Jos_Stacey (copy)

Stacey Mollus

I was out to dinner the other night with the hubby. Upon our arrival, I noticed an old friend and his wife deeply involved in their dining experience. As the waitress led us to our table, questions began filling my mind. “Should I say hello, or just walk past them and not interrupt?” “Will that appear rude?” “What if they ask us to join them?” “What if the waitress sits us at the table right beside them, forcing a conversation when all they wanted was a quiet date night?”

The waitress took a turn, taking us in the opposite direction of our friends.

Problem solved? Nope. Using the formula “level of friendship + occupancy of the restaurant = greeting obligation,” I knew I needed to go say hello because they were good friends and the place was sparsely populated.

I peeled away from the waitress and made my own path to the table where my friends were enjoying their meatloaf. At that moment, I wondered if a nod and farmer’s wave would have sufficed. I greeted them with a joke about getting refills on their drinks then did most of the talking so as not to interrupt their chewing. Before they were faced with the decision of inviting me to sit, I gave them an air kiss and left them wanting more.

Finding my hubby, who is used to me wandering off, I sat down and asked him what he would have done in that scenario. He said, “Sit down and enjoy my meal.”

I told him that could appear rude, then began explaining to him the etiquette in this type of situation.

“Let’s begin with the initial recognition. You must decide if the relationship is close enough to require running the gauntlet of 10 tables and two waitresses carrying trays full of food. If they are family or close buddies, it is mandatory to head their way with great care. But if they are “barely” friends, you’re permitted to duck your head and proceed to your table where you should use the “large menu as a hideout” method of disguise. Please note, if one of us chooses this technique, we are both required to participate, as facial recognition could completely blow our cover and cause great embarrassment.

Next, it doesn’t matter how close you are or what level your hunger is, you are not allowed to eat or drink from the table you are visiting. This is a challenge if your blood sugar is low and chips and salsa are sitting on the table. Still, you are not allowed to reach over your friends and use their order as your appetizer. Their food is their food.

Another rule is hugs and handshakes are not welcome. The eater has more than likely already washed for dinner, and your handshake may cause them to have to eat their taco with a fork because they are unsure of the germiness of your pre-meal contact.

Also, you should refuse any invite at the table of someone you have walked up to. Reason? If they wanted you to go to dinner with them, they would have called you earlier and invited you, not be forced to be polite and ask you now that you are staring them in their chewing faces. A polite excuse to wait for your own table is the right thing to do unless the maître d’ has told you there is a wait of 30 minutes or longer. If that is the case, you are not being rude to move their purse over and take a seat at their table, because you are just making the best use of space. In this case, you are required to overlook any food particles in their teeth, forgive any food spills on their shirts and belching does not require an “excuse me” because you are not an invited guest. You are a suppertime squatter. That removes any power you have to monitor manners because of your own breach of etiquette.

As far as communication with their waitress ...”

My speech was interrupted when I saw an old high school buddy walk through the door. I ran across the place, threw my arms around her neck, then invited her to join us. As I walked back to the table, my husband was slowly shaking his head. I heard him softly say, “It would have been so much easier to go to a drive-thru.”