What’s the difference between fine dining and casual dining? With so many restaurants to choose from today, and so many different dining styles, it can be hard to make sense of all the distinctions and know what kind of restaurant you want. From fancier fine dining to casual restaurants to the newly defined fast-casual, and everything else in between, what should you expect at each of these types of establishments? What do these definitions mean in modern life, and what type of restaurant is right for your ideal night out?
Let’s explore just what makes a restaurant fine dining — or casual. You want to know how prices, atmosphere, dress codes and food differ at a fine dining versus a casual dining restaurant. Once you understand the difference, you’ll be ready to make a reservation at a restaurant that’s perfect for you.
What Is Casual Dining?
Casual dining restaurants have a very relaxed atmosphere but are a step up from fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. A casual restaurant generally has table service, meaning a server takes your order while you’re seated at a table. A food runner or server brings your meal to the table.
You can expect a higher quality of food at a casual dining restaurant compared to fast-food style restaurants. The food isn’t likely to be as high-quality as what you’d find at fine dining establishments. Wine, beer, and sometimes a full bar menu is usually on offer at a casual dining restaurant but less commonly available at fast-food or fast-casual restaurants.
The meal prices at casual dining establishments will be in the mid-range. Since a server takes your order and brings you your food, tips are usually expected. In the United States, many casual dining restaurants are part of national or regional chains.
The décor inside casual dining restaurants is usually quirky and approachable. Aside from requiring shirts and shoes, few casual restaurants have dress codes. You can wear what you want, from athleisure wear to a business suit.
What Is Fine Dining?
Fine dining refers to a restaurant experience that is of a higher quality and greater formality compared to the experience at a casual dining restaurant. The atmosphere of a fine dining establishment is usually more elegant, and the food is served in a more formal way.
There are usually more staff members at a fine dining restaurant and the staff has a higher level of training and expertise. You can expect celebrated chefs, a more knowledgable waitstaff and bar staff, and sometimes sommeliers or other food and drink experts to help you choose what to eat and drink.
The food at a fine dining establishment will be of the highest quality, made with luxurious ingredients, and served in unique and beautiful presentations. The quality of the dishware and cutlery is also higher, and often the décor and even the architecture of the restaurant building is notable. The prices for fine dining are higher than at a casual restaurant, but you are paying extra for the higher quality in food, the ambiance and the highly trained staff, among other factors. Tips for waitstaff are expected.
Difference in Size
Many fine dining restaurants are somewhat smaller in their physical size, with a smaller dining room than a casual eatery. A fine dining restaurant might be owned and operated by a renowned chef or have fewer locations compared to a casual chain restaurant.
Having smaller and fewer locations ensures that the owners and chefs can deliver the highest level of quality consistently. At smaller locations, the work of a celebrated chef can really shine, and as a customer, you’ll get more personal attention and quality service from all staff members.
Casual restaurants are often part of a much larger chain, sometimes with a national presence and many locations. The menu items are consistent across the chain, so you know what to expect of the food. While the food at casual places might be familiar, there are rarely menu updates or unique specials. Each restaurant location may also be larger in size too, to accommodate many patrons at once. At casual restaurants, you can expect good service, but each server will have more customers so you won’t get the level of personalized attention you would experience at a fine dining restaurant.
Of course, these are generalizations and there are exceptions. Some fine dining restaurants are much larger than average or have many locations. And there are many casual restaurants that are quite small in size, locally-operated or family-owned, and with only one or a handful of locations. So, while the size is a good indicator, there are other aspects that better differentiate fine dining from casual dining restaurants, such as the ambiance and quality of food.
Difference in Price
When choosing between a fine dining restaurant and a casual dining one, the price can be a significant consideration. Prices may vary widely in various regions and between all types of restaurants, but in general, you’ll find higher prices at fine dining restaurants than at casual dining options. Casual dining restaurants are generally an affordable option for a night out anytime, while fine dining for many people is for events like celebrating a birthday, anniversary or graduation. Entrees at a casual restaurant are often in the $10 to $15 range, with reasonably priced drinks and side dishes. Often at a fine dining restaurant, entree prices can start at $20 and go up, with top-shelf bar selections and wine choices.
Fine dining prices might seem out-of-reach at first. But it is usually the case that you get more for what you pay.
A few things help to explain the higher prices found at fine dining restaurants:
- World-class chefs: Most fine dining restaurants employ acclaimed and renowned chefs, trained at some of the best chef schools and restaurants, who can create unique menus of delicious, high-class food.
- Expert staff members: In addition to a quality chef, the waitstaff at these types of restaurants are generally more experienced and have extensive training in high-level service as well as knowledge about food, wine and more. Some establishments also have expert mixologists creating unique craft cocktails or sommeliers to curate the wine list and assist patrons in selecting the right wine for their meal. Due to their expertise, staff members are often paid higher wages at fine dining restaurants.
