Good news for non-eaters and dog owners

Do not be surprised if you are asked a rather strange question when you enter a Swiss restaurant: "Do you want to eat?" It's not as daft as it first sounds. Most Swiss restaurants thoughtfully devote at least one table to non-eaters. This may appear to be about as useful as a parking space for those who do not drive, but this is so customers can just have a drink.

In lower priced establishments often one is not expected to wait to be seated, but to find your own seat. If you do make your own way to a table, avoid the one with a sign 'Stammtisch' on it. This is reserved for the regular stalwarts of that restaurant – even though it is usually completely empty. At peak times, especially lunch times, many city restaurants are busy and you may find yourself sharing a table with complete strangers.

Although there has long been a law that all restaurants must provide no-smoking tables but, while restaurants provide no-eating tables, few have no-smoking ones. Matters are improving, if slowly. If you are a non-smoker, always ask for the no-smoking area and act amazed and reluctant to stay if they say there isn't one. For a list of no-smoking restaurants across Switzerland see www.eatsmokefree.ch.

Dog owners get a better deal and can bring their pet out to dine with them, but doggie bags have not caught on here. This has more to do with sensible portion sizes than wasting excess food. Watch out though, for the higher-priced main dish on a warmer by your table. Just when you think you have finished your meal, your waiter will serve it all again and expect you to eat it.

In practically all restaurants English is spoken well, but take care with the word 'menu'. It is used, but not for the menu. Here it means 'today's special', so when you want the menu ask for the 'Speisekarte'.

After your meal you will always be asked the loaded question "isch es guet gsi?" (Was it good?) The correct answer is "ja". Any negative response is countered with a long explanation of how nobody else ever complained and that is the way the chef always prepares the dish.

The chef and/or the owner will often parade round tables shaking hands awkwardly with customers. Do not expect more hot food after the chef has left his post.

Tipping officially stopped in Swiss restaurants 35 years ago, but old habits die hard. Originally, a 15% surcharge was added to bills. This was then included in the price, thus dispensing with the need to tip. However, rounding up the bill is quite normal, but the American style of tipping, though very welcome, is not expected. If you wish to pay by credit card, ensure the establishment accepts your card. Often restaurants do not display credit card signs, though higher-priced ones generally accept them. The 'gratuity' and 'total' fields of the credit card slip will be left ominously blank for you to complete as your conscience allows.