A delicious meal at a top restaurant is one of life’s great delights—but it can also be a bit intimidating. Navigating the norms and expectations of a high-end restaurant can sometimes feel like an elaborate performance more than a fun night out. “Where is this fork supposed to go?” “Where do I put my napkin?”
But while some of the rules around a fancy meal can seem confusing at first, once you get the hang of them, it can actually be enjoyable to play along—and will make the food taste that much better. Here are 25 rules to dine by at a classy restaurant. And for more advice on fine dining, check out The Sophisticated Man’s Guide to Fine Dining.
Follow the Maître d’, Not Your Guests
Upon arriving to the restaurant and being shown your table by the maître d’, it might seem deferential to allow your date or guest to walk ahead of you. But in this case, you have actually got things turned around.
“As the host, when following the maître d’ to the table, you should always follow directly behind him or her first, allowing your guest to follow you,” says Parker Geiger, CEO of personal branding company Chuva Beyond, who has worked with organizations such as ESPN and Amazon on the topic of fine dining. “This allows you to ensure that everyone sits where you would like them to sit as they approach the table.”
Be the First to Take the Napkin
If you are the host, your guests or date are taking cues from you, so you should be the first to take the napkin from the table and set it in your lap. “Always be the first to place your napkin in your lap, so that the guest should follow suit,” says Geiger. If you are the host be sure you’re not making The 7 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making at Fine-Dining Restaurants.
Be Ready to Order
While you should enjoy a leisurely conversation as you sit down and take in the menu, you’ll want to be ready to order when the server comes (if they come right away, it’s fine to ask for another minute—but don’t expect much more than that).
Lean Left, Then Right
As you see the server approach, to give him room to set the plate on your table, there is a particular way to do so. “When you are being served, you should lean slightly to your left, so that the server can place the food on the table from your right,” says Geiger. When the server retrieves the plate, you should then lean to your right, as the plate should be removed from your left side. “It really is like a formal dance if you will, but you are sitting down,” says Geiger.
Let Your Guest(s) Order First
If you are the host, you want to make that clear to the server and defer to your guests when it’s time to order food. If you will be sharing dishes or appetizers, you can also consider ordering on your guests’ behalf. Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York, suggests to Business Insider that the host, “Say phrases like, ‘Will you please bring my guest…’ or ‘My guest would like to order first’ to ward off confusion.”
Drink and Eat Second
Just as you should wait for your guests to order before you do, you should also wait for them to take the first sips of wine and first bites of their food. “When wine or drinks are first served, always wait for the guest to drink first, then follow,” says Geiger. “The same applies to food when it first arrives at the table, wait for the guest’s lead. He or she should begin eating first, then the guests should follow.”
Dress for the Occasion
This one probably seems obvious, but as the days of jackets-required dining have fallen out of favor, many diners forget that a good meal merits an elevated dress code. If you’re dropping several hundred dollars on a meal, you should look the part. Go with a full suit and pocket square, or toss on a bow tie. Jazz it up to feel like you are doing something truly special.
“Make an effort to dress nicely,” says Kenneth Salmon, a brand and lifestyle consultant at Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila. “Wear a suit or a dress especially if it is a business gathering.” If you’re not sure where to look for budget-friendly suits, here are The 20 Sharpest Suits You Can Buy On Amazon Right Now.
Work Out Payment Ahead of Time
If you are hosting others, especially for a business dinner where you want to head off any fights over the bill or awkward discussions of who should pay for what by speaking to the restaurant before you arrive or before you sit down, providing them with your credit card information. Ideally, the guests should not even realize the bill was paid.
“To ensure that you are the perfect host when arriving at the restaurant, present your business card to the host and request that you receive the check,” suggests Geiger. “If you do not have a card, let the server know that you request the check. They should have your name when you made the reservations.”
