Eating is no longer as simple as putting food in your mouth, chewing, and then swallowing. It has become an intricate part of an evolution that reflects how much humans have changed in the last thousands of years.
Among the fruits of this evolution that are most apparent today is fine dining. As the name suggests, it describes food service with a higher level of sophistication and luxury. It usually comes with dedicated meal courses offered alongside full service.
Because it can be a bit more lavish than your average restaurant meal, going to a fine dining restaurant may leave you uncertain and worrying about making any mistakes. After all, there’s an unwritten set of rules – fine dining etiquette if you will – that needs to be followed in such establishments.
Sure, everyone knows about the dress code, but there are other things you might be doing that break some of these fine dining rules.
So, before you book a table for a fancy date, an important business meeting, or to spend some leisurely time with friends, read about these six honest mistakes you shouldn’t be making and put your mind at ease:
1.Lifting the menu off the table
Ever tried reading a restaurant menu with tiny cursive fonts that can be a bit difficult to read? If you have, then you’ve also probably committed one of the most common blunders in fine dining etiquette: lifting the menu off the table.
In a formal dining setup, the menu – or at least, a part of it – should always be touching the table. This means it has to be placed flat on the table or with the bottom making contact with it while you are deciding what to order. Even if you feel the impulse to bring it closer to your face, you must never give in.
2.Flooding your food with condiments
When you go to a diner and eat a steak, you may choose to douse it with as much ketchup and other condiments as you like. That’s your prerogative since you’ll be the one consuming it later. In fact, how you want to eat your food is all up to you.
But eating at a fancy restaurant is a bit different. If you order the house specialty only to pour your standard mix of condiments on it, you’ll likely earn the ire of the chef.
Although you have the freedom to choose however you want to eat the food they prepare for you, professional chefs take pride in every dish they make – including the one you’ve chosen to drench in seasoning or hot sauce.
It means that changing up the dish can be offensive to them. After all, they worked hard to earn their place in the kitchen after undergoing rigorous culinary training to perfect their craft.
For this situation, it would be best to avoid taking matters into your own hands. Never season a dish to suit your taste on your own. Instead, let the chef know so they have a chance to do something to meet your expectations.
3.Leaving the napkin on the table
Many people forget to grab a napkin before sitting down to eat at home. This is why most would not know what to do with the one they are presented with at a formal dinner table.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that napkin etiquette is real and must always be followed in fine dining.
Of course, everyone knows that blowing on a napkin while on a dining table is downright rude. But did you know that leaving it on the table is a mistake as well?
Napkins should be placed on your lap and arranged accordingly depending on its size. If it’s a small napkin, it should be opened completely. If it’s big, you can fold it in half and position it in a way that the fold faces toward your waist.
In some fine dining establishments, a server might even do this for you.
In case you need to excuse yourself and stand up, you must still avoid putting your napkin on the table. Instead, place it on the seat of your chair, loosely folded.
4.Removing bread from the plate before eating it
If you’re served with bread, you must never remove it from your plate unless you’re ready to put it in your mouth. This means that you should keep it on the plate while buttering it up.
Of course, putting butter on the entire slice at once is also poor practice. Here’s what you should do instead:
- Break off a piece small enough for a single bite.
- Butter that piece without lifting it off the plate.
- Raise the buttered bread and bring it close to your mouth when you’re ready to eat it.
Take note that this doesn’t just apply to white or toasted bread. You should also do this for muffins, bagels, and even biscuits, as well as other bread-like food items.
5.Placing an elbow (or two) on the table
When people get lost in a conversation, they tend to relax a little and seek a more comfortable position, which usually means putting an elbow on the table.
Although modern dining etiquette has eased up a bit since the age of your forefathers and has evolved with time, it doesn’t mean that this fine dining faux pas will be forgiven.
Placing anything on the table that isn’t used for eating – be it your phone or even a part of your body – is a big no-no.
Besides, when your elbows are where they’re supposed to be, you’ll be forced to sit up straighter. Based on research, sitting or standing tall helps you command people’s attention more. It also lends authority and adds value to what you’re saying, which can be helpful in a formal dinner setting.
6.Using the wrong utensils
Aside from the dress code, fancy food, and luxurious ambiance, fine dining restaurants are also known for another thing: a large collection of silverware.
There’s a fork or a spoon for everything, but it can be a bit tricky to tell which one to use for each course. Want to know the easiest rule to help you remember? Start with the silverware farthest from your plate and move inwards as you use one utensil at a time throughout your meal.
Aside from this, you also need to know what you must do after you’re done with each one. According to the rules, you should put your knife and fork in a parallel position – aka the “4:20 position,” as in the same position as the hands of the clock.
This not only serves as a signal for the server you’re done with the course, but it also makes it easier to remove the dinnerware.
Practice proper etiquette
Fine dining etiquette serves as a guide on dressing, speaking, or acting properly during a formal dinner setup. But while it’s normal for people who don’t frequent such establishments to make honest mistakes, it would be better to learn the rules and avoid breaking them from the get-go with the help of this article.
Mohamed Farzad is the Director of Nippon Group of Companies. One of the Nippon Hospitality Division’s premium projects is Doors Freestyle Grill, a premium steakhouse and international fusion cuisine-lifestyle dining concept set across the spellbinding Al Seef heritage district in Dubai.