Fine Dining Etiquette Rules

When out at a fine dining restaurant, there are some etiquette rules to follow. Some of the rules are common sense, like don’t chew with your mouth open or make rude comments. But some of the rules of formal dining are a little more nuanced. Properly following all the etiquette rules can be very intimidating for some at first. Luckily, most are easy to remember. Knowing just a few of the basics, and above all being polite, will prepare you and give you confidence for your next fine dining experience. Read on for some of the unsaid rules of fine dining you should know, including what to do and what not to do in fine dining.

What Is Fine Dining Etiquette?

Also referred to as table manners, there are a set of rules surrounding fine dining experiences that all guests should know. The fancier the event and meal, the more etiquette rules there are to know. And while some rules are common sense and easy to understand, some are more subtle behaviors that may seem strange if you’re new to fine dining.

Many of these subtleties in dining etiquette can be traced back hundreds of years to more aristocratic societies and ceremonies. Some are signals to your server, such as the placement of your silverware or napkin at the end of a course or if you have to get up from the table. But many of these rules exist to guarantee proper behavior and to help everyone enjoy their meal. A few of the rules help the meal flow smoothly.

Etiquette Rules of Fine Dining

Let’s take a look at some of the most common etiquette rules to know, from before you even enter the restaurant through finishing your meal and paying the bill.

How to Make a Reservation for Fine Dining

Many fine dining establishments request reservations. It can be challenging to get a table at certain restaurants without booking in advance, especially at busy or popular establishments.

What do you need to do to make a reservation for fine dining? First of all, plan as far ahead as possible. During some of the busiest holidays, it’s not uncommon to need to book weeks or even months in advance. For other dates, reserving a week in advance is usually sufficient. You should also call earlier if you have a large group or any special requests, such as wanting help with a proposal so that the restaurant staff has plenty of time to make accommodations.

Call the restaurant and politely ask for your desired reservation date and time and let them know how many people are in your party. If the restaurant has online reservations, you can book that way. If you have any special requests, it’s better to call and speak with someone.

Before you go, make sure you understand the restaurant’s policies on tipping so that you can tip staff members appropriately. If anyone in your party has any food allergies or dietary restrictions, tell the reservationist ahead of time to give the kitchen staff time to prepare.

Try not to cancel, but if you must, be sure to give as much notice as possible. The restaurant may be able to use your table for other patrons if you give them notice that you cannot make the reservation. You may also want to call the day of your meal to confirm your booking. On the day of your dinner out, be sure that you and your guests arrive on time, or a few minutes early. Arriving late is considered rude and could cost you your reservation.

Basic Fine Dining Table Manners

Once you’ve arrived for your reservation, you’ll be shown to your table. Don’t be overwhelmed if your place setting has numerous pieces of glassware and cutlery — a few easy tips will help you remember which ones to use and when.

How to Use Your Napkin

Knowing how to use a napkin might seem pretty basic, but there are some subtleties to be aware of when using your napkin at a fine dining restaurant or event. Your place setting will likely have a cloth napkin, folded in a fancy design. As soon as you are seated, you should gently unfold your napkin, without shaking it out, and place it on your lap. Here are a few more fine dining napkin tips:

  • Don’t use your napkin to wipe or blow your nose. Instead, excuse yourself to the restroom.
  • Never tuck the napkin into your shirt or place it anywhere else except on your lap.
  • Don’t clean your cutlery with your napkin or place food in your napkin.
  • If you get up from the table, place your folded napkin on your chair, and put it back on your lap when you return.
  • When the meal is finished, gently fold your napkin and leave it to the left side of your place setting. This is also a signal to your server that you are finished and your plate can be cleared.

How to Use Your Silverware

If your place setting has several different pieces of silverware or cutlery, there’s a simple trick to know which ones to use. Always start on the outside, with the utensil farthest away from the plate. So, if you have two, three or more forks beside your plate, start with the outermost piece for the first course, such as a salad. When that course is finished, you can leave your used cutlery on your plate to be cleared.

When the next course arrives, take the next piece in the line. Sometimes smaller dessert forks or spoons are placed above the plate or are brought out with the dessert course. If there are any remaining pieces by the end of your meal, leave them where they are. And if you are still confused as to which pieces to use, watch your host, observe which pieces they use and follow suit.

How to Use Your Dishes and Glassware

As each course is served, you’ll be given a new dish to use, and any dishes and cutlery from the previous course will be cleared away. There may be a small plate in the upper left area of your setting — this is your bread plate. Any glassware is arranged in order of use in the upper right corner of your place setting.

Usually, the water goblet will be first, to the left of the arrangement, followed by wine glasses for white, red or champagne. Your server will pour the wine for you in the appropriate glass. When you drink, hold the glass by the stem, not the bowl.

If you do not want wine, politely let your host or server know at the beginning of the meal.

