But. Wait. It's harder to have a good time than you think. Some people religiously read every review they can find about the place, refuse to go if it doesn't take bookings unless you happen to be 8 people (London, take note), endure poor food, overbearing staff, lukewarm drinks, go for the set menu because it's cheap, don't raise issues with staff and worry about the bill, then complain to each other how expensive it was, how silly the maitre d' looked behind his pedestal thing (like St. Peter handing you over to the angels for immediate transport to Table 6) and how gorgeous that turbot with shallot and red wine was. They can't help it - it's in the nature of the Restaurant Customer to chip away at the whole experience to see if the pleasure is a veneer as thin and pointless as the parsley sprig on their venison loin, smoked potato, grapes, carottes emincé or deep and sensual, like the chocolate sauce that came with soufflé menthe.
DRINKS & COCKTAILS - I have no problem with restaurants that have a bar attached. They're often good ways to spend less money and have a better time (what makes you feel more special - a Martini before dinner or a bottle of wine with it?) whilst you wait for your table to be cleared. If, however, you've booked a table in the first half hour of service starting, the staff shouldn't count on you navigating your way around the world through various different spirits before giving you your table. If the restaurant has a bar, the staff can politely ask people to move to a quiet corner of it with coffees if the table is booked. It's less annoying for someone who's just eaten to have to move to have coffee than it is to hold up people that want their dinner.
Second thing - don't be suspicious. If you know what you want and you're happy with the price, your time will be well spent. Generally, only regulars can ask the bartender what's good or for their speciality and not get charged too much. Someone unknown walks into a bar and asks for their own drink like Bond in Casino Royale or asks for the bartender's speciality? Goodbye cash. If they can sell you a £6.50 Mojito or something looking like it's come straight off the set of Mad Men for twice that, they'll go for money. And on ordering custom drinks? There's a reason the bartender's on that side of the bar - they know how to make nice cocktails and the menu is an expression of their creativity. You don't go somewhere and ask the chef to knock you up something off-menu, so don't do it in bars unless advertised.
And finally, it's fine to take drinks from the bar with you to have as an aperitif as you order. If the place has a problem with that, don't go back.
ORDERING - Take pleasure in control. Restaurants are places where other people cook your food and clean your dishes, but they give you a menu for a reason. As a customer, you've got all the chef's work to choose from and all your wallet to provide for that. Agreed, the chef's table is total chef territory and there you eat what you're given. It's tasty stuff. But when you're in the salle, it's your job to order well and the staff's job to bring that to you. It is a foolish soul who asks for 'what the chef makes' and expects something good. Anything like that happening is so unusual, you'll probably get the last fillet of some white fish, a standard-issue tomato sauce, a mound of carbs and some green. One final thing on restaurant kitchens - if you're part of a group with a pre-planned menu but have specific dietary requirements, TELL THE KITCHEN BEFORE ARRIVAL! Coming from first hand experience, if you haven't let them know it holds the rest of the order up, wrecks the kitchen's attitude towards you, creates havoc for waiters and could spill over into the standard service that's almost inevitably being run as well. If you're part of a pre-planned menu, tell the kitchen any dietary requirements. If you don't then you have absolutely no right to complain at all, and should double tip if you get fed.
So what is ordering well? Three rules: the Interesting, the Don't Try This At Home and the Not Always Going For The Cheapest Thing There. If something has strange flavour combinations, underused ingredients and/or has a new technique in it and doesn't look vomitiously (yes, new word) foul, chance it. Likewise, don't order something you could easily make at home for a fraction of the price - when you go out to eat, you should eat well enough to justify it. The last rule is self-explanatory. Unless it's a set menu or similar, the cheapest thing on the menu is usually cheap for a reason. Remember when pork belly was everywhere? That's because it was cheap and easy for the restaurant to do, so everywhere did it. Demand got so great that they could increase prices above food cost to make more profit. Discovering the next thing like that can keep you in cheap eats until it gets popular.
EATING - this is nearly all common sense. Please and thank you the floor staff, good evening to the front-of-house, don't shout across the floor to get the waiting staff's attention. You are sharing a room with others like you who have come here and paid specifically to have a good time - don't ruin it. You have a team of people doting on you and bringing you deliciousness - don't abuse that power. Remember at all times that a restaurant has to make money, and they are busy places. The uninitiated can't imagine the organised chaos that is most kitchens in full service. A compliment to the kitchen will be passed on but almost never lead to an invite back there. Don't ask for it. Apart from holding up service, you are essentially the Great Unwashed to the highly-scrubbed waiters and brigade. The effort they put into keeping your food safe from bacteria is incredible: that will not get sacrificed just because the mouthy couple on Four liked their starters. If you want to be nice, pile some of your plates with all leftovers on the top one. Staff appreciate that.
If things go wrong, it is not the end of the world. Depending on how severe the mistake is, don't destroy somewhere on TripAdvisor or the like. If it's to do with the food then politely tell the waiters what the issue is and let them sort it out. The ambience not being to your taste is not a reason to leave if you already ordered or demand money off.
LEAVING - why people take such issue against hot drinks at the end of a meal I have no idea. A coffee or tea and petit fours if the kitchen is generous is a great way to end a pleasant few hours. There is a saying in the family that roughly translated goes 'after a bad meal, coffee is necessary. After a good one, it's indispensable.' Such are the joys of a Continental upbringing. Besides, petis fours might not seem much, but they're often something experimental and you won't get them anywhere else. Whipped egg white poached in vanilla sugar syrup was one of the more memorable ones I had once.
Tipping isn't well understood. If somewhere doesn't tack service charge onto your bill, they're leaving up to you to choose whether you personally reward the staff or not. If they do, the service charge is normally split between everyone on the floor. Only in America, where floor staff are paid almost nothing and rely on tips to bring their wage up should you always tip. Then it becomes a matter of choice - either your repeat custom is enough, or you leave a tip to say thanks personally to your waiter, in which case make personally sure they get all of it. If the service was bad or you made a complaint then you don't have to tip. Sometimes it pays to tip though - I was once out with a group of friends at a major chain and the kitchen didn't get the order for one of the plates we'd ordered. We politely explained what happened and the waitress graciously brought the original order and some extras as well. When the bill came, we saw that we hadn't been charged for drinks, desserts, the missing dish or any of the extras they brought out. In the end the five of us ate for about half price - given the bill came to just over £20, we should've left about £2 gratuity. As the waitress (who'd been working more or less alone all night) said goodbye, we passed £5 and thanked her for her efforts. A few days later, some of us went back to the same place and got great service. We could just as easily have left the place, formally complained to the manager and not gone back. We got cheap food and happy staff when we went back, they got a tip and repeat custom - it was a win-win situation. Don't think that all this tells you how to eat out - I'd never tell someone how to do something so subjective. I am, after all, a complete amateur.