25 Things You Should Never Do at a Fancy Restaurant
Unless you want to embarrass yourself—and your dining companions
Whether you’re heading to a romantic Valentine’s Day evening or an important business dinner, you probably have a pretty good idea of how to behave at a nice restaurant: Be sure to show up a few minutes before your reservation time, utensils go from the outside in, etc.
But as a restaurant’s Michelin stars increase, the etiquette expectations tend to go up with them. When you’re dropping serious coin on a night out, the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself by misunderstanding what you ordered or accidentally offending the chef (or your date).
To ensure your evening of fancy eating goes off without a hitch, here are 25 things you should be sure that you do not do next time you set foot in a high-end dining spot. For more about how to avoid fine-dining faux-pas be sure to also read; The 7 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making at Fine-Dining Restaurants.
Place Used Utensils on the Table
Once you pick up a utensil to take a bite of food, they should never return to the table. “They are to be placed on the plate in a specific manner and specific time,” 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.
“If you are pausing in-between bites, then place your fork and knife, parallel to each other on either side of the plate (fork on right and knife on left).” When you are finished eating, indicate this by placing the knife and fork together “in the four-o’clock position.” And for more fine-dining tips, know The Best Seat in Any Restaurant.
Sure, you’re there to eat, but a multi-course meal at a fancy restaurant is meant to progress at a leisurely pace, from pre-dinner cocktails through post-dessert espresso. The servers are trained to give you plenty of time to peruse and discuss the menu, so it could be 45 minutes before you see the first course.
If you arrive at the restaurant with an empty stomach, you’re likely to feel antsy for food when the rest of your party is just looking to chat and take in the ambience. Eat a little something beforehand to avoid getting hangry, and ease into your evening with a great cocktail. Our suggestion? Order up The Best Martini on the Planet.
“When arriving at the table, avoid sitting down first if you are the guest,” says Geiger. “Instead, allow the host to make recommendations where to sit.”
If you are the host, you should provide this guidance. For a business meeting, it may be essential certain members of the party to sit next to one another or for a client or VIP to get the seat with the best view. It’s up to you to play conductor in such a situation and make sure every is sitting where they should. If this meeting is for business instead of pleasure, here’s our advice on The 5 Secrets to Running the Perfect Business Meeting.
Raising Your Voice to Get the Waiter’s Attention
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.” And to avoid further embarrassment, we suggest reading up on 19 Fancy Menu Phrases Everyone Should Know.
Using Your Outside Voice
You don’t need to use the hushed whisper you might use in a library or church, but a fancy restaurant is still a place where you should speak at a respectful volume. “Don’t rattle the carefully created, understated atmosphere of quiet cultivated by the proprietors,” says Maura Sweeney, a lifestyle expert, author, and podcaster. “‘Hey, Martha, check out this view!’ is better spoken of quietly, so you neither intrude on others’ personal space nor bring unwanted attention to yourself for never having visited a fine venue before.”
Rush to Serve Yourself
You may be a do-it-yourself type, but in the context of an elegant dining destination, a self-sufficient approach is not really appropriate.
“Wait to be led to and offered a table; for your server to pull out your chair before sitting down; for your server to place a napkin on your lap before doing so yourself and for having your glass filled before you replenish it yourself,” says Sweeney. “If in doubt, hesitate before taking action.”
From your arrival, seating, to the refilling of wine and removal of unneeded cutlery, the servers are more likely to do the work for you in a fancy restaurant—so let them do their job and sit back and enjoy being served. To learn more about what servers might not be able to tell you, read up on the 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won’t Tell You.
Pretend You’re a Wine Snob
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. If you want to impress your guests or date, here are 6 Savvy Wine Ordering Moves to Wow Your Clients.
Eat Really, Really Hard-to-Eat Foods
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.
Host a Business Dinner Somewhere You Haven’t Been Before
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.” For some recommendations on where to go, here’s the ultimate list of 50 Best Steakhouses in America.
Eat Faster Than Your Dining Companions
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.
Eat More Than Your Dining Companions
Just as you don’t want to eat much faster or slower than those who you are joining at the restaurant, you also do not want to order a much bigger or smaller dish than those you are with. If your companion orders a salad, don’t go for the Porterhouse.
Let the Bill Come to the Table at Group Dinners
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.
Have No Clue What to Do with Your Napkin
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.”
Make Loud Complaints About Your Table Not Being Ready
One of the most aggravating things that can happen at a nice restaurant is to arrive and learn that your table is not ready. But how you respond makes a big difference to whether it will be a minor delay or derail your whole evening.
“Don’t walk in loudly complaining about why your table isn’t ready or that you expect your table,” says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, a business etiquette and communications expert and author of Don’t Burp in the Boardroom: Handling Uncommonly Common Workplace Dilemmas, adding, “even though you’re twenty-minutes late.”
Making a scene (even if you’re in the right) is only going to make you look bad and create a bad atmosphere that might not dissipate the entire evening. It’s also only going to lead to a longer wait time for your table.
