Newport Manners + Etiquette: Restaurant Etiquette + More

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


View Larger +

When is it okay to complain and when are you asking a little too much?

How to politely complain in a restaurant. Wedding etiquette dress code for a destination wedding. Teaching toddlers table manners. Funeral etiquette for an ex-daughter-in-law. All questions to Didi Lorillard at NewportManners.

Being heard in a restaurant

Dear Didi,

For our wedding anniversary, my husband and I headed out to one of Newport's most celebrated restaurants to lose ourselves in the romance of the late springtime sunset and warmth of well chosen wines paired with fabulous food. As we eased into our table and the majesty of the surroundings, that ease soon disintegrated to tension as frenetic riffs of music filled the air. I mentioned this to my husband, with the hopes that the next song would be calmer and more in keeping with our romantic surroundings. Unfortunately, this didn't happen.

After several songs, I hailed our adorable young waiter and asked if I could request a change in the music to something calmer. He explained to me that he didn't have control over the music, but he would ask. The lovely couple at the next table, visitors from Boston in town for an event, were delighted that I had the courage to ask for a music change. They commented that the music was really making them "nervous."

When the music didn't change after a few more songs, I sought out the hostess to see if she might be able to put on something more soothing. She was very understanding of my request and the rest of our dinner was enjoyed to a soundtrack which complemented the romantic setting. Ahhhh. Dinner was wonderful. The couple at the next table thanked me and we continued a friendly conversation at their departure. My husband thought I was being "picky." What is your advice on how to request music changes, dissatisfaction with food preparations, or other restaurant shortcomings?

Music to my ears, Newport

Dear Music to My Ears,

Prickly, loud, annoying music, especially when the same base drones on and on, can be particularily annoying while having a conversation with a loved one–or when doing business. For the sake of the restaurant, in my opinion, it is better to speak up and say, "Please, change the music." Or, "Please, turn down the music." A guest should not have to over-explain or over-apologize for complaining because the customer is always right. Right?

If you can't hear yourselves talking or don't like the music, speak up. When the air conditioning is too cold, speak up. Being dissatisfied with the food preparation is tricky in a moderately priced restaurant where orders are usually not individually made and may in fact taste a bit tired, off, overcooked, too salty or bad when the fish tastes old. If a dish is undercooked, send it back. The moderately priced restaurant gets away with serving passable food and obviously isn't as interested in the gourmet aspect of the cuisine, because it is all about the bottom dollar. Complaining about anything that's off–and not just undercooked–won't get you much sympathy. Chalk it down for what you get for the price.

Look at it this way. If your server doesn't reappear at your table to ask, "Is everything alright?" after the first four minutes, don't bother complaining, unless it is undercooked and that's a quick fix. The restaurant doesn't care. In a restaurant that prides itself on it's cuisine, servers are instructed to make sure that the client is pleased with what he/she has ordered and will make good on their promise of excellence.

That said, speak up because the chef may very well be grateful for knowing what's off and how it could be better. ~Didi

Destination wedding dress code

Dear Didi,

My daughter is planning a destination wedding. She wants a somewhat casual affair. The wedding planner has suggested going with 'Resort Cocktail' on the invitations. We are having a hard time figuring out just what that means.
1. What is 'resort cocktail' for men and women?
2. Where does this level of dress fit on the scale of casual to formal?
Thanks. MOB, San Francisco

Dear MOB,

The dress code Resort Cocktail means that flip-flops, slogan and cartoon tee-shirts, cut-off jeans, cargo pant shorts, and baseball caps are not O.K. Take it up a notch for a wedding. Use 'Festive Attire' for the wedding ceremony and reception. On the wedding couple's wedding website, if you feel you have to guide guests about what to wear, you can list different dress codes for the various events. Destination weddings are expensive for guests. Think of the wedding photos.

It should be assumed that the dress code for a wedding-style resort would be 'Resort Attire.'

1. For men: Short sleeved shirts with dress khakis, white or colored trousers and slip-on loafers, docksider's and Vans.
For women: Short or maxi summer cocktail dresses with pretty sandals and beads.

2. The dress code Resort Cocktail would be based on climate and time of day of the specific event. You want guests to dress up for the ceremony and reception out of respect for the bride on her wedding day. Formal would be off-white dinner jackets or less formal navy blue summer blazers for men with off-white pants and dark loafers–socks not necessary. Possibly ties. I would have to know more about the wedding couple and the resort to be more specific. Ties and jackets for a wedding ceremony are respectful. For instance a resort in Cancun would have a more relaxed dress code than a destination wedding in Newport or Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

List the dress code for the wedding ceremony and reception as 'Festive Attire.' ~Didi

Teaching toddlers table manners

Dear Didi,

How do we start teaching our three-year good table manners? Amanda and Thomas, Woonsocket

Dear Amanda and Thomas,

When teaching manners to small children start when they're toddlers. Even before age three she or he can be taught to use flatware and maneuver a grouwnup knife and fork. Begin with a fun food they love, such as fluffy pancakes with whipped butter and maple syrup. Hold back the syrup and watch them spread the soft whipped butter over the plump cakes with a dull table knife. Stand behind them and gently guide their little hand in manipulating the flatware to cut up the pancakes into bite size pieces. When attention starts to wain, add a bit of syrup and they'll continue. The fun work will be their just reward. ~Didi

Signing the obituary guestbook

Dear Didi,

How do I sign an obit guestbook for my ex-father in law? FRIEND OF FAMILY, FAMILY, FORMER DAUGHTER-IN- LAW? He was my father-in-law for 25 years and I have been divorced from my ex-husband for 10 years. Thank you! E.G., Salem, MA

Dear E.G.,

I like 'Former daughter-in-law.' Although, you could identify yourself closer by signing the guestbook, 'Son Bill's 1st wife.' 'Former family member' also works, but isn't as personal. ~Didi


We like hearing from you at and if we use your question, we can certainly withhold your name and address. Didi researches etiquette and all matters of manners for her book, "Newport Etiquette." Or you can ask a question on Didi Lorillard's Facebook page or Twitter. Prior weekly GoLocalProv columns are listed below and can also be accessed through search.


Enjoy this post? Share it with others.


Sign Up for the Daily Eblast

I want to follow on Twitter

I want to Like on Facebook

Delivered Free Every
Day to Your Inbox