Food & Culture

A Lesson in Modern Manners

El Gaucho's etiquette expert weighs in on how to tackle Instagramming, dodging out of a date, and making sure you get (or get out of) the bill.

By Chelsea Lin September 26, 2016


Last winter, El Gaucho embarked on something many of our mothers have been unsuccessful in doing: teaching us polite manners. Now, the steakhouse and its etiquette educator are tackling teens in a new series of courses aimed to set your youngster up with a proper set of social skills. “This all started out because [El Gaucho president and COO] Chad Mackay and I were sitting there, and we both have two boys, and we were talking about the lack of respect and manners in younger generations,” says resident Miss Manners, Cortney Anderson-Sanford. “And then we said, ‘Wait a minute. It’s also millennials. It’s also older people that need a refresher course. It’s everyone.’ With technology and devices, we’ve forgotten the ability to put down the phone, look someone in the eye, and have a nice meal or a meeting. Why can’t we all be a little thoughtful?”

Good question, Cortney.

I had a chat with Anderson-Sanford the other day—she is, I’m happy to report, as delightful as one would expect from a person whose profession revolves around teaching other people how to be appropriately sociable. Though she readily admits she’s the sort of person that tortures her own family with placemats when they eat takeout cheeseburgers at home—“it’s about respect!” she says—she also wants people to know that what she teaches isn’t uptight, or stuffy, or outdated. Her El Gaucho classes cover things like which fork to use and how to hold a wine glass, but we also wanted her take on how to tackle some very modern dining issues:

Instagramming your dinner: yes or no?
“No. That’s a no. Well, if you’re with foodie friends and that’s your job that’s one thing, but if the server is trying to serve you and you’re [holding up the process] because you’re Instagramming, that’s being disrespectful to the other guests. If you’re an Instagramming group, and that’s the vibe of your group, then that’s fine. If you get that glitch of like, ‘How am I going to play this out? How am I going to do this?’ just don’t do it. The phone device thing just shouldn’t happen. If you’re by yourself that’s one thing, but if you’re in a group, it’s a business meeting or an important family event, it just shouldn’t happen.”

How do you tactfully get out of a bad date?
“This is pretty much a gut feeling, right? You can’t do the old-fashioned phone thing—‘Oh, my friend called!’ You’re an adult, suck it up. You order something quick, like a cup of soup, and get out that way. You’re not in a movie. I wish life was a movie!”

When is it appropriate to send food back to the kitchen?
“All of my teachings go to who are you meeting with, and who is this going to affect? If you’re eating with the CEO of your company, and he’s hosting, don’t do it. This should be my mantra: suck it up. You’re there for business, and it’s not really about eating. I tell clients to go to Dick’s and get a burger on the way to dinner so it’s not about eating. If you’re on a date, do the same thing: have a snack before you go. You don’t want to be that complaining person, unless it’s horrible, obviously. If you’re going to get sick, it’s rotten oysters, do it in a quiet, respectful way.”

What do you do in that situation where everyone’s arguing over the check?
“Are you a guest or a host? Generally, I will argue twice. ‘No, you don’t have to. No, you don’t.’ Go back and forth twice, otherwise give in or take over, that’s my rule. But my big rule is that if you’re a guest, it all comes down to the host. [It’s all about] the little voice that starts to click in your brain. That’s what I tell people: Don’t be so insular and self-involved that you don’t notice things. If you can just light that fire in people, I think those things naturally happen. People start to look outward.” 

Now, if only we could do something about the city’s fine dining fashion sense.  

If you’re interested in taking one of El Gaucho’s etiquette classes—or, ahem, signing up a friend/your kid/your boss—contact them at

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