- Top-quality ingredients: Quality is key at any fine dining restaurant, and chefs will seek out the best ingredients, working with local farmers or shipping in special ingredients from all over the world. Many of these exotic, rare and top-quality ingredients cost more. The rarity is reflected in the prices of menu items. Fine dining restaurants will also often have extensive wine lists with some very rare or hard-to-find bottles, as well as top-shelf liquors available at the bar.
These are just some of the differences in quality that are reflected in the higher prices at fine dining restaurants. There are other factors that go into the exact pricing structure, but in general, you can expect higher quality foods and a higher level of service at a fine dining establishment.
The atmosphere at any type of restaurant is usually designed to create a certain type of dining experience. And the difference between fine dining atmosphere and casual dining atmosphere is quickly noticeable.
At a casual dining restaurant, everything about the style is a little more relaxed. These restaurants are often found in malls, strip malls, busy downtown areas or suburban clusters. There are usually large dining rooms with tables fairly close together. The tables and chairs might have a rustic appearance or a slightly worn-in, well-used look. The furniture is comfortable but not fancy. Tables generally don’t have tablecloths, and place settings are kept casual with paper placemats, simple silverware and disposable napkins.
The overall décor at a casual restaurant is also generally quite relaxed and may even have a funky or fun tone, or a specific theme. Casual restaurants are often a bit noisier than fine dining restaurants, with more people and less sound absorption. Sometimes these restaurants also play loud, fun music to set the tone or to cover the noise. Waitstaff will be friendly and dressed casually and comfortably.
On the other hand, everything about the atmosphere at a fine dining restaurant exudes high class. These types of restaurants can often be found in beautiful historic buildings and/or in gorgeous natural surroundings with great views from the dining rooms. The architecture and natural surroundings often set the tone before you even step foot in the restaurant.
The furniture inside a fine dining restaurant is classy looking and high-quality, often with some antiques in the mix. They may have high-quality artwork on the walls, tastefully arranged. Dining tables often are spaced a little farther apart than at casual restaurants, giving guests more room as well as more privacy. Tables at a fine dining establishment often have cloth tablecloths and may be set with cloth napkins and higher quality silverware and glassware. Stemmed water goblets and wine glasses may already be on the table when you arrive.
Many fine dining restaurants do not play background music. If they do play music, it’s usually classical, played at a low enough volume so as to not interfere with dinner conversations. It’s usually much easier to hear your dinner companions at a fine dining location. Sometimes the soft clinking of glassware and silverware adds to the sound ambiance of fine dining. The lighting is also carefully curated to not be too bright and to mimic the natural light outside. Some of the best fine dining restaurants dim the lights accordingly as the evening gets later and darker outside.
The staff at a fine dining restaurant often wear uniforms or dress more formally than servers at a casual establishment. You will often see all black, or black and white clothing on the waitstaff and a very professional appearance. Fine dining waitstaff are trained and experienced in giving just the right level of personalization and attention to every table, producing a great dining experience for each guest. Servers at a fine dining restaurant usually have fewer tables assigned to them, so they have more time and attention for the guests they serve.
Everything about the fine dining experience exudes class. The best fine dining restaurants have an eye for the details that make all the difference. Whether it’s a special celebration or a romantic night out, you’ll appreciate the intimate atmosphere, high-level service and unique, high-class food items on the menu.
Fine Dining in Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin may be known for its football, but the city has so much more to offer. As the oldest settlement in Wisconsin, Green Bay is rich with historic charm. There’s something for everyone in Green Bay. Whether you’re in town for a visit or are a local, there are so many great restaurants to try.
While casual dining options abound in the city, only a few places offer a high-class fine dining experience. One extraordinary option is the newly re-opened Walnut Room, in the Hotel Northland. This beautiful hotel started in 1924, and the Walnut Room is original to this historic time. Over the years, the hotel provided housing for visiting football teams and served other uses, but it has recently been restored and re-opened as a boutique hotel. One of Wisconsin’s best hotels, the Hotel Northland is located in the heart of downtown. Whether or not you stay at the hotel, you can experience the historic excellence at the Walnut Room.
Close to many other downtown Green Bay attractions, the Walnut Room offers fine dining experience that’s an excellent way to celebrate a special event or to unwind after a day spent exploring all that Green Bay has to offer.
Book a Reservation at the Walnut Room
Step into the finest dining in Green Bay, at the gorgeous and historic Walnut Room. Here, you’ll find fresh, local ingredients and a world-class menu of flavorful, unique signature entrees. Our tantalizing handcrafted cocktails recall the 1920s, and we also offer a carefully curated list of craft beers and hand-selected wines. Enjoy the flavors of Wisconsin in this upscale fine dining establishment, where you’ll be treated to a contemporary classy atmosphere and delicious, original menu items. Make a reservation to dine at the Walnut Room, and come experience the inspired seasonal flavors at one of Green Bay’s finest restaurants.