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Restaurant Etiquette: Playing Cards vs. Appropriate Dress [Moved from General Topics board]

my wife and i live in asia and our western dining experiences are severely restricted to about 3 acceptable restaurants in the entire city! fortunately we have found one that we are quite fond of and go there a few times a year for a nice treat. it is a very nice restaurant, but i wouldn't classify it as super-fine dining by western standards. the food is creative, adventurous and well executed. today was no different.

we decided to go for lunch instead of dinner as a good way to celebrate my birthday and our day off. we ordered some really interesting dishes, the service was ok and were having just a great time as always.

after desert, we ordered up some espressos, followed by port (which is even more of a rarity in our parts than the western restaurants!) and decided to play a hand of scopa (cards). the restaurant was winding down after their lunch service (about 2:30pm) but by no means closing or even finished serving all the desserts. halfway through our game, a server comes over and tells us to stop playing cards. i was a little shocked and didn't say much, but the longer i sipped my port, i started to get more irritated.

my source of irritation was rooted in the fact that there were several diners wearing jeans, hoodies, sneakers and even sandals. while i'm not the fashion police or care much what others are wearing, i wasn't sure that the lunch service at this restaurant at this exact moment was portraying itself as a 'fine dining' experience and how a little game of cards over after meal drinks could be construed as offensive. moreover, that it was so offensive that we had to be told to stop playing immediately...i mean, if i lost the hand i may have even ordered another couple glasses of port for the victor and for the re-match!

i find it hard to believe that this restaurant (or any restaurant for that matter) has a specific policy about playing cards and that it is deemed so offensive that it could not be brought up upon us paying the bill, hence salvaging my final opinions on the eating experience (which now is somewhat soured and tainted).

so, i pose this scenario to anyone who can give me their take on the situation:

restaurant etiquette...

what is acceptable and not accebtable in a restaurant?
are cards really more offensive than jeans, hoodies, sneakers & sandals in a nice restaurant?


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  1. IMO, playing card is not acceptable in a restaurant; go to a cafe or a bar.

    About dress code, I find that except for a small number of restaurants; dress code is relax enough to allow jeans, sneakers, ... especially for lunch.

    1. What would an equal class of restaruant in Italy think of a Taiwanese couple playing mah jong after their lunch?

      1. I'm not sure about Asia, but in the US, card playing is not really acceptable in any restaurant (well, maybe with the exception of something like Mc Donalds where the workers probably wouldn't care less what you do). If a restaurant serves port, I would definitely say it's not a place to play cards.

        1. This does not sound like the kind of restaurant where playing cards would be acceptable. In terms of dress codes, I just came back from Taiwan and was treated to many high-end restaurants, and noticed that most of the people were "dressed down." So I don't really think the comparison sticks. Like Sam, the first thing I thought of after reading your post was would someone feel comfortable playing mah jong after a meal at such a restaurant? I don't think so.

          1. It was probably unacceptable to play cards there. That said, I am very bothered by the casual appearences that people find acceptable these days. Which makes me sound like a fuddy duddy. I loved dressing up to eat out. I miss it.

            1. pivovar7,

              You should cut the restaurant some slack and understand that playing cards can be construed as Gambling and against the law for any establishment without a gaming license in place, especially considering this restaurant has a liquor license to protect. Here is New Jersey, it is strictly prohibited to engage in any form of gambling, e,g., Liars Poker or Sports Betting, at risk of losing the liquor license, which in many townships can be in value in excess of one million dollars.

              3 Replies
              1. re: fourunder

                While it isn't clear to me where in Asia OP is posting from (nor would I know the laws there), this seems to me to be the likely source of the concern: it isn't a question of which is more acceptable etiquette or more offensive, rather, it is a concern that regulators could construe the card playing as more than just card playing. I don't see how card playing can be compared to dress: two completely different issues from the restaurant's perspective: one may be rude, but the other may be against the law!

                1. re: fourunder

                  Agreed. This happened to me several years ago in a bar (that also served food) in Maui. My friends and I started playing a game of bridge and were very quickly told that it was against the law in Hawaii to play cards in any establishment that serves alcohol, whether or not actual gambling is involved.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    agree. lots of establishments don't allow cards or dice game playing because of gambling laws or how it may appear to officials or other diners. for example, if the op & spouse were playing what sounds like an old fashioned card game in a near empty restaurant, what if a group of young men saw this and decided to move their dice game into this establishment? then if the staff asked them to desist, they could point at the op and say "why can't we play craps? they're playing cards?!"

                    i agree with other posters that there might be another venue for a public card game-- some very informal cafes and bars might be fine with this, but a restaurant, probably not. there are local-to-me drinking establishments where i've felt comfortable playing a game of cribbage with a friend (the type of place you can ask the bartender for the cards & board, kept behind the bar), but i would not do this in many/most places, and i'd *always* ask.

