Dining out in pairs or groups often brings up the subject of etiquette. I don't mean just manners, per se-- it's pretty widely accepted that you put your napkin in your lap and keep your elbows off the table--but rather some of the other intricacies that surface throughout a meal. It's a quick way to learn the difference between what you and your dining companion(s) accept as the norm.
When I was 18, for example, I went out to dinner at a Pizzeria Uno (a deep dish pizza chain) with a boy I liked. All was going well, conversation was flowing nicely. We were seated and before I even picked up the menu to decide what I wanted to eat, he said to our server, "We'll have two personal pepperoni pizzas and two cokes." After I recovered from choking on my water, I looked at him with wide eyes and said, "Are you kidding me? You actually thought it would be OK to decide for me what I would be eating?" His response was simply, "Hey, don't worry about it. I'm gonna pay for it!" We never went out again.
Now, I recognize that in some circles, it's considered a chivalrous thing for a man to order for a woman, but my understanding is that these days you have to ask her what she wants first.
Another issue that arises often at the table is tipping. My old roommate and best friend Ryan has been a longtime server in many different kinds of restaurants. Because of this, he is the single-most generous tipper I've ever known. He usually tips everyone upwards of 30%--servers, bartenders, cabbies, hairstylists, etc. While I totally appreciate where he's coming from, I'm more of a 20-25% kind of girl, which still contrasts greatly with my strictly-15% friends. And my father tells a story of a particularly rude waitress who waited on him and some friends in his early twenties. She was so offensive that they decided to leave her nothing but a Tic-Tac.
The differences that arise are not necessarily strictly between the diners either. It can be pretty funny what some servers consider standard. Last weekend, for example, at a half-empty Castro restaurant in San Francisco, my friend and I were asked twice by both the server and the busser if we were done eating within the first 5 minutes of having our breakfasts in front of us. We were then presented the check before we'd finished even half. Nobody was specifically rude, but they seemed to be pretty anxious to get us out of there.
The biggest source of dining awkwardness that I encounter seems to be when a big group goes out for a meal and some of the diners ordered wine, appetizers, entrees and desserts and a handful ordered side salads and ice water. Because going through the check item by item and telling everyone what they owe is, to me, the fastest, most effective way to kill the warm feelings of joviality and togetherness that dining as a group yields, I see two main options: a)the whole check should be divided evenly, regardless of who ordered what or, even better, b)those who ordered more should be mindful of that fact and so contribute enough to cover their portion of the bill without making a big deal about it.
Dining out with friends is probably one of my all-time favorite activities. Good food, great conversation, what's not to like?
Just don't think you can pick out my order for me.