“Food is a thing with feathers.” Emily Dickinson wrote that once…. I think.
If there is one romantic relationship that I have witnessed across the universe- in every city, state, country, and planet I’ve visited, it’s the love between (hu)man and food. People love sustenance. We gobble, devour, scarf, chow down, and nosh any chance we get. That includes photos, fortunately. This ensures that the rest of us can look on and feel deep shame upon noting that our cabinets and refrigerators are empty, or worse, full of regret for what we have chosen to keep stocked in there. Sorry, but no number of openings and closings of that door will erase the angst and self-hatred you’re experiencing. Foodie’s Regret. We’ve all been there.
This poor judgement of one’s gastrointestinal needs can be remedied, however, by a a reservation at a restaurant. Make that, a fancy pantsy restaurant, because- why not?
If you’re like me and you typically travel alone, eating at a fine dining establishment may not be as appealing, or even terrifying. Stop fearing and start living! Richard Simmons probably said that. I recommend detaching from the trough and using a fork and knife. Not everyday, mind you! Just… once in awhile.
You don’t have to abandon ‘Hot Harold’s Hot Dogs’ or wherever you like to frequent in your tee and boxers, and you certainly don’t have to live on soup served on a baby fork. As they say, it all ends up in the same place (we’re talking potty talk now. Keeping it classy.) But. What say you about suits and dresses? How do you feel about redwood chopsticks with hand carved elephants? Fancy restaurants love chopsticks! A respectable joint full of respectable people doing… semi-respectable things. I can’t speak for everyone, some of those well-to-do business folk are as greasy as Hot Harold’s Ham and Hummus Humongo Hot Dog! (Two for one deal if you eat both in less than a minute!)
You go to a nice restaurant and you get yourself a menu that tells you what the farmer named every vegetable you are eating and the hobbies of the cow whose manure was used to grow them!
Of course, eating snazzy means being snazzy for the night. No reason to go in there and look like a deranged boar who got lost whilst looking for White Castle. As they do. Whether it be for a special occasion, a work event, or because you’re gosh darn fabulous and deserve a sexy meal, let’s try to figure out how to deal with this delicious and gorgeous trauma of yours.
Before the Food Consumption
Dress like you mean it. First of all, some restaurants on the “wow” caliber require a certain level of dressage. Imagine you’re a proud stallion riding your way gloriously into a battle of beauty. If you’re doing the suit thing, do the suit thing. Match your socks and shoes and shirt and cufflinks and pocket square, and… um… everything else. Make it match. Learn how to tie a tie! Maybe you can pull off a fake, but I feel good about myself when I successfully get my Windsor knot going. If you’re going the dress or gown route, own that sunuva! Make it glamorous and seasonally appropriate, and hey, maybe wear shoes that won’t leave your feet looking like they’ve been left out in a hot car for too long.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but dress down and get the cold shoulder.
I just made that up, you like it? I’m proud.
Tonight is the night when you can look in the mirror and not think, “Why do you even exist?” You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it. Unless you royally mess up. Then don’t blame me.
Arrive early and check-in. If you really can’t handle this, at least be on time. If you made a reservation (you did make a reservation, didn’t you!?) then you should be there and be put together at that time. Preferable 15-20 minutes beforehand, so you don’t have to wonder why you’re on time but those sons of a gun are not seating you immediately and precisely on the dot. Unfortunately, reservations don’t always ensure immediate placement. That’s why there’s a bar. Or, maybe there’s a wait because there’s a bar? Conspiracy! Either way, avoid frustration and anxiety, and just be there. When you realize your sock is slipping down into your shoe, you’ll be glad you have extra time to reach down, leisurely fix it, maybe massage your toes and scratch your arch a bit. It’ll be totally worth it. Oh- and straighten whatever it is that’s not straight. Trust me- something is crooked and everyone will notice. Just kidding. No one cares.
When you walk in, you’ll also want to take a moment to take in the prettyful surroundings and breathe in the air. Remember, most restaurants with cloth napkins in the bathroom also use 24K gold to filter the air. Get your money’s worth. Also check your coat if this is an option. If you’re splurging, don’t skimp just so you can pick it up every 10 minutes and drag it around with you. If you love something, let it go to the coat room. They’ll keep it warm for you by sitting on it with their butts. That’s how they do it in my imagination.
Get a drink and relax. I knew you’d like this one. Whether it’s a seltzer with lime or a seltzerini with olives and the blood of a unicorn, having a beverage to sip, a glass to fidget with, and (hopefully) a little umbrella to open and close will really help you settle in and feel like you’re living well. You can use this time as an opportunity to check out what everyone else is doing and eating. Maybe someone will think you’re already drunk and be willing to talk to you… if that’s what you’re into. If nothing else, you’ll feel super classy holding a crystal martini glass and repeating in your head, “Shaken not stirred. Shaken… not stirred. Steak ‘n’ not slurred. hah. Oh, me. So clever and dashing and charismatic.”
Not that I’ve ever had this conversation with myself on a daily basis.