                  2. the way i see it, there are 2 rules: 1) the business needs to make money & 2) don't disturb anybody else. therefore, if you are quietly playing cards while continuing your dinner (including your after-dinner drinks - ie the place is still making money), then what you occupy yourself with is fine. now, if you're pulling the coffee-house ploy & milking a single drink in order to continue your game, then that's not cool. likewise, if you're playing a boisterous game that distracts other diners, also not cool. if you're playing a quiet game, and others choose to be distracted by you because they deem it inappropriate, then that's their problem, not your's. (note: having just looked up scopa, it appears to be neither a boisterous game, nor a gambling one; therefore, i can see no reason for the establishment to object as long as you're a paying customer.)

                    that said, i'm not sure i see the link between playing cards & dress. as long as one has the basics down (shirt, pants, shoes), i really don't care what they're wearing. i've met people that were perfectly clean, polite & courteous yet dressed in rags, and i've met people that were complete asses dressed in $1000+ outfits. i've seen those poorly-clothed people comport themselves just fine in public while watching the dressed-to-the-nines set make everyone in their vicinity uncomfortable. the clothes don't make the person, nor do they indicate behaviour.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: mark

                      Wow, pivo, I haven't heard of 'scopa' since playing it with my grandmother!!! How cool that it is still being played.

                      That said, I can't IMAGINE how diners would be treated here in New York if they tried to play cards after a meal! Diners can barely eat their meals without getting the bum's rush in some places, much less linger at a leisurely pace.

                      1. re: dolores

                        well thanks to all those who have responded and clearly support that i was in the wrong. i couldn't find any etiquette anywhere regarding this topic, so now it has been established...

                        ...however, i do find the comparison to playing mahjong in an italian restaurant a bit over the top. firstly, mahjong involves four people, a completely cleared playing surface, with loud tile racking and is a well-known gambling medium.

                        i would liken playing scopa in an asian restaurant more akin to two people working on a sudoku or crossword puzzle in an italian restaurant, or a business meeting which results in contracts being signed over after meal drinks! would these people be told to put it away or take it somewhere else too?

                        besides all this, when did eating out have to become such a stuffy affair?!? (i only mentioned the clothes, because the manager told me they were trying to run a fine dining restaurant as a group of people wearing such attire walked past and it didn't seem to bother her.)

                        what's wrong with enjoy the great pleasures in life such as eating good food, drinking nice wine, spending time with your wife and if you're feeling the vibe, pulling out a pack of cards to tie it all together and enjoy yourself?

                        i'm truly surprised by the reaction, but hey...dolores, there are still people playing scopa, so it can be all that bad!


                        1. re: pivovar7

                          I brought up the mah jong. I assumed by your name, game, and profile that you are Italian and in Taiwan. So I asked what the response would be in Italy if some Taiwanese started playing mah jong at the table. What would it be?

                        2. re: mark

                          it isn't whether gambling is going on (though OP DID say something about a glass of port for the winner....) but whether it might appear, either to officials or to other customers, that gambling might be going on....as you say, clothes don't indicate behavior, but playing cards IS behaviour...

                        3. I just wouldn't think it appropriate to sit down and play a game of any sort in a restaurant, unless maybe they told you you had to wait an hour to be served and you had to fill in the time... restaurants are for eating and drinking, not recreation.

                          1. To add my two yuan here and mostly agreeing with all the others - playing cards after a meal in a restaurant falls into the unacceptable category. For one, who knows how long the card game will last and how long you will be camped out there playing? It also implies that you have no where else to go i.e. "can't they get a hotel room?" :) Then the noise of the card shuffling would be bothersome.

                            1. What if one of the card players is a kid? Once, years ago my SO played "Magic" with our son during lunch at a casual, but not fast-food restaurant. It was only once, on vacation, when our son was getting sick of restaurant meals. Is it worse than coloring on the placemat? Of course, I made sure that he kept his voice down. And the place was only half-full.

                              1. I think that one important point has been overlooked.

                                The OP said they were winding down from lunch service. I'd say 2:30 is plenty late for diners to be dallying after lunch, and that you may have ordered another round is just another troubling aspect of the story.

                                If this was a bar and open all afternoon, enjoy your drink and your cards all you like, but even from your description, they *were* trying to close between lunch and dinner, so cards or not you might have been asked to press on rather than stay until the last possible moment, ensconced as you were in your game.

                                FYI- Cards and Dress Codes are not reasonable comparisons.

                                1. In general, I wouldn't play any games (card, board, etc) in any restaurant; esp a nice one...even if it had a sketchy dress code.