“Suggest splitting and sharing a dessert, instead of getting your own,” advises relationship and dating expert Bonnie Winston. Even if you are at a business dinner, guests probably wouldn’t mind a little something sweet to finish off their meal—but may feel gluttonous ordering a whole slice of flourless chocolate cake for themselves.
So take the pressure off by suggesting the table split a dessert or two (one dessert for every two people is a good rule of thumb). It creates a fun, communal atmosphere as you finish off a high-end meal.
Do Your Research
If it’s a new place that you’ve never been to before, do some sleuthing online and elsewhere to find out the particular quirks and attractions of that restaurant. See what the “must order” items are, learn a bit about the restaurant’s history (which can make for good dinner chatter) and get a sense of its layout.
“The restaurant may have a killer view, so calling ahead allows you to request a certain table or a romantic booth,” suggests Winston. If you’re looking less for romance than for a space that makes a statement to business guests, see what kind of private rooms or special tables the restaurant may have.
Enjoy the Show
A meal at a really great restaurant is akin to a night at the theater: several hours of entertainment as a chef shows off what he or she can do—with assistance from a supporting cast of servers, kitchen staff, and the guests themselves. So treat the experience accordingly, savoring the live show and giving it all the attention you would a high-priced play.
Savor the details, murmur approval with your fellow diners, and don’t hold back on accolades if it’s a good show (though a standing ovation might be overkill). It’s show for you, but here’s what the chef really want you to know about your meal and 20 Secrets Chefs Will Never Tell You.
Turn Off Your Phone
Just as you turn off your mobile phone before a great show, you should do the same before a great meal. You should know by now that pulling out your phone is a major fine-dining foul, but what you may not have thought of is turning off your cell altogether. If you’ve got a call or text you really can’t miss, at least turn it to vibrate.
“Turn the phone ringer off,” says Winston. “No one wants to hear ‘Despacito’ a million times.” If you’re having a hard time putting your phone away, allow us to offer you a solution, here are 11 Easy Ways to Conquer Your Smartphone Addiction.
When dining with a group, you want to roughly keep pace with your fellow diners. That means keeping a casual eye on how quickly or slowly they are eating, and ensuring you aren’t too far off.
“If you’re a fast-eater, put down your utensils between bites,” says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, a business etiquette and communications expert and author of Don’t Burp in the Boardroom: Handling Uncommonly Common Workplace Dilemmas. “If you’re a slow eater, you may have to leave food on your plate so that you don’t hold up your dining companions.”
Order the Same Number of Courses as Your Guests
Similar to pacing how quickly you are eating the food in front of you, you will also want to be sure you have the same number of courses as those you are dining with to avoid anyone having long stretches without a dish in front of them—or someone having to eat an entire dish on themselves. Figure out how many courses the table wants to order (should you go with the seven-course chef’s menu? Just get an app, entrée, and dessert?) and get everyone on the same page.
Pace Your Drinking
This goes for drinks, too. If you’ve had two glasses of wine before your guest or date has gotten through their first, stick with water for a while. But more important is to monitor your level of drunkenness. Once the wine is flowing, and great food is rolling out, it can get easy to be carried away.
“A nice buzz is one thing but getting blotto drunk is a no-no,” says Winston. “It is rude to your company and other diners.” Worse, you might not even remember the delicious (and pricey) food you ate. Not only do you need to pace your drinking, you also need to know what size wine glass you’re drinking out of and Here’s Why the Size of Your Wine Glass Matters.
Ask if You Don’t Know What Something Is
The nicer the restaurant, the more baffling the menu. If you don’t know what “salsify root” or “lacinato kale” is, don’t be afraid to ask. Servers often treat the menu as an opportunity to tell a story and welcome you prompting them with a question or two.
“Don’t try to fake your way through a menu,” suggests Randall. “If you don’t know, admit it and ask.” Of course, this should be done within reason. Limit your questions to just a couple. This is a nice meal, not a press conference. To make sure you’re prepared, read up on these 19 Fancy Menu Phrases Everyone Should Know.