Don’t let them rush you and don’t feel rushed! Some of these places have a bazillion people coming and going constantly, so you can feel the polite urge to get in, eat, and get out as quickly as possible. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t be a polite statistic! It’s your time, money, and experience. You do it at any pace you like. If you want to take 30 minutes to order, 2 hours to eat, and 3 hours of chill time, you go and you do that. I mean, that might be pushing it a bit, but there’s no law against it. Unless there is a law against it; consult your attorney.
Actually, don’t linger. I take that back. Stop being a jerk. Do things at your pace, but don’t hold up everyone else. All good things must come to an end.
When it’s Time to Order
Figure out the menu. While there’s no shame in asking staff to help when you’re lost in a sea of weird food items and ancient foreign symbol, there’s something to be said for knowing what is what on the menu. Basically, you want to bring your thermos and compass to your camping weekend. This menu will not look the one at Waffle House, I assure you. Those aren’t stains from red wine, they’re stains carefully placed by a famous Italian menu designer. Email him any compliments or complaints you may have.
We all know what “appetizers” are! Yum! Hollywood, FL 2016
We will now cover some of the most common fancy pants menu tools:
- À la carte (noun) meaning “According to the menu” in French. According to the Google, this is a listing of food items that are served as separate entities, as opposed to parts of a complete meal. This will give you the ability to pick and choose what you want and how much of it you want. Think tapas or dim sum. Bits and pieces of a meal that you piece together to satisfy your hunger, cravings, and budget. Many people really go all out on these suckers. Try one of everything, if you like, no one’s gonna complain. You’re the one in the outfit that smells vaguely like moth balls trying to be disguised by cologne, and that means you’re an adult who gets to make adult choices… and who also just spilled some wine on their lap. But, hey, you drink wine, because you’re over 21. Boom.
- Prix fixe (noun) French people are smart, they invented this “fixed-price” thingy for everyone’s benefit. You get to pick one of 3 or 4 options for each course (typically 4-5 courses, but there may be even more!) and the price remains the same. You order everything at once and then the food just rolls in when you’re ready for the next one. It’s not all at once, so you don’t look like the Georgie Peorgie that you know yourself to be. You have one or two plates and maintain your dainty dignity while growing increasingly satiated.
*There are some items that come with an additional fee if they’re even fancierer. Be sure to look out for footnotes noting this.
- Chef’s tasting menu (noun) This one is English, I think you know those words. If you’ve visited Ihop and ended up rocking in a corner because the menu was too extensive, this may be the way to go. The chef does all the hard work of choosing each course and you just sit back and see what Chef Boyardee has planned for you. It’s like having a private chef at home! Except, this one doesn’t contemplate undercooking the fugu… if you know what I mean. Puffer fish humour, anyone?
Bother the waiter. There’s no reason to be a total pain in the butt, but if you want to know what’s recommended or what something is or means or if that thing is supposed to smell like that, be sure to ask. Even fancy people and places are still just people and places, which means they need to do their job and give you a good experience. Plus, you deserve a full experience in which you’re not walking out $200 down and still hungry or sick or dissatisfied. If you don’t want that sauce on your food or you want to know if something is salty or sweet or whatever YOU want to know or you think could make or break your meal, ask and ask and avoid any problems.
Everyone had to go to a fancy restaurant for the first time at some point, and the waiters are aware that not everyone is aware of the going ons. This is why they’re trained to treat you well and not be overly snobby. If they are, the place is stupid, anyway. Don’t let them boss you around, you’re their boss tonight! You pay their rent, so allow yourself to be curious and learn as much as you can.
Try something new. Burgers are nice and fancy, this is true. But that thing with lily bulb in it or that dumpling shaped like a carrot… that might be your new favourite food. If you’re debating whether you should eat something you’ve eaten your entire life or get something entirely new, there’s always compromise! Ask your waiter or neighbour or dial a friend and ask what they suggest. Something like, “I love ____, do you have something similar that isn’t ____?” or “I once had a ____ that tasted like ____ and I hit my ____ in the ______ with it. What would you recommend that might also be _____?”
Basically, ask about suggestions that are familiar to some extent, but also new to your tastebuds. And, also, don’t hit people. Stop doing that.
Quality chefs are taught to combine the familiar and beloved with the new and exotic. Flavour blending keeps their job interesting, and satisfying you is their job, so make sure they know what you like and don’t like, and take time finding a happy solution for everyone (mostly you!)
Wine?? Of course, wine is super optional. Some people hate it, some people don’t understand it, and some people just want to avoid any possibility of spilling it. If it’s not your thing, don’t feel like you have to fit in or that it’s expected of you. Perrier water or even just tap water is totally cool, and it’s hydrating and stuff, unlike wine. However, if you like wine, but know nothing about pairing and airing and how to pronounce stuff, do what I keep telling you- ask the waiter or, even better, the sommelier (wine steward). They actually go to school to tell you what a cabernet is. We’ve all heard the word, but what it means… only the sommelier knows. Let the fella or lass show off some knowledge and impress you with how smoothly he/she says, “sauvignon” or how gorgeous “noir” can really be. *Vegans- just remember, not all wine is vegan. Red is more often acceptable, but still ask. If they don’t know, stick with something safer.
