Etiquette for Ordering Food in a Fine Restaurant

If you order a bottle of wine, your server will allow you to try it first.
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If your only experience with restaurants is ordering burgers at the counter or shouting at your waitress to bring you another round of mashed potatoes, you may have to spend some time learning the ropes before delving into the world of fine dining. If you're not sure what to do or how to act, your first rule of thumb should be to follow what other people around you are doing. From there, do your best to be polite and act informed when it's time to order.

1 Settling In

When you're escorted to your table, grab your napkin and place it in your lap. Chances are the person who brought you to the table is not your server -- that person is only likely to appear much later. Don't go ordering anything just yet, unless you're asked. At this point the hostess may ask you about drinks, but unless you already know what's available, defer for now.

2 Drinks First

Things may move slower in a fine dining restaurant than they do in diners or other eating establishments, so don't worry, take your time and review the menus carefully. The drinks menu is often separate from the food menu, so review the drinks first. If you're hoping for a good wine that will go well with your food, peruse the options for now; some restaurants will let you know what goes well with what. For example, the menu may tell you that their Syrah pairs well with the lamb. If you're craving a mixed drink or something in particular, let the server come around, introduce herself and tell you about the specials before you politely ask for your drink.

3 Food Next

Carefully review the descriptions for the food next. Unlike other restaurants you may have visited, dishes often come as a set plate, meaning you're not going to have the option of choosing fries over potatoes, for example. However, every restaurant is different so it never hurts to ask when the server comes back around with your drinks. Fine dining servers typically take orders starting with the eldest female, going to the next-eldest female, and then to the men, instead of going in a circle as is the custom at some other establishments. Be patient and use your best manners. If you have any special dietary needs, let the server know now -- even if it doesn't appear that anything in your food will conflict with your diet. Many fine dining dishes are prepared fresh, so it's typically not a problem to alter the dish slightly. Try not to make unnecessary changes, however, as fine dining chefs don't take kindly to fickle requests.

4 Ordering Desserts

Your dinner may have arrived, but you may not be done with the ordering etiquette just yet. If you're ordering a standard dessert such as a cake or baked goods, order them when your server comes around to ask about post-dinner treats. At this time you may also order coffee or tea, as is customary in many fine dining restaurants. However, if you're ordering something complicated such as flambe, find out whether you need to order it early. Some dishes take extra time to order -- but your menu or server will likely tell you whether that's necessary.

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.