Fine dining is about a lot more than just eating great food. It’s a culinary experience steeped in tradition, and there’s a lot of etiquette involved. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of dining at finer food establishments, here’s a quick refresher course to keep you up to par.
While the days of dinner jackets and women wearing gloves are long gone, dressing appropriately is still a hallmark of any upscale restaurant. Men are expected to wear a jacket and tie, while women should also dress for the occasion. If the dining is fine, so should be one’s clothing.
2. The Table
There are a few things to know about the table, first of which is to keep one’s elbows off it. It’s also considered rude to plunk one’s keys, cellphone, purse or what have you on the table. Purses should be placed on the floor, under the table, while phones should be turned off; texting and checking email during a meal is considered the height of boorishness in any fine dining establishment.
3. The Napkin
Upon sitting down at the table, the napkin should be unfolded and placed on one’s lap. When getting up from the table mid-meal, one would excuse him- or herself and place the napkin next to the plate, never on the chair. Napkins are not for wiping the mouth, but for gently dabbing it. When the meal is finished, the napkin should be placed next to the plate, not on it.
4. The Menu
If unsure of what to order, ask a waiter to make some recommendations. One thing that should never be done, however, is to ask the chef to alter a dish for your specifications, which any chef would consider an insult. If one has specific dietary restrictions, however, it’s a good idea to inform the server and see if they can recommend any suitable dishes.
5. The Glasses
A restaurant serving haute cuisine may have a staggering amount of glassware on the table, and each has its unique purpose. If unsure of which to use, just pay attention; the busperson will pour water into the water glass, while the waiter or sommelier will pour wine into the appropriate wine glass (there are different ones for red, white and sparkling wine/champagne). When making a toast, never clink glasses together; simply raise the glass. It’s also considered good manners to make eye contact with one’s dining companions when toasting.
6. The Wine
One should never discuss the price of wine. When ordering, simply point out a wine in the category of your price point and ask the waiter (or, even better, the sommelier) for recommendations; he or she will understand and stick to wines within the desired price range. When the wine arrives and the cork is presented, do not sniff the wine but carefully smell it as you have a little taste. Unless the wine has gone bad (hint: it will taste like vinegar), do not send it back just because you don’t like it.
7. The Cutlery
The fancier the restaurant, the more cutlery you’re likely to find on the table. For those confused about which fork to use with which course, the rule of thumb is to start at the outside and work your way inward. For example, the salad fork (which is smaller than the fork used for entrées) is on the outer left, with the entrée fork on the right. The knife and fork should be held while eating, with cutting of food to be done as you eat it; never cut up all your food and then eat and make sure the tines of the fork face downward. When finished, place the knife and fork on the plate, crossing each other, and never ever leave a spoon inside a bowl of soup.
Don’t order a salad for a main course. Fine dining is an experiential journey that begins with the appetizer or amuse-bouche and ends with dessert — you bought the ticket, so take the ride. The rule of thumb when it comes to courses is to order the same number as one’s dining companion; one person eating while another sits without food is awkward and embarrassing. Many of the world’s most prestigious restaurants, in fact, offer special multi-course tasting menus so that all diners can enjoy the same specific dishes at the same time.
When it comes to eating etiquette, there are a few general rules to remember: don’t slurp your soup, and don’t blow on hot food to cool it down. The fork is meant to spear food, not scoop it like a shovel. Don’t use cutlery to gesture to your dining companions. Never stick the entire spoon or fork in one’s mouth.
10. The Bill
If you’re hosting the meal and plan on paying, the most sophisticated move is to arrange for payment ahead of time with the restaurant. If your guest wonders about the bill, or insists on contributing, that makes it far easier to say the meal has already been taken care of.