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From sweatpants to cellphones, do Seattleites lack restaurant etiquette?

Seattle diners huddle around a laptop while eating a meal at a lovely downtown French bistro. (Jeffrey Beall/Creative Commons)

When we were kids, most of our parents taught us at least a few table manners. Say please and thank you, chew with your mouth closed, don’t reach across the table to grab the butter.

Now that our lives are spent with our faces buried in our phones, putting your elbows on the table doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

“Having your phone turned screen down, that is what passes for polite these days,” says Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement. “That is not polite at all because your phone is still out and at the ready and you are ready to deal with it instead of interacting with the human being you might be with.”

As you can imagine, Bethany dines in restaurants quite often, so she sees it all. This week, she wrote a column about the dying art of etiquette, and says many of the responses she got from readers are about how loud people are in restaurants.

“I don’t want to gender stereotype but I was seated near a girls’ night out not that long ago,” Bethany says. “They were unwrapping presents and it seemed as if, with each gift, the squealing got louder and louder and they just didn’t seem to have any awareness of how they were impacting anyone around them.”

Perhaps the worst offense was seen by Bethany’s colleague, who witnessed a date in a restaurant with a very rude ending.

“The one that makes people most aghast is the guy that left in the middle of the date while his date was in the restroom. It was completely clear that the guy just bailed. It’s so deeply unkind. That is what manners are for, they’re just to be kind to each other.”

Seeking kindness, or at the very least dignity, Bethany attended a new etiquette class called An Etiquette Revolution at El Gaucho, put on by Seattle etiquette couch Cortney Anderson-Sanford.

“The biggest culprits I see when I go out to eat: people that do have their technology, that put everything they own at the table, their iPad, every pair of reading glasses,” Cortney goes on. “They take up four spots at the bar when they only need one. It’s about looking outside of yourself and saying, hey, am I affecting someone else’s day? I think technology really does impact that because we’re so stuck on immediate response and on our phones at all times.”

Cortney would also like to see people dress for dinner.

“I lived in many many places around the world and Seattle has a problem of people wearing their pajamas, their sweat pants.”

“One of the anecdotes in the column is a guy who showed up at one of the fanciest restaurants in Seattle for a $175 dinner wearing sweats and a T-shirt,” Bethany muses. “I think one of the things that divides dinner at home and dinner out is real pants.”

People eat out so often these days that a restaurant seems to feel like an extension of their home.

“At El Gaucho, our goal is not the fork, the elbows, the absolute perfection of etiquette,” says Cortney. “It’s more about bringing civility back to the table. To bring the conversation back to grace and elegance.”

But according to Bethany, the class does get into some etiquette intricacies that you may not have ever considered before.

“Things like how to properly pass a bread basket, which is more complicated than you would think. You offer it to the person to your left, then you bread yourself and then you pass it, offering it to the person to your right, who passes it along counterclockwise.”

Bethany says the guests in the class were perfectly polite. The real challenge is getting the clueless and un-mannered in for some lessons.

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