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Fancy Restaurant Protocol?

Earthmover

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Hey folks,

So recently, I've been offered by a boss to have a dinner for two at any restaurant in NYC, and he said to make sure it was expensive. So now I am thinking about going to Bouley, Daniel, or Le Bernardin (I've talked with others, and this is de rigeur). The thing is, having grown up in the suburbs eating at Chili's and being not well-to-do for all of my life, I really don't know what the heck goes on inside these ultrafancy restaurants, or if anything is different at all. Specifically, I have no idea what to do with:

(1) the Maitre'd - do I tip this person? If so, how? Do I use the Handshake-and-drop-bills-in-hand move? And how much is suggested?

(2) the Sommelier - What do I do with this guy? If anyone knows the entire protocol, that would be helpful. I know s/he makes suggestions on wine, but does he just sneak up on you before the waiter comes by to take order or what? And how do I tip him/her seperately?

(3) Miscellany - I've been to good restaurants, but it was always a place where the waiter/waitress did everything, so I could be missing out on some other conventions that come with venues such as this.

If I'm going to blow $500 of my boss's money, I want to do it right! Any advice would be helpful. Thanks.
 

JBZ

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Originally Posted by Earthmover
Hey folks,

So recently, I've been offered by a boss to have a dinner for two at any restaurant in NYC, and he said to make sure it was expensive. So now I am thinking about going to Bouley, Daniel, or Le Bernardin (I've talked with others, and this is de rigeur). The thing is, having grown up in the suburbs eating at Chili's and being not well-to-do for all of my life, I really don't know what the heck goes on inside these ultrafancy restaurants, or if anything is different at all. Specifically, I have no idea what to do with:

(1) the Maitre'd - do I tip this person? If so, how? Do I use the Handshake-and-drop-bills-in-hand move? And how much is suggested?

(2) the Sommelier - What do I do with this guy? If anyone knows the entire protocol, that would be helpful. I know s/he makes suggestions on wine, but does he just sneak up on you before the waiter comes by to take order or what? And how do I tip him/her seperately?

(3) Miscellany - I've been to good restaurants, but it was always a place where the waiter/waitress did everything, so I could be missing out on some other conventions that come with venues such as this.

If I'm going to blow $500 of my boss's money, I want to do it right! Any advice would be helpful. Thanks.


Interesting topic - I'll give it a whirl:

(1) No, you don't need to tip the maitre d' (or at least I never have). This is always done in the movies and on television shows by characters who don't have a reservation and are trying to get a table. If you have a confirmed reservation, you simply walk in and give your name. If there is a coat check and you take advantage of it, tip the coat check person ($1 or $2) on your way out (there may or may not be a tip glass - if not, just hand the money to the coat check person when they deliver your coat to you).

(2) The sommelier. If this is truly a good restaurant, the sommelier should be a friendly, helpful individual. Either the sommelier will approach you directly, or you can tell your waiter that you'd like to have wine with dinner and would appreciate the assistance of the sommelier. Choice of wine can be intimidating for those of us who know very little about wine. That's what the sommelier is there for (otherwise, you'd simply order your wine through a waiter without assistance). Don't be afraid to ask him or her about wine choices and suggestions. I have found that most of them are very approachable. The sommelier should not give you any attitude or talk down to you. If, in the unlikely event you happen to run into a sommelier who gives you grief, simply tell him or her that you've changed your mind and decided not to order wine with dinner (and the restaurant can say goodbye to a hefty addition to your bill). Also, don't be afraid to send a wine back and/or summon the sommelier if you get a bad bottle (it's unlikely, but it does happen). While there are a myriad of subtle and not so subtle differences in the taste of wine, if it tastes like sulfur, it's no good. Or, you could do what I do and stick with bourbon or gin, depending on the season.


(3) Not sure what you mean here. It might be helpful for you to read up on table etiquette, if you're truly concerned (e.g. bread plate on the left, drink glass on the right, start with the silverware on the outside and work your way in, leave the napkin on your chair if you get up in the middle of your meal, leave your knife and fork at "4:20" when you're finished eating, etc.). Generally, just be polite and friendly and speak in an appropriate tone. People are going to remember your conduct as an individual rather than if you ate your salad with your dinner fork.

