The 10 Rudest Things You Can Do in a Restaurant

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Unhappy restaurant-goer.
Antonio Guillem /

We all want our nights out to go as smoothly as possible, and every waiter hopes to get through their shift without problems. Rude behavior can ruin everyone’s night, though.

The public opinion and data firm YouGov recently surveyed 1,000 American adults on how acceptable 40 different restaurant behaviors are: 20 customer behaviors and 20 behaviors from restaurant management or staff. The results demonstrated how, although we’re often on the same page as a society, people can be split on what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t.

Have you unknowingly made these faux pas? Are you and other restaurant-goers on the same page about etiquette? Let’s find out.

Here are the rudest things you can do in a restaurant, according to survey respondents.

10. Flirt with the staff

Waiter gives customer a latte with heart foam art.
Inside Creative House /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 57%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 20%

Male survey respondents were more likely than female respondents to indicate that flirting with dining staff is acceptable (28% versus 18%). There wasn’t a large difference, however, among age groups.

Unfortunately, employment law firm Kessler Matura notes that sexual harassment from customers can be common. The firm writes on its website:

“[S]ometimes customers will really push boundaries in these settings. They might touch a waitress or repeatedly and aggressively flirt with the bartender. But when a customer crosses the line between pleasant conversation and abusive sexual misconduct, employees shouldn’t have to endure it just to avoid causing a controversy.”

9. Stay forever

Couple eating at a restaurant
Monkey Business Images /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 58%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 21%

The dinner/lunch rush is called a rush for a reason — diners are clamoring to get in. Customers who occupy a table for an extended period during busy hours only exacerbate that problem. This behavior negatively affects staff who are trying to keep tables turning and other customers also hoping to get a meal in.

8. Leave the table messy

Crumbs spill over onto messy table.
franz12 /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 60%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 18%

It’s fair to say that no one likes sitting at a crumb-littered, sticky table. Leaving a mess at the table, like spilled drinks or food crumbs, inconveniences the staff and other restaurant patrons. This stance is fairly consistent among different age groups, but considered more acceptable amongst male respondents.

7. Show up late for a reservation

Wait to be seated sign at restaurant
David Tran Photo /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 66%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 17%

Too much traffic, getting stuck late at work, or just losing track of time — it happens. But showing up late, for whatever reason, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a table. YouGov specifically asked respondents about showing up 15 minutes late, which the majority of respondents found unacceptable.

There was a big gap among age groups on this stance. While 76% of people age 65 and older found it unacceptable to arrive 15 minutes late for a reservation, only 46% of those ages 18 to 29 felt the same.

6. Bring your own food and drink

Man eating a burger at a restaurant
Maxim Artemchuk /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 71%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 15%

Restaurants want you to come in for their food. Bringing in outside food or drink likely doesn’t encourage you to spend more. Feelings on this were consistent amongst gender groups, but the 18-to-29-years age group was once again less likely to find it unacceptable than respondents age 65 and older (52% versus 85%).

5. Snap your fingers for service

Restaurant customer waving over to waiter for attention.

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 81%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 8%

Snapping fingers to get a waiter’s attention can feel “as if the customer were calling a dog.” To avoid this faux pas and remain respectful, just wait to make eye contact and give your waiter a small wave.

4. Stay past closing time

Woman holding a margarita
giuseppelombardo /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 83%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 10%

Staying past a restaurant’s closing time is frowned upon fairly equally across all age groups, genders, financial statuses and political stances. No one likes working later than they have to, and in many restaurants, staff can be there for hours after the last customer leaves to ensure clean up and other end-of-day tasks are taken care of.

3. Argue over prices

Unhappy customer argues with waiter over the menu.
Shift Drive /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 84%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 8%

Restaurants have expenses they have to cover like ingredients, utilities and payroll. Prices can sometimes be over the top, but it’s fair to say that generally speaking, restaurants try to price things in a way that will attract customers and still keep the place running.

So while it might be appropriate to debate prices or haggle in some scenarios like flea markets, debating menu prices with restaurant staff is generally frowned upon.

1. Let your kids roam around (tie)

Toddler sitting on the floor of a restaurant.
Anna Kraynova /

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 90%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 5%

Some patrons may just find this behavior frustrating and obnoxious, but allowing children to roam freely around a restaurant can pose a safety issue for the child and for the waitstaff. Waiters are often carrying hot food, glasses and more, and children can be hard to see. An unattended child getting in the way of waitstaff can result in someone getting injured.

1. Refuse to pay for food you ate (tie)

A used, dirty plate.

Number of people who say:

  • This behavior is unacceptable: 90%
  • They’re not sure about this behavior: 6%

If you hated it that much, why did you clean the plate? It’s no wonder that a customer saying they won’t pay for a dish they didn’t like but still ate might be seen as out of line.

Most survey respondents found it perfectly fine to return a dish that was made incorrectly. But finishing it before saying anything is a line most survey respondents don’t think restaurant patrons should cross.

The 12 rudest things restaurants do

Man shocked by restaurant bill
Pressmaster /

Customers aren’t the only people who can rub others the wrong way. More than 50% of survey respondents said it’s rude when restaurants do the following:

  • Not allow adults to order off the children’s menu
  • Charge for refills on non-alcoholic beverages
  • Not allow substitutions or modifications to menu items
  • Use digital menus exclusively, accessible via smartphones
  • Charge to split dishes among multiple guests
  • Use dynamic pricing, in which prices vary based on demand or
  • Automatically include a 20% service charge on the bill
  • Not be willing to split the bill among multiple guests
  • Play music at a high volume
  • Require each guest to spend a minimum amount
  • Not indicate prices next to items on the menu
  • Charge for tap water

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