.

Thou shalt learn to say ‘no’

This is not a life lesson; it is an exhortation to restaurants to find the strength to keep out unruly customers. If diners are irresponsible, showing symptoms, not masking or socially distancing, show them the door. It is akin to a bar’s responsibility to protect, say, women from unruly drunken behaviour. Except, in this case, the implications are even graver.

Anoothi Vishal is a Delhi-based food writer and author.

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