What is fine dining? A celebration in a corner, a business dinner in another, with whispers that conserve momentum at every table, not to mention the delicate clinking of glasses, the mellow lights complementing the ambience, music to go with a view of city lights, or even a cool breeze by the ocean, so that you can enjoy your skilfully prepared meal.
While the experience is rewarding, there’s more than a few etiquettes you as a diner has to bring to the table. If you’ve forgotten them or don’t know about them, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered…
1. Don’t lift your menu off the table
When your waiter hands you the menu, make sure you touch any part of it on the table and flip through the pages. While it’s a reflex for all of us to read the menu by bringing it closer to our face, it’s best to read it the other way around [bring yourself closer to the menu]. It’s not a novel, after all.
2. Dress to impress? Yes, why not
Dress code is important, especially when you are fine dining be it on vacation or just a simple night out. Avoid wearing flip flops, or anything casual that wouldn’t match with the ambience of the restaurant. It’s not about looking posh, it’s all about dressing for the part.
3. Pass the dishes counter-clockwise
It’s easier to pass dishes to one another diagonally or if the person is next to you, but the ideal way of passing the dishes is to the right. This is to provide a sense of order, and most importantly, if there are multiple dishes being passed around, it is best done in an orderly fashion.
4. Pour, sip, repeat
Of course you need your favourite beverage to accompany your dish while dining. But most importantly, when you sip from a glass, you must ensure to sip from the exact spot on that glass till you’ve completed your meal.
5. Celebratory clinking? Avoid it
Clinking your glasses is the ideal way to kick-start a celebration. But something as delicate as a glass shouldn’t be clinked in the first place, not even for a boomerang on Instagram. Moreover, when it comes to fine dining, the less noise, the better.
6. Avoid asking for an oyster fork
If it’s not there, there’s a reason. Oysters can be very tasty, but if the oyster fork isn’t on the table, it’s because the Chef has already loosened it enough for you to devour it seamlessly. If you still can’t get it all out, use a knife to loosen it. Also, turn the shell over once you’ve eaten it, which means that you’re done.
7. Keep it clean on the rim
Ah, this is a must – fine dining, or not. When served and cleared once done, waiters hold the plate by its rim. Of course they’re human, and we don’t want to make them uncomfortable with something that would be uncomfortable for us.
8. Staying on your left
When you are fine dining, it’s important that you place your discards [a bone, a lemon, or an ingredient you don’t like] on the upper left side of your plate.
9. Eating your bread the right way
The joy in having a toasted buttery bread with your soup is something else. That being said, it’s important that you keep your bread on the plate at all times unless you are serving it right into your mouth. Additionally, it is important that you tear your bread roll and not cut it in the middle to butter it up.
10. What do with your napkin
Whether it’s folded into a lotus, or star, or pendant, or even an envelope, fold your napkin with the crease toward you before putting it in your lap. According to several etiquette gurus, the napkin should be picked up, unfolded and placed on the lap, but not above the table level. A large dinner napkin is folded in half, with the fold facing the body, while the luncheon napkin should be opened completely.
Apart from this, it is important that you leave your napkin on the left after your meal, and when you excuse yourself leave your napkin on your chair. Plus, your napkin isn’t your tissue, so avoid wiping your mouth or blowing your nose on it. Dab and blot your mouth after your meal is done.
11. “Please excuse me for a minute”
Whether it’s picking up a phone call or if you need to use the restroom, excuse yourself and do not mention the reason for it. Make sure you leave your napkin on your chair once you get up as well.
The placement of your knives have a bigger meaning than how you feel about your meal. The right placement, gives the right message and that’s what you should aim for. Plus, the number of cutlery on your table indicates the number of meals that will be served to you. Also, place your cutlery on your plate and never on your table cloth.
13. Leftovers? How about just one bite
While dining, it is important to leave one bite behind after your meal. This indicates that you have enjoyed your meal quite well, but you weren’t that hungry that you finished it all.
14. Your servers are human too
When it’s your turn to place your order, or to be served, be polite to the restaurant staff. Avoid flailing your arms at the waiter, rather attempt to make eye contact and raise your index finger to usher them over.
15. Stem glass? Hold it by the stem
Whether its sparkling water or your favourite bottle of wine, avoiding holding a stemmed glass at the base of the bowl, rather hold it by the stem. Why? Your body temperature could warm up the glass, and smudge it up.
16. Tea time
Ordering a cuppa? Here’s what you should do. Place your tea bag on the saucer below before taking a sip of your tea. By using your index finger, and the third finger, hold your cup’s handle firmly. Leave your fourth and little finger to support the bottom of the cup’s handle.
If you’re served in a smaller cup with a smaller handle, only use your index finger to hold the cup by the handle. Avoid sticking your little finger out while you sip tea, because this indicates that you are mocking elitism, unless it’s involuntary (of course).
17. How to taste your sauce
Whether it’s placing your sauce or dipping into it, there are certain rules you must follow. Avoid double dipping into a sauce once you have bitten into it. While it may be common, it is a pet peeve to several diners. If you do need a second serving, use a spoon to take a portion of the sauce, and place it on the bottom right of your plate.
18. Sushi? Here’s the right way to eat it
Devour your sushi from the lightest flavoured item to the heaviest flavoured item. Salmon is best eaten before tamago, and tuna right before salmon. You can dip your fish into soy sauce, but not your rice, because soaking up your rice with soy sauce will overpower the fish’s flavour. Also, when it comes to dipping, avoid mixing soy sauce and wasabi, because chances are, sushi already has a good amount of wasabi added into it.
19. Bon appétit? A big no.
Ah, don’t we all just love the French way of dining? While saying “Bon appétit” may seem like a wise decision before a good meal, don’t say it. Even Marie de Tilly, the French countess, agrees with us. Known for her classes on etiquettes and dining protocols, she says [as quoted by the New York Times], “When people use it, it sounds just like an invitation for a good digestion and suggests that you are so hungry that you may jump on any food that would cross your mouth.”
20. Wait for it
Begin only after everyone has finished serving themselves, and after all the food has arrived. Why? It’s polite, and it shows that you value your guests just as much as you value your food.
21. Off the table, off the record
Don't put your phone, purse, or keys on the table, because it’s unhygienic and takes up space as well. Plus, avoid texting or using your phone while you are seated at the table, because that’s just plain disrespectful to your guests.
22. A pinch of salt
Salt is a key ingredient of every meal. If you lack it, it’s okay. But if used excessively, that’s when you really have to worry. That being said, if you do feel a lack of salt, don't salt the dish before tasting it first, because it insinuates bad cooking.
23. Ask before you receive
Trying out new dishes is always a good idea. Which is why, in case of doubt, always ask your server if you do not understand a meal item on the menu, because nobody wants to be ‘that person’ who sends their food back without understanding what it was all about in the first place.
Apart from these basic etiquettes, sit upright, keep your elbows off the table and it’s best advised that you eat with the left hand, and drink with the right hand.
Is there a dining etiquette you follow? Tell us about it on firstname.lastname@example.org