Check Your Coat
Like a number of etiquette rules, this one still has gender-specific rules that have remained from an earlier era. “The man should check his coat, but the woman has an option of taking hers to the table,” explains Winston.
If you’re a guy, don’t drag your bulky coat to your seat. But do make sure you’ve taken your wallet out of its pocket to avoid having to run back and retrieve it when the bill arrives.
Watch Your Volume
Whether it’s because you’ve had a few drinks, or the topic of conversation has gotten your table talking excitedly, be careful not to get carried away. Energetic conversation is good, but loud laughing, or shout-talking is not going to go over well with your fellow diners and might embarrass the quieter guests at the table (and hurt their ears). Just as you are careful not to drink too much, don’t let your volume get out of control, either.
Stay Neutral When Talking Politics
“They say you should never discuss politics in business or when out with others,” says Geiger. “This is not the world we live in. When discussing politics—and it will come up—stay neutral. If asked about the specific stance on a topic, you might say that you have not read enough on the subject to make a valid opinion, then, in turn, ask them what they think about the subject. Trust me, if they ask, they will tell.”
Make Sure Your Grooming is on Point
Just like your outfit, your personal grooming should rise to the level of the restaurant itself. “Be mindful of cleanliness and careful grooming,” says Maura Sweeney, a lifestyle expert, author, and podcaster. “Consider a freshly showered body, cleanly presented and combed hair; a fresh shave or neat beard, a new or newer manicure—and pedicure if your shoes are open-toed. Remember that unkempt personal grooming will place you at odds with the intended, respectful atmosphere of the venue.” To improve your grooming skills, check out these 10 High-Tech Grooming Gadgets You Need Now.
Restrain the Photo Taking
In an ideal world, you’d keep that phone in your pocket and would enjoy your stunning meal as you ate it, rather than try to capture it on camera. But we live in the social media era where you haven’t really experienced something until it’s on Instagram and getting dozens or hundreds of likes.
So it’s acceptable to capture a few images of a particularly jaw-dropping dish (unless you are at a business dinner, in which case that camera should never come out). But do your shoots sparingly—a couple picks of one dish is plenty. If you’re capturing every course, unless you are a food writer, it’s going to start annoying those around you. If you are looking for other ways to step up your Instagram game, read up on 20 Ways to Make Your Instagram Way More Compelling.
Send Back Improperly Cooked Food [
If you’re at a great restaurant, it’s unlikely they’re going to botch the preparation of your meal—but it does happen on occasion. “If you are with other people and you have to send your food back, it’s your responsibility to tell everyone to go ahead and start without you,” Napier-Fitzpatrick told Business Insider. “And if I’m the host, I suffer and eat my meal even if it’s not cooked the way I want rather than have everybody have to wait for me or feel bad.” If you just don’t like the taste or if that is just the way they prepare that dish, you’re going to just have to eat what you have ordered.
This one should be obvious, but it is still surprising how many people try to save a few bucks on their (unexpectedly large) bill by skimping on the tip. If you’d really wanted to save some money, you could’ve gone without that extra cognac at dessert—don’t take it out on your server. Eighteen percent remains the standard, and you won’t want to go any lower than 15 percent. If the server did a great job, make it 20. You’ll feel good that you did.
Double Check for Automatic Gratuity
But before you get extra generous with your tip, make sure it hasn’t already been included. A lengthy bill after a long meal can be hard to fully review, so be sure you confirm if there is a gratuity already added in (a common practice at high-end restaurants, especially for larger parties), so that you don’t overpay. The service may have been great, but it probably wasn’t 40-percent-tip great.
Skip the Doggie Bag
This isn’t an evening at your favorite pizza joint—meals at a fancy restaurant are masterfully prepared and plated to be enjoyed there. They are unlikely to age well in your fridge and it’s probably going to annoy the restaurant staff that they have to put your leftovers in a to-go box. Better to just enjoy your meal in the moment and not try to extend the magic.
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