The definition of a fine dining restaurant has evolved over the years. While it used to be about white tablecloths and crystal glasses (and some still are!) there are many more variations that fall under the fine dining umbrella. From the classics to experimental dishes, no two fine dining restaurants are exactly alike, but there are still many factors that tie them all together.
What Makes a Fine Dining Restaurant?
1. It’s All About the Fine Dining Experience
A key element that makes for a fine dining restaurant is the fact that the guest is visiting for a full experience; this isn’t the type of place you go just to grab a bite. Most fine dining restaurant servers will have years of experience in the hospitality industry and know the food menu, wine list, specialty cocktails, and the history of the business inside and out. They are trained to answer guest questions and make appropriate recommendations, and often will provide services only found in fine dining establishments such as crumbing the table, replacing utensils between courses, and other duties.
2. Attention to Detail
In addition to the service provided by the staff, the complete fine dining experience is apparent in the close attention to detail across the board. This is seen in every aspect of the restaurant from the music, art, color scheme, staff attire, flatware, menu descriptions, ingredients used, and even the expensive soaps in the bathrooms. Every inch of a fine dining restaurant and a fine dining menu is examined with a fine-tooth comb to ensure the best guest experience possible.
3. Prix Fix and Tasting Menus are Common
Most fine dining menus will include a prix fixe or tasting menu option, and for many fine dining restaurants that is all they offer. Most prix fixe menus will have a limited selection of options that the guest can choose from for each course at a fixed price. With a tasting menu, the guest will often have little to no choice in what they get, allowing the chef to drive the experience from start to finish. Most fine dining tasting menus will have anywhere from four to seven courses, starting with an amuse bouche with palette cleansers and other surprises in between courses. The biggest tasting menu on record, however, contains over 200 courses and takes a full 24 hours to complete.
4. Reservations Required (Or at Least Strongly Encouraged)
Like we said, fine dining restaurants are all about the experience, and nothing kills a fancy night out like having to stand around in the lobby for 45 minutes waiting for a table. To ensure that each party has time to fully relax and take in the entire experience, most fine dining restaurants will require or strongly recommend reservations. Some of the extremely high-end fine dining restaurants, such as Alinea in Chicago, have entire sets of rules for dining in the restaurant, like minimum or maximum party sizes, how far in advance you must book a reservation, and strict cancellation policies.
5. Fine Dining Dress Codes
Wondering what to wear to a fine dining restaurant? While some fine dining restaurants are less strict about this now, most of them will still require some sort of dress code. Depending on the restaurant, this could range anywhere from “no sneakers, jeans, or athletic wear” to “suit and tie required.” If you are visiting a fine dining restaurant it’s best to check their website to see what their dress code is.
6. Branding is a Priority
Branding is important for all restaurants, but for fine dining restaurants, it is a top priority. A fine dining restaurant’s branding should have a clear aesthetic that is tied together by their logo, color palette, interior design, menu design, staff uniforms, website, and all other marketing materials. Since fine dining restaurants often have the money and ability to hire more staff, many will hire a full time marketing and branding specialist or even pay an agency to do the work for them.
7. On Top of All the Latest and Upcoming Food Trends
Fine dining menus will often set the mainstream trends for the upcoming year. If you want to know what new and interesting food items will be popping up in restaurants across the country in the near future, just take a look at some fine dining menus to see what unique items they’re offering. Once an item takes off in the mainstream – think fermented foods, charcoal in everything, the avocado boom – you will generally no longer find it on a fine dining menu, as they’ll be off looking for (or inventing) the next big thing.
Fine Dining Restaurants in Your City
Looking for a fine dining restaurant experience near you? Here are some of the most popular fine dining restaurants in a few of the top food cities.