How to Order and Pass Food

When there is a set menu, you won’t have to worry about ordering as the chef chooses the courses in advance. If you are ordering from a menu, your guests should always order first. You should then mimic the number and types of courses that your guests ordered. Ordering the same number of courses ensures that you are both eating something at the same time, and nobody is left out during a particular course. When ordering, make eye contact with your server and speak clearly.

If you need to get the server’s attention, to order food or drink, or make any other request, do so quietly and discreetly. Do not shout or call out to your waiter or waitress. It’s also unnecessary to wave your arms or make any gestures. An experienced server will be watching for your cues. Make eye contact or raise your index finger to let your server know you need something.

If any shared courses will be passed around the table, move dishes from left to right. If there is something you’d like, ask politely and do not reach, stretch or cross over other guests. Don’t intercept a pass to another guest — if you would also like some, wait your turn and do not grab an item on its way past you.

When passing salt and pepper, pass them both together even if only one was requested. Always use the provided serving utensils, and never your silverware, to bring food from the serving dish to your plate.

If you want to share a sample of another dish with a dining companion, put a small amount on a bread plate and pass the plate over. Never reach your utensils to someone else’s plate.

How to Eat at a Fine Dining Restaurant

Once you’ve been served your meal, it’s time to enjoy. Here are some additional tips for mealtime:

  • Do not blow on your food to cool it off. Wait a minute or two to let it cool down.
  • Take small bites of your food, even if it takes a little longer.
  • Don’t make slurping or smacking noises as you eat.
  • Try to avoid burping.
  • If you need to cut your food before eating it, just cut enough for a bite or two at a time, instead of the whole plate.
  • Use the proper utensils and scoop food away from you.
  • Taste everything on your plate, even if you’re unsure you’ll like it. If you have specific dietary restrictions, bring this up with the host or server before the meal to avoid awkwardness during the meal. If you don’t like something, quietly eat the other things on your plate.
  • If you’re dining at a restaurant, wait to start eating until all the guests are served. In a private setting, wait until your host picks up their fork before you begin.
  • Pace yourself to try to match the eating speed of the others at the table. Try not to finish long before or long after everyone else.

These tips will ensure your fine dining experience goes smoothly. Ensure that you also say “thank you” to your server or busser each time a new course is served, or a dish is cleared.

Dinner Conversation Etiquette

During dinner, there’s bound to be some conversation. To keep in line with polite dinner etiquette, maintain an even tone when speaking, don’t shout or whisper. While a bit of healthy debating is fine, it’s generally best to keep the discussion topics on the lighter side. Jokes are appropriate, as long as they are light and tasteful.

Politics, religion and other provocative topics, are best avoided. You don’t want to start a heated argument in the middle of your meal. It’s best to also avoid business discussions until after you’ve finished eating unless the dinner was arranged explicitly for this purpose.

Make sure to visit a bit with the person on your right and your left, giving them roughly equal time. It’s considered rude to only talk to one of your dinner companions all evening. Try not to complain — especially about the food, service or host. If you are nervous about the dinner conversation, try to be a good listener.

How to Pay the Bill

At a fine dining restaurant, the person who invited others usually pays the bill. Even if good-natured, arguing over the bill at the table is frowned upon.

One way to avoid any awkwardness, if you’re hosting, is to should arrive early and leave a credit card at the restaurant’s host desk. Handling the bill in advance means there is no way for people to argue over who will pay it.

If you and your dining partners decide to share the bill, let the server knows at the beginning of the meal. They might be able to split up the check based on what each person orders. Many restaurants will happily charge multiple credit cards on the same check.

When splitting the bill, try to share the costs fairly and evenly. Someone who didn’t drink wine or order any cocktails, shouldn’t have to pay as much as diners who might have had a few drinks or bottles of wine.

How to Tip at a Fine Dining Restaurant

The staff at a fine dining restaurant are usually very experienced and well trained and should be rewarded for their excellent service with generous tips. You should always leave a tip — generally at least 20% of the bill’s total for your server. Remember that if you’ve used any gift certificates or discounts, you should still tip on the total before discounts.

You may also want to leave a tip of 10 to 15 percent of your bar or wine bill for a sommelier or bartender who also served you. If you’ve received exemplary service, show your appreciation with a larger tip.

Reserve Your Fine Dining Experience at the Walnut Room

While all the rules of formal dining etiquette can be intimidating at first, with these tips and a little practice, you’ll be ready to enjoy an unforgettable dinner out. The more experience you get, the more comfortable you’ll be with fine dining. If you’ve been studying fine dining etiquette and are ready to try it out at a historic restaurant with contemporary-classy flair, come to the Walnut Room!

Located in the gorgeous Hotel Northland, and steeped with rich history and culture, the Walnut Room is one of Green Bay’s finest places to dine. From our signature cocktails and hand-curated wine list, to our dinner menu featuring fresh ingredients and creative upscale cuisine with a local twist, you’re sure to find something delectable to love. Make a reservation today to practice your fine dining etiquette in the Walnut Room’s charming, inspiring atmosphere. Come enjoy the finest flavors in Green Bay!