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How to Embarrass Yourself in a Nice Restaurant

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Upscale restaurants get busier in the fall as diners snap out of the summer's casual mode and start getting excited for serious food prepared by top chefs. Here, five mistakes to avoid if you want to come away like a dining-out pro.

© Theo Morrison
Wine pairings may offer more than a buzz.

1. Underdress. It's easy enough to call ahead to inquire about a dress code, but even if the suggestions are fairly vague, like “business casual,” you can try to show some decorum. No one wants to see a man's hairy legs in shorts (Mario Batali being exempt from this), and if a woman's dress is cut down to here or up to there, you can bet the line cooks have already heard about it. Also, forget flip-flops.

2. Fake an allergy. The topic of how restaurants deal with food allergies turned up on Grub Street and Inside Scoop SF recently, and both articles touched on finicky eaters who feign allergies to avoid dislikes. In top restaurants, chefs will often individualize tasting menus so allergy-prone diners can fully experience the cuisine (see: Thomas Keller’s gluten-free brioche). This takes a lot of effort. So, if you demand a gluten-free menu because you’re trying to avoid carbs, you better not get caught tucking into the breadbasket.

3. Drink the finger bowl. If a small, pretty bowl containing hot water scented with lemon or herbs comes between courses, it’s not a palate cleanser or an under-seasoned soup. Drinking this is the fine-dining equivalent of eating a Wet-Nap.

4. Heavy petting. Sweet displays of affection might include a nuzzle, hand-holding across the table, and a kiss or two, but it’s best to keep your hands and mouth focused on the food. Footsie and bathroom adventures might be popular these days, but it’s unwise to experiment in a restaurant you might like to return to someday.

5. Get drunk. The likelihood of the above happening, along with every classic blooper (toilet paper on your shoes, skirt tucked into your tights, FALLING), rises exponentially with your consumption of alcohol. Many wine pairings provide more alcohol than diners can tolerate, so even if you paid as much for the pairing as you did for dinner, try to mind your limit. Plus, the lasting value of an amazing meal dwindles if portions of your memory are blacked out.

Related: 5 Signs You've Picked a Bad Restaurant
5 Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing
More What Not to Dos

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Run with chefs and wine experts in the Celebrity Chef 5K and dance all night at Gail Simmons’ Last Bite Dessert Party during the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 20-22.