Updated Sep 09, 2017 03:16pm

8 essential rules for eating out, according to Pakistani restaurant owners

Debates on now-popular Facebook food groups often have us wondering: does a general consensus on restaurant etiquette exist in Pakistan?

After all, anyone who eats out frequently can tell you they've seen everything from belligerent customers (and servers!) to domestic staff being treated as second-class citizens by their employers.

Images spoke to well-known restaurateurs and cafe owners to find out what the last word is on how to put your best foot forward when you go to an eatery.

1) How much should you tip?

It seems like tipping 10% of the bill isn't the universally accepted amount.
It seems like tipping 10% of the bill isn't the universally accepted amount.

While all restaurateurs agree that a minimum tip amounting to 10% of your total bill is necessary, some would appreciate if their customers were more generous than that.

While observing that "tipping is something that is not seen in Pakistan", Ayaz Khan (Okra) suggests that customers should tip at least give 14 to 16% of their bill.

Nilofer Saeed (Neco's) says that she'd like to see customers who spend over an hour at her cafe give at least 20% of their bill as tip.

Sikander Rizvi (Xander's) reasons that tips are important because "it's usually half, if not the majority, of servers' income."

"[Servers] work extremely hard and long hours to serve the customer," he says. "Many have long commutes back home before they need to repeat the entire process. In Pakistan, many of the staff are the sole earners for their family."

Read more: This photo of waiters holding up umbrellas has sparked a debate on food groups

2) What's the deal with bringing children to restaurants?

Restauranteurs Ayaz Khan, Nilofer Saeed and Sikander Rizvi agree: children are welcome, but need to be monitored by their parents
Restauranteurs Ayaz Khan, Nilofer Saeed and Sikander Rizvi agree: children are welcome, but need to be monitored by their parents

Cafes are generally children-friendly, so long as they behave!

While Lal's believes that "children should have a great experience" at their eatery, they hope parents monitor their children to ensure they aren't disturbing customers on adjacent tables. FLOC's Fouzia Siddiqui says her cafe prefers to entertain children on the weekends.

Parents also need to be mindful of the time of day.

Nilofer Saeed (Neco's) shares, "Bringing kids to a restaurant is part of our culture but when children are brought out past 10pm they get very cranky. This makes our staff very nervous and there have been incidents of other customers telling off families with noisy children. Our staff dare not request parents to control their children."

Ayaz (Okra) specifies timings for children at his restaurant thus: "Children are allowed at 7.30pm for dinner and 12.30pm for lunch and we expect them to leave in an hour and a half, by 8.30 - 9pm as they tend to disrupt the other diners."

3) What about those employed as domestic staff?

When a picture of a maid apparently being mistreated at a cafe in Karachi went viral, social media went into a frenzy. - Photo courtesy: Yusra Askari
When a picture of a maid apparently being mistreated at a cafe in Karachi went viral, social media went into a frenzy. - Photo courtesy: Yusra Askari

"Don't bring [your house help] and ask us to seat them without food at a table," asks Lal's.

Ayaz Khan (Okra) says domestic staff are welcome as long as they are treated well by the family. "Since we are a small space, customers should also book a seat [on the same table] for the domestic staff and treat them properly. Since there is no play area for kids, the domestic staff have to sit at the table and be dressed appropriately."

Also read: Domestic staff at dinner — Restaurant owners in Pakistan speak up

Sohail Salahuddin of Lahore Social thinks it's important to take out your kids for a meal yourself without any domestic staff: "When children go out to restaurants and sit in public, that is when they learn how to interact with other people, how to behave in a civilised manner and how to conduct themselves amongst others. Children gain some of the most important life lessons while sitting across a dinner table from a loved one."

4) Is it tacky to ask for a doggy bag?

Restaurant owners encourage customers to take their leftovers home to minimise wastage.
Restaurant owners encourage customers to take their leftovers home to minimise wastage.

Asking for your leftovers to be packed is totally okay.

"Considering that you paid for your food, you should be able to enjoy it wherever you want," says Sohail Salahuddin (Lahore Social).

But don't let yourself go overboard. There are instances when packing requests have been excessive, reveals Nilofer Saeed (Neco's): "It's not okay to ask for your food portions to be topped up from the kitchen when packing or ask for items from a buffet to be packed and taken home."

5) How late can you be for a reservation?

Busy restaurants like Monal in Islamabad need customers to be punctual about their reservations
Busy restaurants like Monal in Islamabad need customers to be punctual about their reservations

While some eateries like Lal's or Okra will hold your table for up to 15 minutes, others aren't so patient.

Nilofer Saeed (Neco's) believes that diners shouldn't be late more than 5 minutes for a reservation. "It inconveniences those who have reserved the same table for 50 minutes after you. Other customers waiting for their tables also create a fuss when they see empty tables."

"You should keep the restaurant informed if you're being delayed 5 or 10 or 15 minutes," adds Sohail Salhuddin (Lahore Social). "Anything other than that, you can expect your reservation to be cancelled or your table turned over to another person."

One problem Ayaz Khan (Okra) has noticed increasingly is last minute cancellations. If you wish to cancel your reservation, do it a few hours before your given time.

6) And how long can you occupy a table?

The popularity of restaurants like Kolachi means that you can't hog their tables for too long! — Photo courtesy Kolachi
The popularity of restaurants like Kolachi means that you can't hog their tables for too long! — Photo courtesy Kolachi

It's general courtesy to respect fellow patrons waiting at busy eateries.

Ayaz Khan (Okra) explains how they manage the crowd, "We have a time restriction when people call for reservations due to limited space. It is made clear on the phone that diners have two hours. Some people want to stay for a longer time so they come at 10pm/10.30pm after which less people are likely to come."

7) What's the right way to complain about food and service?

Fiery rants about bad restaurant experiences are common on Facebook, but what happens when they occur at the venue? — Screengrab from SWOT's Guide for Karachi's Restaurants, Cafes, Dhabas, Khokas and Take-outs
Fiery rants about bad restaurant experiences are common on Facebook, but what happens when they occur at the venue? — Screengrab from SWOT's Guide for Karachi's Restaurants, Cafes, Dhabas, Khokas and Take-outs

Restaurant owners and managers want to know when their kitchen has slipped up.

Ayaz Khan (Okra) says, "If the food is bad they should call the manager and complain about it. We believe in immediate damage control. For a place like Okra where we're charging so much, the service and food have to be equally good, so we are always careful and train our staff."

Explore: Food wars — Are online food forums a force for good or ripe for misuse?

But it's important to raise complaints at the right time.

"You should let managers know about that a meal is unsatisfactory before eating it. You can't finish your whole meal, then say it's bad. That doesn't help anyone," says Sohail Salahuddin (Lahore Social).

Related: Crackdown — Has the Punjab Food Authority's raid on eateries gone too far?

8) How should a customer interact with their server?

The friendly staff at Butler's Chocolate Cafe — Photo courtesy Butler's Facebook page
The friendly staff at Butler's Chocolate Cafe — Photo courtesy Butler's Facebook page

"Ask their name and address them with their name. They'll appreciate respect and you'll get better service," recommends Fouzia Siddiqui (FLOC).

Sounds like simple manners, but they're glaringly missing in diners in our part of the world, observes Sikander Rizvi (Xander's).

"They say, the way you treat a server at a restaurant speaks volume on the kind of character you have. I've seen people whistle and snap fingers to waiters and find that extremely deplorable."

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