Fortunately, I found vegan-friendly wine and baguette in Paris! (2012)
They’ll also often give you a mini-taste beforehand, especially if you order the bottle, in which case you don’t even have to ask, they’ll just provide it. If you are served a drop of wine and you and the sommelier are eyeing each other like, “Well?” that means you should do the sniff, swirl, and sip like in the movies. If you like it, which you probably will, you just nod and the person will pour you more. If it’s not for you, try again or get a cocktail. Or go with the house/recommended wine. Easy sneezy.
When the Food Arrives
Don’t look with terror. It’s possible you ordered something that sounded simple, but now what you’re getting looks like it just got into a fight with Freddy Kreuger. Don’t panic. It really is whatever you ordered, they just want to impress you. That’s the job of the restaurant, to offer you a unique experience. Thus, you may be confused, scared, and fighting the urge to cringe sometimes. Try not to give in. Just say, “Thank you” and poke it a bit when no one’s looking. And despite what many naysayers nay say about these days, I’m totally into the idea of taking photos of your food. It’s pretty and you paid for it, your friends should have to look in envy, and you have the right to look back and sigh with happiness that that food was in your life and passed through your digestion system at one point. Snap away, but be subtle and quick. Not too quick, or you’ll end up with the thousands of blurry photos like me, but quick enough so people don’t start sneering and acting holier than thou. “Ugh. Just eat your food and stop taking photos!” Oh, yeah, fancy pants? Well, stop using your fork tongs to remove dirt from your nails! Yeah, I saw you.
Back to my point, if something looks truly odd or different from what you expected, double check, but don’t immediately assume it’s “like ohmygod, not what I expected. I can’t eat this.” Eat it. Even if you do end up having to send it back, that was like a free bite of more fancy food. They will possibly and likely charge you for the meal, though, so… try NOT to do this. Just suck it up unless it’s really made poorly. And, if you LIKE what you ordered, don’t forget to pay your compliments to the chef. Yep, they don’t just do that in movies. The chef probably won’t come out, get on one knee, and thank you with tears in eyes, but it is appreciated, nonetheless.
Dessert: do or don’t? Your call, bromie. I always feel like I *should* get a dessert, but I usually pass. If I ate enough… and trust me, I ate enough, I don’t need it and it will just leave me feeling overstuffed and full of sadness. I’m not really a sweets person, though. If you enjoyed your dinner, but dessert is REALLY your jam, maybe this is where you should splurge. Smaller meal, bigger dessert? Big meal, huge dessert? Huge everything? Really, it’s up to you and how you’re feeling. When the dessert arrives, everyone will be super jealous and eye-eating your food, so don’t think you’ll look like a monster. They want it and they want it bad. But it’s all yours. Enjoy!
The Check Shows Up
Once again, don’t look with terror. It’s usually more than you expected. Head math is complicated when you’re excited and hungry, so you might have underestimated your spending. Play it cool. Unless the drunk guy at the table next to yours has a clever quip, in which case, go along with it and release your dismay and disbelief. Don’t overplay it, but meeting and bonding with other fake rich people, or real rich people is never bad. In general, though, don’t nickel and dime tonight. Of course, if something is wrong, get it corrected! Even wealthy people don’t tolerate that, but if something cost more than you hoped or expected, well, that’s the name of the game. You gotta be prepared for little surprises in there. So you’ll go a week without hand soap and toilet paper… no one will know!
Tip, tip, tip. Remember how hard we made the waiter work? We asked all those questions and requested more water over and over again. They were in the hot kitchen and in the freezing restaurant and running up and down… it was quite a job. Their feet and arms and back and shoulders and neck HURT. Help them pay for their chiropractor. No matter how fancy the restaurant, waiters are still waiters. They work hard and live mainly off tips. That’s America for ya. Maybe they got a little confused or moved a little slow for your liking, but that probably wasn’t to spite you. It was a long and busy day, exhaustion will have those effects on any person. Be generous because you had an awesome time and you’re just one heckuva nice person!
Eating out is a wonderful experience! While I still enjoy going out to casual dining in my jeans and tee, there’s something about the attention to detail and being given good care when in a high-end restaurant that really makes it feel so darn good! It’s an experience like climbing a mountain or living with monks: worth trying it to tell the tale and feeling how it makes you feel.
Not all food is created equally, just like well-made clothing will typically leave you feeling well-made. The rest is fine and dandy for everyday, but the moment you try the good stuff, you really get what the craze is all about.
Mock me and my dining experiences all you like, but that one is checked off my to-do list… can you say the same?
Click the ‘Follow’ button on the left to keep up with my adventure!
If you would like to work with me or submit your own post, contact me at:
In the meantime, get satisfied!
The Mere Mortal’s Guide to Fine Dining: From Salad Forks to Sommeliers, How to Eat and Drink in Style Without Fear of Faux Pas