As the owner of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most exclusive restaurants I’m often asked how you should prepare for an evening of fine dining. It’s obviously in everyone’s best interests for the experience to go well. The last thing I want is to interrupt your dinner with a harsh word in your ear. Or, if things get out of hand, to have to forcibly eject you from the restaurant through a side entrance.
The advice I give applies equally well to any high-end dining experience – it all comes down to these five simple rules:
1. Be Punctual and Patient
Running a tight ship at a busy, high-end restaurant takes incredible operational skills and flexibility. The most important thing you, as a guest, can do is turn up on time. If you know you’re running more than three minutes late then let the restaurant know immediately so that they can try to accommodate your abject tardiness.
After you arrive you should appreciate that things can still go wrong on the other side of the maître d’. Even the slightest perturbations in the preparation of individual dishes can have an utterly unpredictable effect on the restaurant’s overall dining schedule. I’ve written about this so-called Butter Fry Effect elsewhere. Suffice it to say – you need to stay patient until seated.
2. Dress Safely and Appropriately
If the restaurant has strict guidelines for attire, as we do at The Last Parsnip, then you should study them carefully and abide by them at all costs. Seemingly minor requirements can mean a lot to a given establishment. For example, appropriately starched shirt collars may seem like a trifling detail to you, but to me it is a critical component of our overall ambience.
When a restaurant declines to offer a specific dress code then it is best to plan ahead. Gain whatever intelligence you can before arriving – by carefully scrutinizing photos of the restaurant online or by quizzing previous guests. The following are generally helpful recommendations:
- Avoid discordant colors that are at odds with the restaurant’s décor. Color clashes, when extreme, can produce spectacularly unfortunate reactions from other diners.
- Avoid materials that generate high static charge in a typical restaurant environment (reference the Tribolectric Series). At all costs never wear rabbit fur with plastic seating – the results can be catastrophic.
3. Study The Menu Beforehand
Take time to study the menu online before arriving – and commit as much to memory as possible. The benefits of such preparatory homework are twofold:
- As the guest, you will feel more confident about your evening, and will be comfortable in your menu selection ahead of time. Dismissing the menu as an unnecessary encumbrance with a casual flick of the wrist is a guaranteed way to impress your waiter.
- For the restaurant, better-educated guests mean more efficient dining. Also, better preparation reduces the risks of an ignorant guest claiming that the dish “just wasn’t what I expected”. With a smartphone in hand there simply is no excuse for confusing bucatini with perciatelli.
4. Prepare Adequate Conversational Gambits
Any elite restaurant lives and breathes by the ambience that it creates – with a healthy susurrus of conversation being a critical component.
As a guest you should invest carefully in the following:
- Take time to research the members of your party. What are their likes and dislikes? Personal weaknesses or failings? Do they have “missing time” on their resumes?
- Prepare notecards to act as aide memoires throughout dinner. Consult them discretely as needed.
- Use incendiary remarks sparingly but effectively. Almost all successful evenings require at least one.
A top flight restaurant will generally abhor the vacuum of conversational silence. At The Last Parsnip we constantly monitor the overall noise level in our dining area. When it dips too low we introduce background chatter of a suitable conversational quality through our in-wall speaker system.
5. Eat Correctly
My last piece of advice concerns eating etiquette. Remember, exquisite food should be consumed with exquisite care. The last thing you want is a faux pas with your foie gras.
These are just some of the essential techniques to consider:
- Always angle a soup bowl away from you when spooning the food, and never aspirate for more than two seconds.
- Stir your coffee clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, never more than twelve times.
- Capture spaghetti with a fork in your right hand and a medium-grade spoon in your left. Maintain a counter-clockwise rotation of the fork when inserting it into your mouth to avoid unwanted drips.
I hope these simple but effective tips help you when approaching your next night of fine dining. Remember, it’s all down to preparation. If things go horribly wrong and you’re asked to leave then you’ve most likely only got yourself to blame. Enjoy.