Cultural etiquette guide to New York

Learn to act like a true New Yorker with our insider tips. Read on for how to avoid pizza-eating embarrasment and why you should make friends with your restaurant hostess. 

Want to order off the menu like a pro and treat yourself to stunning cocktails you won't find anywhere else? Read our insider guide to New York City for top tips you won't get from your standard guide book. 
 

How to tip in New York City

When in doubt, always tip at 20 percent and preferably in cash, but servers, baristas, and bartenders will gladly accept a tip you via card if that’s all you have on you.
 

How to eat pizza in NYC

Margherita pizza on tray with slice cut
If you don’t want to look like an outsider, never ask for a fork and knife to eat your pizza. Because New Yorkers are always on the go, we grab the slice, fold it in half lengthwise, and chow down. The folding method also helps avoid the mess of gooey cheese, loose toppings, and red sauce from spilling all over the place. 
 

How to order a sandwich

Tomato and mozzarella sub on plate
While ordering a sandwich, you might feel overwhelmed by the choice of breads, meats, veggies, cheeses, and condiments – and at the speed you need to make your decision. Take your time and make the sandwich of your dreams. If you’re unsure about the combo you created, just ask the server if the ingredients you selected make sense.
 

Restaurants, who does what

Restaurant interior with tables
At most restaurants, hostesses, servers (waitresses/waiters), and bussers work together to orchestrate the best hospitality for guests. A hostess is the person who greets you as you come in, takes your reservation and seats you at a table with menus. Then, your server (waitress/waiter) will come to your table to greet you and take your order. 

If it’s a particularly busy night, a busser might be the one delivering the dishes to your table. Typically, if you ask a busser for something like ketchup, they’ll either grab it for you or let the server know. When you’re ready to pay, ask your server for the bill or check. Whatever you do, don’t be rude to the host/hostess. Chances are, if a restaurant’s dining room is fully booked, you’ll be able to sit at their bar while waiting for a table. 
 

Coffee decoder

Coffee on wooden table
If you’re used to ordering a ‘flat white’ or ‘white coffee’ but don’t see that on a menu in NYC, don’t worry. We call them lattes here. At most places, you can choose either soy, whole, skim, almond, or even oat milk. If you’d like to enjoy your drink at the coffee shop, let them know you want it in a ceramic mug. Otherwise, it’ll be served in a paper takeaway cup.
 

Bodega or deli

You’ll see ‘bodegas’ and ‘delis’ in every neighbourhood. Depending on the area you’re in, the names for these stores are used interchangeably but it’s good to know the distinction. Bodega is the Spanish word for warehouse. When Spanish-speaking people emigrated to New York, they used bodega to describe small stores selling various items including packaged food, beverages, cigarettes, newspapers, detergent, candy, beer, and sandwiches, and produce.

Deli is is used to describe a place that sells sandwiches, beverages, and other grab-and-go foods with a few tables for patrons. Because the terms are now used interchangeably, you really can’t go wrong calling these iconic stores either.

Make sure you bring cash if you don’t want to spend over $5. At most of these places, if you want to use a debit/credit card, you have to meet a minimum of $5 to $10.
 

Cash

Make sure you check if a restaurant or bar is cash-only. Some cash-only places have ATMs inside, but it’s always a good idea to carry some cash.
 

How to order well

Bartender making drink
When ordering from an extensive menu, always ask the server about their most popular dishes or drinks. In New York City, you’ll find that bartenders, servers, and bodega owners want to create bespoke experiences for patrons. Don’t stick to classic cocktails – bartenders love when people are excited about the speciality drinks they created. 
 

Check out our travel hub for more foodie travel guides.

The ultimate foodie guide to Paris
The ultimate foodie guide to Lisbon
The ultimate foodie guide to Rome
The ultimate foodie guide to Tokyo

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