(4) This should go without saying, but for goodness sake dress appropriately! If the restaurant's dress code (and find out beforehand) calls for jacket and tie, then wear jacket and tie. If not, you could still wear jacket and tie if you'd like. However, if you go casual, make it a nice casual outfit (dress trousers, collared, long sleeve shirt, nice shoes, sport coat or sweater, etc.). You will see any number of threads either here or on AA regarding this very subject. I don't think the wearing of tee shirts and baseball caps in an obviously inappropriate setting signals the downfall of Western civilization, I just think it's inappropriate, disrespectful, and dowright rude.

Okay, folks, have at me.
 

whoopee

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JBZ gives good advice. Personally I would go to Alain Ducasse instead of those three restaurants. Wear a coat and tie, at least.
 

Earthmover

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Originally Posted by JBZ
(3) Not sure what you mean here. It might be helpful for you to read up on table etiquette, if you're truly concerned (e.g. bread plate on the left, drink glass on the right, start with the silverware on the outside and work your way in, leave the napkin on your chair if you get up in the middle of your meal, leave your knife and fork at "4:20" when you're finished eating, etc.). Generally, just be polite and friendly and speak in an appropriate tone. People are going to remember your conduct as an individual rather than if you ate your salad with your dinner fork. (4) This should go without saying, but for goodness sake dress appropriately! If the restaurant's dress code (and find out beforehand) calls for jacket and tie, then wear jacket and tie. If not, you could still wear jacket and tie if you'd like. However, if you go casual, make it a nice casual outfit (dress trousers, collared, long sleeve shirt, nice shoes, sport coat or sweater, etc.). You will see any number of threads either here or on AA regarding this very subject. I don't think the wearing of tee shirts and baseball caps in an obviously inappropriate setting signals the downfall of Western civilization, I just think it's inappropriate, disrespectful, and dowright rude. Okay, folks, have at me.
Thanks for the help. I didn't know that the Sommelier was optional, but that's good to know. As for points (3) and (4), that will go without saying. I like to dress up for restaurants and generally have good table manner, but just haven't gone to any of the upper echelon restaurants in NY. I should also add to clarify that this is entirely a private affair: i.e. I'm not eating dinner with the boss. I'm taking my mother out, and we're just going to have a grand dinner, and send the bill to my boss. So there's no pressure from who I'll be eating with. I just wanted to do everything as correctly as possible.
 

Earthmover

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Also, could someone explain to me how Degustation and tasting menus work? I've noticed on Bouley that the tasting menu comes with wine; does that mean they bring out the appropriate-matching wine for each course?
 

wpeters

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Originally Posted by Earthmover
I didn't know that the Sommelier was optional, but that's good to know.

The sommelier is usually very nice and helpful. If you're nervous, I've found that it's good to have a type of wine in mind, and then ask the sommelier to suggest a bottle of that type in a particular price range. e.g. "Could you suggest a good cabernet in the $60-$75 range?" They may ask whether you like your reds dry or sweet, and then rattle off a couple of suggestions. This generally results in a very straightforward interaction, and could ease your nerves a bit. It also helps you to benefit from their expertise, which is part of the service at these sorts of restaurants.
 

Tyto

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Originally Posted by Earthmover
Also, could someone explain to me how Degustation and tasting menus work? I've noticed on Bouley that the tasting menu comes with wine; does that mean they bring out the appropriate-matching wine for each course?
From my limited experience, wine pairings with tasting menus are usually optional, but if you opt for them, the pairings for each course *are* specially selected by the chef and/or sommelier.
 

wpeters

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Originally Posted by Earthmover
Also, could someone explain to me how Degustation and tasting menus work? I've noticed on Bouley that the tasting menu comes with wine; does that mean they bring out the appropriate-matching wine for each course?
Yes. Some restaurants offer tasting menus and "wine flights" (wine paired to each course) seperately. Some provide the wine as part of the tasting menu, in which case it is paired to the course by the sommelier. Some restaurants require that all parties at the table order the tasting menu, but some permit just one person to order the tasting menu, and the others may order however they like. If this requirement exists, it will be stated on the menu. If it is not, I would assume that no such requirement exists. Tasting menu portions (both food and wine) are usually smaller, per course, than full entree portions, owing to the greater number of courses. It's a great way to experience a range of the chef's cooking.
 

whoopee

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The wine pairing is an excellent way to avoid fussing with the sommelier and get a glass for each course of the tasting menu.

