Industry Standard: Okay or Not?

Savvy restaurant patrons have heard of the practice of bringing your own bottle of wine to a restaurant and paying a “corkage” fee to have it poured and served for you and your guests. But some folks take things a hair too far in this area. Let’s play a game about dining out. A game I like to call “Okay or Not?”

Scenario #1: A guy comes to lunch at a restaurant with two or three other people, but while his friends are ordering from the menu he proceeds to unpack his own lunch out of a bag that he’s brought from home. Healthful stuff: raw vegetables and dip, etc. The server smiles and asks him if he’s on a diet. “No, I’m on a budget,” he says pleasantly. He orders water (which is refilled more than once by the server) and asks for a plate to eat his lunch on. He uses the silverware she provides. He is perfectly polite during the meal. The server is perfectly polite right back. He doesn’t tip. Okay or Not?

Decision: Not Okay. He used up valuable real estate, the server’s time, the dishwasher’s time, and the chef’s lemon budget. I’ll cut him a sliver of slack for bringing along paying friends, but it doesn’t make up for his poor restaurant manners. Packing a lunch? Please eat it at your desk or in a park or in your car or in the company break room. Do not bring it to a restaurant.

Scenario #2: A lady comes in to lunch alone. She orders a salad and tells the server she doesn’t want any dressing. She pulls from her purse a plastic container with dressing she mixed up at home, and applies it to the salad. She pays and tips like anyone would when eating at a restaurant. Okay or Not?

Decision: That’s actually fine! There is a teensy bit of a grey area where – if you should inadvertently give yourself the squirts because you left that dressing out on your counter at home for three days and in your purse for two days and then post on Yelp that the restaurant gave you food poisoning – things could go sideways. But otherwise it’s completely okay, and thanks for saving us the $.39 worth of dressing we didn’t serve you.

Scenario #3: You and your husband bring your adorable toddler to a restaurant to dine out. You also bring a McDonald’s bag full of cooling Chicken McNuggets and a half-melted, half-consumed strawberry shake. Okay or Not?

Decision: This is a terrible sin. Most restaurants, except for the extremely high-end tasting menu type, will make a meal palatable to your child — such as butter noodles or a grilled cheese sandwich even if (pay close attention to this part!) there’s no visible children’s menu. We do it all the time. We’re even smart enough to jam that kid’s food to the front of the ticket rail and bring it to the table before your own food is even close to ready, because we know how cranky a hungry kid can be. Some of us even have kids of our own!

And if your little snowflake will eat nothing but dry Cheerios by the fistful from a Ziploc bag, by all means, have at it. But we expect you to crawl under the table and pick up every last Cheerio that he dropped on the floor before you also leave a huge tip. Because a Bissel carpet sweeper can only do so much, and we can’t bring the Dyson out in the middle of service. But if you’ve trained your kids to eat nothing but Chicken McNuggets and Cheerios, consider making the sacrifice and get a sitter for the next few years when you want to dine out. Please and thank you.

Do: Feel free to bring your own garnish, if you must. A guy once dumped an entire individual-sized box of Apple Jacks on top of my chicken tortilla soup. It made me die a little inside, but hey, he paid for his soup. And ate it with relish (I mean gusto, not actual pickle relish).

Don’t: Bring a birthday cake you bought elsewhere, shove it into the arms of the hostess and ask her to “have someone put it in the fridge”, then later ask the kitchen to cut and plate it and put lit candles on it for your party. This is only cool if you’ve first called the restaurant, inquired about their birthday dessert options, and then begged permission to bring your own, while offering to pay what my fiancée has coined … a “caking” fee.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou.