You’re no stranger to a classy meal paired with a fine Bordeaux. Chances are you know which forks go with each course, how to tastefully tip a maître d, and how to pronounce things like amouse-bouche with a straight face. But for all your fine-dining experience, do you really know what you’re doing when you set foot in a five-star restaurant?
Well, it turns out there are lots of subtle no-no’s that even the wealthiest and knowledgeable diners routinely get wrong. So we checked in with Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, an expert at the Etiquette School of New York, to help us compile all of the small—but egregious—mistakes that guys make when they’re hitting the nicest eatery in town. (And once your etiquette is up to speed, don’t miss The 50 Best Steakhouses in America.)
Unless someone is choking on his or her food and you’re too scared to administer the Heimlich yourself, you should never, ever, yell across the room at a waiter when you need something.
“You should use eye contact or put up your index finger of your right hand, ever so slightly,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. (For the record: the same rule applies to bartenders.) This rule is doubly important if you’re the host. “The person hosting the meal is the one responsible for getting the attention of the waiter so that they can order,” she says. “If his clients or anyone he’s entertaining isn’t happy with their food, he’s responsible for getting the waiter to come over and change it.”
Unless you’re a real wine connoisseur, don’t start swirling your glass and doing the sniff test. “Seriously, if you don’t know about wine, that’s why they have sommeliers there or wine stewards to guide you,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “If you’re pretending to be a wine expert, you’re just making a fool out of yourself and will probably spill the wine on the table.”
Here’s what you should do: just ask the sommelier for a good bottle (or more) that pairs with everyone’s food. If price is an issue, don’t voice that; simply point at the menu to a bottle at the right price—like, a $50 bottle instead of the $500 bottle—and say, “I’m looking for something along these lines.” When it comes, don’t smell the cork or swirl the wine. “All you have to do is pick up the glass by the stem, not the bowl, and take a little taste,” she says.
You may love spaghetti. Or chicken on the bone. Or dozens of oysters. But if you’re dining with other people, it’s not just about the food.
“It’s about having conversations and it’s about the social aspect of it,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “So order something that’s easy to eat—with a knife and fork.” That way, you’re meal won’t take over as the reigning topic of discussion.
If it’s an important meal—with clients, your in-laws, your wife on an important occasion—you should never take them somewhere you haven’t been before. As a host, you’ll need to know a) that the food’s good, b) what to recommend, and c) how you’ll be treated.
“They always give you the worst table if they don’t know you,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “Fine dining in general, if you’re taking someone, you want to know the restaurant. If you’re just going with friends to try the newest, hottest restaurant, that’s totally different.”
You should always order the same number of courses as the people you’re eating with. Equally as important, you should always eat your meal at roughly the same pace.
“Some men just gobble their food down—my gosh,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. If you do find that you’re done before your dining companions and “you have food on your plate, then place your silverware in the resting position.” That way, it still looks like you’re eating.
Savvy entertainers never let the bill come to the table. They give their credit card to the maitre d’ when they come in, and they say, “I’ll sign the check on the way out.”
“This is another reason to know the restaurant,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. “I always trust everybody, but it’s also more comfortable if you know them.”
She advises you to do this even if you’re hosting friends. “When someone invites you to dinner, whether it’s business or social, if they invite you, and it’s clear that they’re hosting, it’s assumed that they’re going to pay,” she says. “That doesn’t mean people wouldn’t offer to help, but, ‘I’d like to take you to dinner to thank you’ means taking them to dinner.”
By paying in advance, you avoid all post-dinner squabbling.
The first rule of napkins: “It goes on your lap only after the host puts it on his lap,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. The second rule? “It never goes back on the table until the host or we all say we’re ready to get up from the table. If you go to the restroom, you just put it on the chair. If there is an arm, you can put it on the arm, but otherwise it goes on the seat of the chair.” The final rule? “Dab your mouth, not wipe it.”
But what if you’ve made a mess?
“Well,” she says. “Don’t make a mess.”