One note on Bouley. Because Bouley can be inconsistent with its food and service, and is designed to be more cozy than haute (this is probably why it is popular though), it would not be my first choice for a splurge night on someone else's dime. The risk of not getting a top-notch, memorable experience is higher than it should be.
 

von Rothbart

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Originally Posted by Earthmover
Also, could someone explain to me how Degustation and tasting menus work?

Tasting menu usually contains at least 5 courses usually with seasonal ingredients and the whole table must order the same tasting menus. The portion is smaller for each course. A 5 course tasting menus usually consists
of an appertizer, 3 main courses (meat, poultry, seafood) and dessert.

Originally Posted by Earthmover
I've noticed on Bouley that the tasting menu comes with wine; does that mean they bring out the appropriate-matching wine for each course?

Yes exactly.

For example, Per Se $175 tasting menu has 11 courses with matching wine for each course for $125 (only 9 courses get matching wine) and $45 for matching non-alcoholic beverages.

If there's no limit on expenses, I'd pick Masa for myself.
 

globetrotter

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Originally Posted by wpeters
The sommelier is usually very nice and helpful. If you're nervous, I've found that it's good to have a type of wine in mind, and then ask the sommelier to suggest a bottle of that type in a particular price range. e.g. "Could you suggest a good cabernet in the $60-$75 range?" They may ask whether you like your reds dry or sweet, and then rattle off a couple of suggestions. This generally results in a very straightforward interaction, and could ease your nerves a bit. It also helps you to benefit from their expertise, which is part of the service at these sorts of restaurants.


I would suggest that this is almost a once in a lifetime chance to be at a fancy resteraunt without trying to impress anyone - not your boss, not a client, not a woman. this is a good chance to actually talk to the sommelier and get his advice, and come at it from the point of a novice, and be open about what you like and what you want to spend.
 

Earthmover

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Originally Posted by globetrotter
I would suggest that this is almost a once in a lifetime chance to be at a fancy resteraunt without trying to impress anyone - not your boss, not a client, not a woman. this is a good chance to actually talk to the sommelier and get his advice, and come at it from the point of a novice, and be open about what you like and what you want to spend.

My understanding is that depending on how well I do at work, there will be more opportunities for things such as this. That said, I'm really not ego-driven, and I just want a good experience. So I will probably make use of the Sommelier's service if needed.

Sorry to be gauche about it, but is there / how does tipping work with the Sommelier? Is there a seperate wine bill? Do I just tip the standard ~20% and assume that they split accordingly?

Thanks for everyone's help!
 

marc237

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I would suggest you might also want to re-think the choice of restaurants. All of the three you suggested are wonderful places for food, but are not necessarily the most fun choices around. For example, I find Le Bernadin to be a bit austere and a bit cold at times. Bouley and Daniel can be a little impersonal in the service.

There are certainly other wonderful restaurants in NYC. One of the things I would recommend is deciding first on the kind of food you might prefer and then working from there. The three that you have chosen are much more French than anything else.

As to tipping the sommelier, it is not required and increasingly rarely done. However, if you were ordering a particularly expensive bottle of wine or s/he had been particularly helpful and attentive, a percentage of the alchohol charge is certainly welcome.
 

wpeters

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Originally Posted by Earthmover
Sorry to be gauche about it, but is there / how does tipping work with the Sommelier? Is there a seperate wine bill? Do I just tip the standard ~20% and assume that they split accordingly?

I may be a complete rube, but I'm never even thought about this. I've always assumed that the sommelier's tip is derived from the 20%, and that he/she is tipped out according to some formula, just like the other servers.
 

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