6 Fancy Restaurant Rules You Can Forget About
Even at upscale restaurants, old rules are going by the wayside.
High-end restaurants can be seen as stuffy—filled with "rules" we must observe from the second we walk in the door. Think of etiquette standbys like: Use each piece of silverware at the right time or never stretch for the salt shaker.
But luckily for modern-day diners, many of those rules have gone by the wayside. "With this new age of artisanal products, housemade everything, and locally sourced ingredients, restaurants have become places that reflect their community as opposed to cathedrals with angry Frenchmen," says James Garrido, general manager of Henley in Nashville. "This is exciting, and genuine. So no, you do not have to behave a certain way at a restaurant."
In fact, here are six old-school fancy restaurant rules you can (basically) forget about forever.
1. Forget about those special place settings. "Over the last ten years, more and more upscale restaurants have, mercifully, seen the end of huge place settings with three forks, two knives, three wine glasses and a charger beneath the plate," says Garrido. Why? All those shiny extra doodads are not only unnecessary, Garrido explains, but they "intimidate millennials who are coming into their own professionally—and financially—and frankly, who just want solidly prepared, sustainable, fresh food, with less pomp and circumstance." That means that fancy restaurant patrons—from millennials to Baby Boomers—can forget what, exactly, they're supposed to with that extra fork or that teeny, tiny silver spoon.
2. Look past white tablecloths. White tablecloths topping restaurant tables used to be a sign of fine dining. But now, "when you're looking for a restaurant, there is no longer a need to seek out the phrase white tablecloth," says chef David Burke, of Tavern62 New York. "Nice restaurants all over are cutting costs and cutting the traditional white linen." So how can you spot an upscale spot these days? "Look at the menu and reviews," Burke says.
3. Get your reach on. While it was once considered rude to reach across the table for a salt shaker, Garrido says stretching for the salt—or anything else you need, like a hunk of warm bread—is no longer a big deal. "I mean, don't knock a candle onto your mother-in-law's lap or anything," he laughs, "but with the huge influx we've seen in communal dining and small plates, and our Instagram-sharing culture, we are all here to have a shared experience. It's not important you stay in your bubble and that I stay in mine; we're here to dine together."
4. Don't fake it 'til you make it. Amateur wine lovers will savor the death of this rule. "A new relaxation in fine dining rules and stigmas is that there is absolutely no need to act like you know what you are doing when the server or sommelier starts talking about wine," says Garrido. "This crop of wine and beverage professionals are extremely casual and will always help you find something you will love in a price point you are comfortable with." In other words, you don't have to study the wine menu before making an (un)educated guess.
"Just tell your server what you like and we'll find something for you to try," Garrido says.
5. Leave your tie at home. While some fancy restaurant still observe strict dress codes that include a necktie for men, most have relaxed their requirements, Burke says. "Suits and ties have gone away," he says, "though it's still a courtesy to fellow diners to look nice." You can leave your tie at home and instead, "pick a blazer or nice sweater," Burke says.
6. Save your cash. According to Garrido, "Gone are the days when you could get a table by slipping $20 in a not-so-subtle-handshake. Reservation systems are here and they have—with some help from Silicon Valley—helped to make restaurant seating as efficient as possible." So save your $20 for the cab ride home—your bribes are no longer good in fine dining spots. "If you are at a busy restaurant, it's just busy," says Garrido. "There isn't really a Ray Liotta in Goodfellas table for you that they can bring out from the back."