Dress Like a Slob
“Don’t walk in wearing gym clothes or looking like you just got out of bed,” says Randall. This might seem obvious, but as dress code rules have loosened, you might be forgiven for thinking an expensive t-shirt and designer ripped jeans that are acceptable at an exclusive dance club would be alright at a fine dining restaurant. You’d be wrong—even at the hippest restaurants, preferred dress still tends toward the conservative. At least toss on a blazer over that t-shirt and give the impression you tried. If you want to look stylish but stay in your budget, take some inspiration from the 30 Best Ways to Save Money on Clothes.
Speak With Your Mouth Full
Sure, you probably think you’ve got impeccable table manners, but once the conversation is flowing and you get excited (while eating), you wouldn’t be the first person to start speaking with your mouth full of food. Stop for a second before you start speaking and make sure you’ve finished your bites. It’s a simple step that will keep you from spitting food as you speak. For more on perfecting your table manners take our advice on The Sophisticated Man’s Guide to Fine Dining.
Those signature bread rolls might be flaky and delicious, but that’s no excuse for extending your arm across the length of the table to grab one.
“Don’t reach around the table to grab some food,” says Kenneth Salmon, a brand and lifestyle consultant at Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila. “Ask someone politely to reach out and pass the food instead.”
Reaching not only looks very un-classy, it creates all kinds of hazards: knocking over wine glasses, dipping your cuff into the butter, or at the very least annoying your fellow dinner guests. Do the right thing and ask for help. “One should never reach over the table for any items such as the salt and pepper shaker,” adds Geiger. “Ask them to be passed, instead.”
Lose Your Temper at a Server
At a great restaurant, the waiters are generally great at their jobs. But there are always exceptions, and if you are someone unlucky enough to end up with a less-than-stellar server, it can be necessary point out if the wrong order was sent or something forgotten. But even if the waiter makes a couple mistakes, it’s not a good look to lose your cool about it. “This is a big no-no especially if they’re being nice and helpful to you,” says Salmon. “Show some class. Don’t aggravate your server or they might add something extra to your food (just kidding).”
Check Your Email
“Keep your phone in your pocket,” advises Geiger. “Should you need your phone to share Information or show something to someone, then do so, but place it back in your pocket or handbag. Should you need to talk on the phone, excuse yourself from the table.”
If you are waiting for an email that really is that important or need to send an urgent note, get up from the table and head to the bathroom. You can handle your digital business away from the table and out of view from the rest of the restaurant’s guests. And if you struggle with putting your phone away, check out the 11 Easy Ways to Conquer Your Smartphone Addiction.
Putting Your Phone (or Keys or Purse) on the Table
Even if you aren’t looking at your phone, having it out on the table is almost worse than checking it throughout the meal. “Don’t put your phones or gadgets on the table,” says Salmon. “Aside from occupying precious space, you won’t want the distraction if your phone suddenly goes off and annoys everybody.”
The same goes for your keys, wallet, purse, hat, or anything else that is not dish ware or delicious food.
Telling the Sommelier Your Price Range
Unless you’re a wine expert, you probably have a few basics you look for in a good wine—full-bodied, dry, etc.—but one of your top concerns (unless you’re putting it on the company card) is the price of a bottle. But while a wine’s price might be top-of-mind, that doesn’t mean you should say that out loud.
Instead, ask the sommelier for a few recommendations of a wine that would go well with your order—and go with the one closest to the price point with which you are comfortable. If none of the ones he suggests are at a price you like, point to a wine that is and ask how that one might be with your meal. The sommelier should pick up on the hint and suggest other wines within that range. Feel free to impress your guests with these 80 Amazing Benefits of Wine.
Stick Your Pinkie in the Air When You Drink Wine
Doing this is an unclassy person’s idea of what a classy person would do. Though parodies of elegant diners might portray them as extending the pinkie as they sample a fine wine, in reality “it is considered unrefined,” warns Randall. It is more likely to come across as pretentious and that you don’t actually know how to behave in a high-end eatery. Just keep that pinkie comfortably next to your ring finger, where it belongs.
Talk About the Prices
It’s a nice restaurant; the prices are probably going to be ridiculously high. That doesn’t mean you need to point it out. If you’re trying to stay within a budget, you can usually do so without openly discussing the cost of every item on the menu. If the tasting menu seems steep, veer the conversation to the a la carte menu. Discuss a couple of the more affordable entrees, rather than the $100 steak. And for some great tips on how to save money, take notes on The 10 Best Budgeting Apps to Boost Your Savings.
Place Your Napkin on the Table
Nobody wants to see your rumpled, dirty napkin while they are enjoying a high-end meal.”Your napkin should never go on the table once it has been used,” says Geiger. “If you excuse yourself for any reason, place the napkin in the seat of the chair, not on the back.”
Return the Wine
While the elaborate ceremony of corking the wine and offering a few sips to you to taste may seem to imply that you can decide whether you want to keep the bottle or not, this is really not a choice. Unless the wine has somehow gone off or really isn’t very good, returning the bottle after the restaurant has opened it is not very polite or appropriate.
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