Fear Not Formal Dining

by Jen Wanous

As an event planer and a culinary event planner at that, I have had the pleasure of dining at some of the best restaurants in the country. Not only am I enjoying the food, but often times, I am evaluating the food to decide what will be the best option for the guests of the event. One time, I had the option of choosing a dish with the most buttery, yielding cannelline beans or a close second in flavor with deeply rich morel mushrooms. My personal choice would have been the beans, but thinking of 700 people eating beans in one small space made me opt for the mushrooms.

These “tastings” are certainly perks of the job. I recently attended a James Beard dinner with a chef from California, Sondra Bernstein of the Girl and the Fig. When I entered the room and saw the intricate table setting before me, I thought back to how intimidating this used to be for me. Growing up in Southern California, we were more likely to have a barbeque at the beach than a formal dinner at a restaurant.

Learning what fork to use, what to do first and in general how to be polite has been an on-going learning experience. I have gathered some tips along the way that I would like to share. The next time you are in a fine dining situation, you can focus more on the food and less on what you should or should not be doing. Make Lady Grantham proud.

Silverware Simplified: Start on the outside and work your way in (see the diagram below).

Napkin Know-How: as soon as you sit down, unfold your napkin and place it in your lap. When you get up, and you’re coming back, leave your napkin on your chair (some fancy places will fold it again for you) and when you’re all finished, place the napkin to the left of your dish.

Silent Service Code: When you are finished with your meal, place your knife and your fork together, between 10 and 4 o’clock. This tells the server that you are finished and they can clear your plate. (See the picture below.)

Hot Hands: When drinking wine, hold the glass by the stem. (You don’t want to heat up the wine with your hand.)

To Wait or Not to Wait: When you are served hot food, it is more polite to eat it when it is served then to wait for everyone to be served first. The chef has prepared your food at a specific temperature and to wait and have it cool down is an insult. If it is cold food, you should wait for everyone to be served to then eat.

Diagram credits: Tanya Hutchison

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