Yesterday my wife and I had lunch at a restaurant. The waiter did look at me kind of funny for a moment, but didn’t say anything. It probably helped that he looked fairly young and hip. It probably helped even more that we were at an outdoor cafe.
But I thought I’d give a few tips for eating barefoot at a restaurant.
I should start out by stating pretty clearly that these tips are just what I do. I may be overly paranoid. I may be underly paranoid. And there is really no way to objectively test whether what I do is really working, or whether it’s just the luck of the draw.
Also, for those who aren’t aware, health departments don’t have rules about what you wear on your feet in restaurants (with the exception of a few anal towns in Massachusetts).
You really need two things happen to be challenged in a restaurant. You have to be seen as being barefoot (by either an employee, or by a customer who gets so offended that they tell an employee—and trust me, this does happen), and the employee has to care. If it is just the employee, they simply might not care and you are free. If a customer complains, that gets trickier, because then the employee might feel that they have to do something to address the complaint.
And “mind your own business” somehow doesn’t seem to come to mind. (It is also the case, I think, that is you made some sort of random complaint about another customer, “I don’t like his tattoo”, that they wouldn’t use that as an excuse to confront that customer).
From what I can tell, the easiest way to get tossed or approached at a restaurant is for the place to have a line. That gives multiple people multiple chances to notice that you are barefoot.
So, tip #1 is not to go to restaurant with a line.
If there is a line, and you can do so, waiting outside may improve your chances. That lessens the chance of being seen by an employee.
Next thing is when you go to the greeter to say how many in your party, do either of two things: approach quickly and keep eye contact. Your closeness and looking at them discourages them from looking down. The other thing, particularly if you are part of a large group, is to let somebody else meet the greeter and to hang back, so that their view of you is blocked by others. (Of course, you could still be seen by some other employee, but that holds regardless.)
At the table, I usually try to take a seat in the back, where my feet are hidden by the table and my restaurant compatriots. If you sit on the outside, that’s just asking for other customers to see you and say something.
But if they do, it helps that you are already sitting. Enough people come in wearing flip-flops who take them off that such a sight might not attract all that much notice. But it can happen.
From that point on, you are probably good to go. Unless the place has a buffet. Chinese restaurants (with Chinese owners) are often cool about it. Other restaurants, not so much. The one time I had the owner talk to me at a non-Chinese restaurant, the owner did wait until I was finished eating to say that another customer had reported me. So that was nice.
I’ve already mentioned eating outdoors. If the restaurant has outdoor seating and it is warm enough (it was yesterday), that tends to turn off the misconception of “you have to wear shoes indoors at business establishments” meme.
One final restaurant tip: leave a good restaurant tip.
Don’t leave the impression that barefooters are cheapskates. You might have been noticed and allowed to leave (without anybody saying anything). If you leave a big tip (20%+), maybe they’ll also not make a fuss next time they notice a barefooter in their restaurant.