The INSIDER Summary:
- We interviewed a chef, sommelier, and etiquette guru about the most common mistakes “dining rookies” make when they go out to eat.
- Never refuse to order outside your comfort zone, says chef Timothy Hollingsworth.
- Don’t feel like you have to order wine off the menu, says sommelier Sur Lucero.
Eating out at a fancy restaurant is just as much about the experience as it is about the food. Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth or regularly splurge on Michelin-starred fare, you may be a bit clueless about how to act, what to order, or even how to score a reservation.
We got fine dining tips for beginners from chef Timothy Hollingsworth (chef/owner of Otium in Los Angeles, former chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry), master sommelier Sur Lucero (vice president of Wine Access), and dining etiquette expert Julia Esteve-Boyd.
Here are 8 mistakes to avoid.
Giving up when you can’t get a reservation
Services like OpenTable are not the only way to get a reservation at a coveted dining spot. Sometimes it’s better to try the old-fashioned way: calling. “Usually restaurants do not put up all of their availability online, so calling usually pays off,” chef Timothy Hollingsworth told INSIDER.
Not dressing for the occasion
Etiquette expert Julia Esteve-Boyd reminds you to never wear jeans to a fancy restaurant, and check the dress code in advance. There are certain unspoken rules on how to dress and act at a fancy restaurant.
Forgetting basic table manners
Esteve-Boyd says to never exclaim “Garcon!” or “waiter” to get your server’s attention, to never ask for ketchup or mustard, and to always wait until all guests have arrived to order a drink. For the ladies: do not place your handbag on the table.
Further, Esteve-Boyd reminds us of a few fine dining table manners that may not be as obvious, such as the proper use for a napkin (blotting discretely, not wiping), breaking bread instead of cutting it or biting into it, and not drinking with your pinkie out (which can actually be seen as a rude gesture in certain cultures). To tell a server you are finished with your food, use the “silent service code:” napkin placed to the left of your plate, silverware arranged in a 4 o’clock position on your plate.
Feeling like you have to order wine
The wine list (especially with its wide range of prices), can be daunting. But master sommelier Sur Lucero reminds us that you can save money by bringing your own bottle at most restaurants:
“Most fine dining restaurants charge a nominal corkage fee, typically $35 per bottle, to bring your own wine,” he said. “For that, they will chill or decant as necessary and serve the wine in beautiful glassware. Bringing a $65 bottle of wine will cost you the same $100 that tends to be the median at most elevated establishments — but you’ll enjoy a far better bottle for the price.”
Not speaking up about food allergies
Communicate with your server about dietary restrictions before you order, or even when you make the reservation.
“Most places are able to accommodate you if they have a little bit of notice,” chef Hollingsworth said. “That way, you can really get the most out of your meal, and not have to skip on great dishes you would otherwise pass over.”
Similarly, you should notify your server if you’re on a time constraint as well.
Ordering your favorite food
It might be tempting to order a familiar dish on the menu, but try to resist. “When at a fine dining restaurant, ordering outside of your comfort zone should be your go-to move,” chef Hollingsworth said. “Sometimes, certain ingredients can look daunting, but generally most dishes are based on classic flavor pairings. It’s an opportunity to experience something you couldn’t make it home, and may give you ideas on how to amp up your own recipes.”
In other words, try the grilled octopus instead of the chicken parm: You may surprise yourself.
Only ordering the restaurant’s signature dishes
You may have read in a few reviews that the restaurant you’re going to is particularly known for certain dishes, but don’t be afraid to march to the beat of your own drum. “Many fine dining restaurants change their menus regularly, so if you are only ordering the dishes that you’ve seen written up, you may be missing out on the most inventive, freshest seasonal dishes that really shine,” chef Hollingsworth said.
Being afraid to ask questions and not trusting your sommelier/server
Not sure what or how to order food or drinks? Your server is there to guide you.
“Diners shouldn’t be afraid to establish some monetary and consumption guidelines so that the restaurant can best guide their recommendation,” Sur Lucero said. “Rookie diners should let them know how adventurous they want to be, so that they can then relax and dine into the night!”
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