10 Things to Know About Fine Dining Restaurants

Restaurant Tables
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Fine dining restaurants are all different but share similar characteristics: attention to detail, perfect execution, and exceptional service. Today’s fine dining has evolved into an eclectic blend of cuisines and dining concepts, but some aspects that make fine dining, well, fine, are here to stay. Some things remain the same no matter if you're striving to create an exceptional atmosphere at your restaurant, or simply want to be a more informed guest.

The Attention to Small Details

Going well beyond music, lighting, and art on the walls, creating a fine dining atmosphere is all about the details. Many fine dining places are going so far as to make their own china and stoneware, ensuring it matches the aesthetic of the space and the food. You might not be able to taste the difference between locally sourced razor clams and those from the distributor, but food critics can. Every tiny detail is considered, ensuring a unity of vision. Want to know why servers wear white? So they blend in.

Nothing should be too loud, too bright, too much. Subtlety is key, and just like with the best art, the experience is subjective, but is always high quality.

The Servers Are Exceptionally Skilled

No matter what the restaurant's concept, servers will be at their best. Fine dining requires servers who have experience and knowledge of the restaurant business, not just of stemware and menu items. It is no place for beginners, and with many servers pulling down six figures, the job can be a wise career choice if you don't mind the hours. A good fine dining server should be able to explain the entire menu without using notes, often hitting emotional cues with the guest. They know appropriate jokes, are there when you need help, and never when you don't.

Many servers are trained in wine knowledge, as wine and liquor sales can really plump up the bottom line.

The Guest Experience Is Paramount

Some typical services provided in a fine dining restaurant include escorting patrons to the table, holding the chair for women, escorting patrons to the restrooms if needed, crumbing the table between courses, and replacing linen napkins if a patron leaves the table. New wine is never poured in the same glass, and silverware is replaced entirely between courses.

Prix Fixe Menus Are Commonplace

A prix fixe or set menu is one that can change on a daily or weekly basis. It is often four to 10 courses. There will usually be two options, one that includes meat and fish, and one vegetarian. This is a great benefit, because a smaller rotating menu allows the restaurant to buy local, seasonal goods when they are at their peak of freshness. Usually, the chef or sous chef purchases these items, considering the season and their own creativity when designing menus. It is also much easier for a restaurant to calculate bills per diner if all the menus are the same.

In more famous restaurants, there will often be a supplementary menu from which you can order their signature dishes if that is all you want to try.

Reservations Are Usually Required

Reservations allow a restaurant to adequately space parties, ensuring that the kitchen and wait staff are not overwhelmed during a dinner rush—which, in fine dining, is often the entire length of service. In lieu of individual reservations, some fine dining restaurants offer seatings—for example, a 5 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9 p.m. seating. Trendier restaurants, or those in larger cities and with a menu that is cutting-edge but relatively easy to execute, might not offer reservations at all. This can often draw even more guests, as the fear of not securing a table can make diners line up around the block for a table.

Don't Always Expect White Tablecloths

While tablecloths were once the calling card of any fine dining restaurant, but that idea has largely fallen off. If a restaurant chooses to skip tablecloths—which require a huge amount of upkeep—there is usually a reason. It may be that the restaurant does not find them in line with their aesthetic, or they are shedding traditional ideals so that they can branch off into their own identity. Restaurants are seeing tables as a huge part of the decor, and some are making them from trees from the surrounding area, stone from a local quarry, or another material they find better exemplifies their personality.

Social Media Is Used with Precision 

Enterprising managers and chefs know that one dish serves one diner, but an exceptional photo of a dish can be shared thousands of times. Chefs are going so far as to incorporate more service and plating elements at the table, letting diners know that the "next course will be prepared tableside," giving diners the chance to flip on their phones for a quick video. Last-minute tables might be offered online, and special events will usually be broadcast on social first as a way to reward their following.

Top-Shelf Wine and Spirits Are a Major Focus 

Most fine dining restaurants make almost invisible profits on their food items, but up to 300 percent profit on alcohol sales. Wine lists are deep in vintage and price points, offering everything from a $15 sauvignon blanc to, in some higher-dollar establishments, a $15,000 bottle of rare Burgundy. Restaurants at this level will have at least one sommelier, offering diners information about the wines and how they pair with the food.

Streamlined Restaurants Reward Investors 

There's no question that fine dining restaurants offer significantly higher profits than a fast-food chain or a fast casual restaurant. But remember that the day-to-day operations of a fine dining restaurant cost more, as well as needing significant staff. Patrons of fine dining establishments expect high-quality food, top-shelf spirits, and stellar customer service—all of which cost a premium fee, but savvy investors and managers can find ingenious ways to boost bills and take full bags to the bank nightly.

They Stay Abreast of Trends, Often Starting Them

A good fine dining restaurant manager or head chef knows about current food trends and incorporate them into the menu in their own way. They will also recognize when a food trend turns into a food fad and avoid them, thus keep the menu fresh and exciting.

Though the concept continues to evolve over time, fine dining will always be an option for restaurant goers. Today's fine dining is often unlike the fancy linen-draped dining rooms that were popular in ages past. Now it's all about fresh, local food prepared in unique ways and served in an atmosphere that is unlike any other restaurant. It's a great time to be a diner.