Is It OK to Check My Smart Phone at a Restaurant?

Categories: SF Etiquette
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​Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me at jonathan.kauffman@sfweekly.com.

This week's question comes from from A.U.:
I know it's rude to answer the phone while I'm at dinner, but what about texts or emails on my iPhone? I'm not talking to anyone.
A.U., I think it all depends on the circumstances. For example, if you're eating by yourself at lunch, anything goes, as long as you keep your ringer on vibrate. I often use lunch as a chance to read the newspaper online and respond to emails, and don't begrudge anyone else who does so -- reading a small screen is as intrusive as reading a paperback book.


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Can I Tag on to a Friend's Prix Fixe? and Other Restaurant Questions

Categories: SF Etiquette

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​Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me at jonathan.kauffman@sfweekly.com.

Question: I'm a cheapskate, Kauffman. Is it okay to share a three-course prix fixe dinner with a friend (to both nibble on the appetizer and dessert), and then just order an extra entree for myself?

Answer: Of course! You're there to eat what you want to eat, not to impress the waiter with your solvency or gargantuan appetite. And don't feel the need to apologize to the server for your order. Any waiter who throws shade on your menu choices is basically telling you he'd prefer not to have regular customers.


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How Much Should I Quiz the Waitstaff About My Meal?

Categories: SF Etiquette
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Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me.


We West Coasters have a reputation for a certain kind of persnickitiness when it comes to our menu choices, all of it earned. Who farmed these turnips? we want to know. Can I feel good about eating this scallop? This week, A.G. asks: How much can I quiz the waitstaff?
How much questioning is okay -- encouraged, even -- and how much is too much? Someone's new husband thinks she wants to know too much.
Midwesterners are free to mock us as much as they want. But the fact is, West Coast waiters should be responsible for knowing a certain level of detail about the dishes they're serving. Here's what I think you should expect your waiter to know offhand or quickly find out:

1. The basic ingredients in the dish -- especially the ones with rare or non-English names -- and some idea of what the dish tastes like other than "everything chef makes is fantastic."

2. The broad strokes of how a dish is cooked: roasted, steamed, cooked sous-vide. Waiters at device-happy restaurants should be able to explain less-common techniques involved in the dish, like making herb soils or slow-cooking meat in a Combi-Oven.

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When You Sit and Work in a Cafe, Do You Need to Buy More?

Categories: SF Etiquette
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Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me.

It's not unrare to settle down in a cafe in San Francisco, look around, and realize that every person around you is staring into a laptop with a glowing apple on its lid. (The liberal elite: such conformists!) This week's etiquette question was voiced by L.T.:
How often in an internet cafe should you buy a new coffee/pastry while you use their internet for hours and hours?
L.T., as a restless writer who spends an awful lot of time working in cafes, I feel you. I find writing more productive when I can make faces into my screen and swear to myself in front of an audience that is not my refrigerator.

A few years ago, there was a movement to "reclaim cafe culture" and disconnect the laptop in favor of promoting "conversation" and "community." This high-minded stance is why Ritual (wi-fi: yes) gets so much more of my money than Four Barrel (wi-fi: sneer). Smart cafes acknowledge that their afternoon traffic is heavily bulked up by people like you and me.


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What Do I Do When They Give Me a Fork, Knife, and Chopsticks?

Categories: SF Etiquette
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Fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me

San Francisco diners are expected to become practiced at a variety of eating implements in a seemingly infinite variety of combinations. So I wasn't surprised to get asked this question:
C.R.: So what do I do when I'm in a Chinese restaurant and the waiter brings me chopsticks and a fork and knife?
Well, C.R., a decade ago I would have answered something like "Use the chopsticks, duh, and ask for them if the waiter doesn't bring them to you." But that all changed a few years back, after some friends and I got into an argument at a Thai restaurant.

One person had asked the server for chopsticks, and I mentioned that in Thailand, you'd only use chopsticks for noodles; for curries and stir-fries, you'd use a fork and a spoon (yeah, a little obnoxious, but these were good friends). A third member of our party said, "But why does it matter? It's not like we're in Thailand."

The argument heated up from there, but it changed my entire approach to culturally sensitive utensil use. After all, Chinese restaurants don't do non-chopstick-users a favor by giving them chopsticks and a dinner plate -- rice is far, far easier to eat Chinese style, from a small bowl that you hold up close to your mouth. As I've been eating my way around Chinatown, I've noticed half of the customers -- of all ethnicities -- use forks to demolish their lunchtime rice plates.

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Do I Have to Endure the Wine Opening Rigamarole?

Categories: SF Etiquette
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You don't need to say anything. Just like this lady.
I'm fielding your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. Have one? Email me

The learning curve on ordering wine in restaurants isn't as steep as it appears. And it's not hard to relax on the bottom end of the curve without feeling pressure to climb. Take this week's questions about how to navigate the ritual around pouring wine.

T.W.: When the server shows you the bottle you ordered, what do you say? "Yep, that's it all right," or what?

J.S.: Is it all possible to skip over the thing where they pour a little bit of wine and then I have to taste it and pretend like I know anything and give a curt little nod? It's a bit of theater that always bothers me.

The subtext to both questions seems to be: What do I have to do to avoid looking like a fool? Not much, actually.

In answer to T.W.'s question, all you have to do is nod. You're just confirming to the waiter that the bottle she brought out is the one you ordered -- not just the brand, but the vineyard and vintage as well. You might not have been paying attention to the vintage when you were looking over the menu, but I've been out to dinner with wine pros who immediately called out the restaurant for switching out a 2007 for 2006 without updating the wine list. 

So if you picked a bottle at random but want to pretend you made a careful, intelligent choice, all you have to do is peer closely enough to read the year and then nod. If you're on your third bottle, simply confirm that the wine is, indeed, alcoholic. 


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Etiquette for Today's San Franciscan: Using Groupons and Tipping Mixologists

Categories: SF Etiquette
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Groupon seems to bring out the T. rex diner whose arms are too short to reach his wallet.
Today, we're launching SF Etiquette, a weekly column in which I field your questions about dining out in 21st-century Bay Area restaurants. My somewhat specious qualifications: A) I go out to eat, professionally, somewhere between six and 12 meals a week. B) In my 20s I read every etiquette guide Miss Manners ever published. Hey, they don't teach you about things like dessert spoons and trousseaux in small Mennonite communities.

We lead with two questions, both from actual live humans, not voices in my head I made up because I was too lazy to poll my coworkers and friends before starting this column.

L.S.:  If you buy a Groupon for a restaurant and invite your friends to share the meal, when you're splitting the check, do you still have to pay your part or should the others divide the bill? When I buy the Groupon, I end up paying more than I actually would have, while everyone else benefits. It sucks.

Divvying up a bill after a group dinner is always a fumble unless you own Facebook and are clearly treating everyone around you. In this situation, by rights, everyone at the table who's benefiting from the discount you purchased should count your purchase into their calculations. But you can see how, if you didn't say anything outright, they might treat your Groupon as a group gift.

So I'd recommend cultivating a ringer. Before the dinner, call up your closest friend in the party and explain how you've gotten stuck paying double for a so-called discount. Ask him or her, when the check arrives, to holler out something like, "Hey, L.S. bought that Groupon, so we shouldn't make her pay for the cost of it," and then push if anyone balks. Trust me, no one will balk, unless they're the kind of diner who always gives himself or herself a secret groupon at big outings. Those aren't your real friends. They're people you should just meet for coffee.

If that fails, don't buy any more Groupons.

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