Fine Dining Etiquette

In the World of Fine Dining – First Time?

During our lifetimes, we experience any number of firsts. First time walking, first day of school, first girl/boyfriend, first car. Sometimes these things just happen, yet other times they are momentous and possibly a little bit intimidating. Once such first that often sets the butterflies in the belly fluttering is entering the world of fine dining.

What’s At the Heart of Fine Dining

Fine dining has, like rocket science, been mythologised out of proportion. While the grand venues and stiff service that is seen on TV does exist, most fine dining establishments ensure their entire operation focuses around you – the diner.

Etiquette Expert Advises

Yet that doesn’t stop us feeling a little bit intimidated when first going to such a place where you can feel out of control and your depth throughout the experience. With reminders flooding back about some of the faux pas we made in our early fine dining career, we spoke to etiquette expert Bonnie Tsai of Beyond Etiquette to provide some tips and advice for the first time fine diner. These are the things you want to know before entering a fine dining establishment ideally to set your mind at ease, but if for nothing else than to avoid embarrassing yourself.

These tips will work for you if you’ve been invited out by the boss, or you want to book a table yourself to impress someone close to you. For either scenario, the idea is that you walk in with enough knowledge to focus on the conversation and the company, and not the rules or settings of the restaurant.

How Do You Know It’s Fine Dining Restaurant?

First thing’s first, how do you know that you’re even going to a restaurant that is considered fine dining? Bonnie answers with “by doing some research beforehand. Generally the restaurant would have its own website, Yelp/Trip Advisor page, or published articles reviewing the restaurant.” After providing the name for the reservation, you’ll be escorted to your table. Along the way you may be asked if this is your first time at this venue. You may be tempted to say that you are an old hand, but Bonnie advises that you should admit it’s your first time. This way the staff will know to guide you through the process and ensure you are having an amazing time.

What To Do With the Napkin

Then as Bonnie explains, “once you’re seated at your table, the first thing you do is to place the napkin on your lap. You should unfold the napkin, then fold it in half, with the crease facing you. When you’re placing the order or confirming your tasting menu preferences, your server will also ask you of any dietary restrictions you have. This is the optimal time to share that information with your server so the kitchen and chef can prepare your food accordingly.”

All that Cutlery

A common question is which cutlery to use and when. While most modern restaurants will ensure you only have one set of cutlery per course, in case everything is laid out in advance then Bonnie has you covered, “If you’re unsure which utensil to use first, always start from the outside in, or observe other diners around you. The fork is generally placed on your left with the exception of oyster forks, it’s the only fork to be placed on the right hand side with spoons and knives. Once your utensils leave the table, they should never touch the table again.”

The Art of Ordering Wine

One area that many people struggle with is ordering wine. “Fine dining restaurants usually have sommeliers on site to assist you if you are uncertain which wines to order or what would go best with your food. They’ll be able to help you select wines that are within your budget and complement the dish you’re having”, says Bonnie. Once your bottle has arrived at the table, make sure to understand the art of tasting it, too.

Respect And Consideration

A good way to ensure you don’t embarrass yourself, or your company, is to show some common decency. “You should always be respectful and considerate of those at the table with you and others in the restaurant. Being loud, arrogant, or condescending will only leave a negative impression of you to the restaurant staff and fellow diners. Remember, when you enter a restaurant, you’re entering into a social contract with everyone else in the restaurant. You don’t want them to put a damper on your experience and vice versa”, Bonnie warns.

What To Wear

While you’re sitting at your table, it may be a little too late to wonder why you’re getting stares dressed in your best tank top and favourite flip-flops. But one thing to always do before arriving at a fine dining restaurant is to understand what their dress code is. From Bonnie’s experience, “the restaurant normally will list their dress code expectations on their website or when they send you a confirmation. The dress code usually falls under semi-formal or business casual. If you’re ever unsure about what the appropriate dress code is, the best approach is to always call the restaurant and confirm. It is important for you to be comfortable, both in your attire, and the environment.”

All the Detail

Ultimately you have nothing to be worried about. The staff are there to ensure that you have the best experience possible and are there to cater to you. As a matter of course, the staff will be explaining in great detail what’s happening along the way such as what the food is, why a particular pairing was chosen for a course, or a little about the chef or the restaurant’s concept.

If In Doubt – Copy Others

Bonnie’s final bit of advice is to “simply try to enjoy the experience. Don’t be afraid to ask the server if you have any questions, and remember to respect other diners around you who are trying to enjoy their time as well.” And if you ever feel lost or unsure – remember – you can always see what other diners are doing and follow their lead!

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