Before we really get into the mistakes we are all making when we go out for a nice dinner, let’s discuss some numbers, because they are astounding. We all know the United States loves food—our portion sizes can tell you that—but did you know that in 2015, we spent over $7.45 billion dollars on food and drink sales? Or that in the spring 2016, over 19 million Americans went out to a restaurant over 10 times in one month?


While we may not be hitting up Sublimotion in Ibiza (the world’s most expensive restaurant per person, at an average price per person of over $2,000) Americans certainly love supporting the restaurant industry. And even if you aren’t dropping a couple grand on dinner, it’s best to know what you’re doing when it comes to table etiquette.


The fancier the restaurant, the fancier the napkin. The next time you are out at a restaurant that has those bleached white, starch-crisp napkins, there are a few things to know to make sure you’re using it properly.


Firstly, don’t just grab it off your plate and wave it around to unfold it like it’s a king-size bed sheet. The next thing to concentrate on is being considerate to your host. 

Sue Fox explains in her article on Dummies: “After you’re seated, wait for your host or guest of honor to pick up the napkin and place it on his [or her] lap. Use this signal as an indicator for you, the guest, to do the same. You can find the napkin either to the left of the forks, beneath the forks, or on the main plate.”


If you’re in a really upscale place, the waiter or hostess may come over and place the napkin in your lap. Gently unfold it to an appropriate size, so a large napkin won’t drape over your legs like a new tablecloth. Never tuck it into your collar like in some 1950s movie, and don’t place it back on the table until everyone is done.


If you go to the bathroom, place the napkin on your chair instead of the table, as that usually indicates you are finished with the meal. Lastly, don’t wipe across your entire mouth—gently dab instead—and always be sure to do so before taking a drink so you don’t get bits of food or grease on the rim of your glass. Nobody wants to look at that.

Cutlery and Glassware

When you go to a nice restaurant and there are more forks by your plate than you have in your entire kitchen, there are a few rules to help you out. First of all, don’t worry; we’ve all been Jack Dawson sitting at the fancy dining table on the Titanic as he quietly asks, “Are these all for me?” The same rule that applied in 1912 applies now; as Molly Brown advises Jack, start on the outside and work your way in.

More often than not, though, nicer restaurants will bring you your cutlery per course and you won’t have to worry about this.

As for what to do with your cutlery during and after the meal, you can actually send coded messages depending on how your fork and knife are arranged. The biggest takeaway with cutlery is to not put your utensils down on your plate until you are finished with the meal.


As for the glassware, you should know which is your water glass and which is not. If you aren’t sure which glass to use for the red and white fruits of the vine, glasses for red are taller with a larger bowl (since those varietals are bigger and bolder in flavor), while glasses for whites will be smaller and shorter since they don’t need to breathe quite as much.

Dress Code

Fashion these days is simply unpredictable. You can essentially get away with wearing anything and calling it a fashion statement; just look at photos of Jared Leto rocking Gucci pajamas that probably cost three times as much as our rent. Unfortunately for us, most of us aren’t celebrities who can get away with that stuff on a regular basis. When it comes to fine dining, we should take the opportunity to really do it up and relish in the old school sophistication of a good restaurant.


Restaurant guide and concierge service website Table Agent is full of information on dining etiquette and one thing they say about the dress code makes a lot of sense: “[Fancy restaurants] wish for their guests to experience the world they have created. You can savor the luxury of top-notch service best when you too look and feel first-rate. The essence of fine dining wants to take patrons out of their ordinary lives, and for two hours, allow them to bask in the extraordinary experience of their choice. To truly be apart of such a supreme culinary happening—one must look the part and one must dress to dine.


Even if you aren’t normally comfortable dressing up, think of it as dressing for the part or going in a costume. Wear things you don’t normally get to and who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy the aspect of dressing up more than wearing basic jeans and t-shirts. If you refuse to dress up, you’re risking not being seated as some restaurants will refuse service if you don’t meet the dress code. Even if they decide to seat you, then know that you’ll stand out like a sore thumb.


Now, those are some of the main rules and hopefully once you’ve mastered those, you can add to the rest. Remember, it’s always okay to ask questions. Don’t just assume the answers. 

Here are a few other rules to follow to really step up your fine dining game:

Don’t put your keys, phone, or wallet on the table. This is not TGI Friday’s and we are not eating chicken wings and watching football. Remove the distractions from sight. Think of fine dining like going to a movie: It’s a break from your current reality where you can enjoy the current moment and think of nothing else.


Don’t eat off each other’s plates. If you plan to share, let the server know and they’ll plate the dishes accordingly.


Butter that bread—properly. Put a piece of bread on your plate, then knife some butter on your plate as well. Rather than cutting the roll in half and buttering the whole thing and eating it like a hoagie, rip off small pieces, dab some butter on it, then eat it.


Try to order the same number of courses as everyone else. If one person orders a salad while someone else prefers to get the show on the road, your table may be off schedule meaning one person will have an empty plate while the others are eating. If you don’t want an appetizer but some other people do, the server should know to bring out the appetizer first and then all of your main courses together. Eat slow. Enjoy.


Don’t ask for substitutions unless you are truly allergic to an ingredient. And if that’s the case, then you should really just order something else. Ingredients are included to create the best possible dish, so if you’re physically able to eat it, trust the chef’s expertise.

Don’t be rude. Tip well. Don’t be obnoxious. Be courteous. And hey, have fun—you’re surely paying for it.