Norms In a Public Place

I went to a local restaurant to observe social norms that were being displayed for that particular setting. As I sat and ate with my family, I carefully jotted down notes to make that my list was complete and accurate. Fortunately, the restaurant uses white, paper as table cloths, and people often draw or write on it so nobody paid any attention to me as I used different colored crayons to take make my notes. At the end of our meal, I simply snapped a couple of pictures of the paper table cloth, and I will now use that to share what I observed.

As you enter, the cashier station is immediately in front of you. The cashier was ringing someone’s bill up as we entered, but she still made a point to smile and say, “Hello” to me and my parents; of course, we smiled and responded. This was the first display of social norms that I encountered once inside the restaurant.

They were busy when we arrived so we were quickly greeted by the hostess; she smiled as she told us, “Hello. It will just be a few minutes. Can I have a name and how many are in your party?” Again, we saw social norms being used when the hostess spoke and smiled. As we waited, she engaged in another norm and gave us a menu to review while we waited. In turn, my mom used a social norm and responded back and gave our name to the hostess.

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There is a small waiting area at the front of the restaurant; it includes one long bench where people can sit as they wait for their table. All of the seats were occupied so we stood as we waited.

However, there was a gentleman seated on the bench. When he realized that my mom was with us, he displayed social norms by standing up and offering my mom his seat. My mom displayed a social norm, and told him, “Thank you.” Before she could even be seated, the hostess called a last name, “Haines party.” The five people seated all stood up and followed her to their table. Next, we used a social norm and sat down on the bench seating to get out of the way and make the entry and exit area less congested for people leaving and to also get out of the way of any women who would need to use the restroom. People have to walk by the bench area to get to the women’s restroom, and it is difficult for women to get to the restroom when people are standing instead of sitting on the bench.

We barely got seated before the hostess called, “Carte.” We witnessed several social norms in action. She smiled at us as she waited for us to approach her. She asked how we were when we got close to where she was standing. She walked to our table and told us, “Becky will be your waitress today. Enjoy your meal.” Once we were seated, we looked at the menu; having eaten at the restaurant frequently, I knew what I wanted so I put my menu down, and I began to discretely look around the restaurant. By this time, I would normally challenge one of my parents to a friendly game of tic-tac-toe or hangman. However, in the interest of research, I let pass on the games because I was not sure how much room I would actually need to accurately record my observations.

As I sat and watched, my family engaged in a norm by having a conversation among ourselves. As I watched, I saw many social norms on display throughout the restaurant. For example, people were conversing at their tables; however, people were speaking quietly so that their conversations remained at their tables. As Mrs. Bell, my kindergarten teacher would say, they were using their “inside voices.” When the server came, she made a point of making direct eye contact with the person from whom she was taking a dinner order. She also was careful to come close enough to the table so we could hear her, and she moved by the person whose order she was taking; however, she was still very careful to respect each person’s personal space. She engaged in some small talk as she returned to the table, but she always engaged inappropriate topics for a restaurant setting. A customer got up from her table, and she bumped into one of the servers who was walking behind her, and she told the server, “Excuse me. I am so sorry.” A gentleman at a nearby table sneezed, and we could the lady with him say, “God bless you.”

In watching tables close to us, I could hear them saying “please” when they requested something from the server; likewise, I could hear them saying “thank you” when the server brought something that they had requested as well as when she brought refills of their bread basket and their drinks. People also had considered social norms when it came to the way they were dressed. Everyone in the restaurant had shirts and shoes. There were no offensive sayings on t-shirts. There were a couple of men who had hats with them, but I watched them take them off as soon as they walked into the restaurant. One was still eating when we left, and he had the hat on a chair beside him. The other gentleman waited until he was back outside before putting his hat on his head. People took their folded napkins off of their tables and put them on their laps in most cases; there were a few people that left their napkins somewhere on the table and never used them on their laps.

People were using silverware when it was appropriate. I did not see anybody using their fingers to eat in an inappropriate manner. I did see a few tables where people used their fingers when they ate, but it was for foods where fingers would be permissible under social norms. For instance, people used their fingers to eat mozzarella sticks, fresh-cut vegetables, French fries, hamburgers, sandwiches, fried zucchini, and pizza. People used the appropriate silverware when they ate their food. For instance, people used forks to eat their salads and spoons to eat their soup. I did see people look at their phones to check text messages and the time, but I did not see anyone who actually talked on their phone. I also witnessed most people chewing with their mouths closed. Most people were careful to avoid loud chewing sounds. Most people did not burp or belch. I did not witness anyone eating off of another person’s plate. It was a great experience to witness a variety of social norms being displayed.

Despite seeing many social norms in action, I did see a couple of times when people clearly violated social norms. I did see two instances of people talking with food in their mouths, and they were talking louder than most people so they drew attention to themselves; they got a couple of looks of disgust from other tables. There was a table behind us where I could hear belching; I hear two distinct burps during our time at the restaurant. A few people failed to put their napkins on their laps. I saw one man wipe his mouth with his sleeve. Another man used his linen table napkin to blow his nose at the table. There was a man across from us who made very loud chewing sounds. I noticed that a young couple at one table did not leave a tip for their server; perhaps, they included it when they paid their bill. I tried to watch as they paid their bill, but they used a debit or credit card so I could not say whether they included a tip on it or not. Most people tend to leave a cash tip on the table at this particular restaurant, and I saw all other people do that when they left. Even when people paid for their meals using a debit or credit card, I noticed that they had left a cash tip for their server.

Most people use social norms without giving it much thought; these behaviors are such an expectation that we exhibit them without much conscious thought most of the time. People conform to norms for a variety of reasons. However, one of the biggest reasons is to gain social acceptance and approval. Generally, people want to have a feeling that they belong, and they want to be accepted by others. When people violate norms, there can be consequences. For example, the people who talked with their mouths open got some looks of disgust from surrounding tables. I could hear the table behind us comment on the belching the first time it happened; a girl at the table quietly said, “Really?

That is so disgusting.” When it happened the second time, she was much louder and responded with a single word, “Rude!” She was loud enough that she got the attention of surrounding tables because people looked at her, and she could sense that people were looking at her because she pointed in the direction of the table from where the belching had come. People also looked when they heard the loud chewing sounds, but I could not actually hear anybody commenting on that particular issue. I also heard comments from people when the man blew his nose. Most of the reactions were just sighs, but I did hear one lady say, “He should really go to the restroom. We are still trying to eat.”

The consequences that I just shared are the actual experiences that happened in one restaurant on one day when people violated social norms. However, when people violate social norms, there can be a variety of consequences. Part of the consequence rests in how serious the violation was. Norms help us know how to act in given situations; they provide us with a way to know what is permitted and what should be avoided. They help to maintain order; they allow us to predict things. Generally, most people desire the approval and acceptance of others so they follow the norms. Most people also have the realization that something will happen to them when they do not follow a norm.

Clearly, people can experience the disapproval of others when they fail to follow social norms. Depending on the severity of the violation, a person may even discover that they’ve been kicked out of a group for violating one of the group’s social norms. In the restaurant, most people just dirty looks; occasionally, someone was so annoyed that they made a remark for the person to recognize their displeasure. However, if the norm violation had been serious enough, the violator could have been asked to leave the restaurant. Norms can vary based on the time and place, but they are always there to help keep some kind of order to the situation at hand. Over time, most people realize that social norms vary from one setting to the next, and they adjust their behavior and expectations accordingly.

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Norms In a Public Place. (2021, Dec 10). Retrieved from

Norms In a Public Place
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