cgI don’t often find myself dining at outrageously expensive restaurants. Part of the reason for my pricy restaurant abstinence stems from me woefully not being a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt, but the bulk of my hesitance to cross over into the elite eater scene is the fact that eating at an expensive restaurant is a high pressure, high stakes (and often steaks) situation. I recently went on an excursion (that’s what it’s called when “trip” doesn’t sound expensive enough) to The Capital Grille. I knew by the unnecessary “e” at the end of grill that this place was going to be fancy shmancy. Out of my blundering through this outing, I’ve come up with some foolproof tips to avoid looking like a fool at a fancy restaurant.

Suffer Through Read the Reviews

Everyone on Yelp is unstable. These people either lead miserable, overly critical lives filled with ice water that’s too cold, food that arrives 45 seconds later than they would have liked it, and wait staff who aren’t attentive enough. The alternative is glass-half-full, optimists fueled by anti-depressants who believe, a little too emphatically, that everything about the restaurant wonderful, delicious, impressive, and PERFECT! Only 1.8% of the people on Yelp are people you’d even come close to trusting. Despite their bias, you should always read the reviews of your chosen fancy restaurant before you go. In between the good and the ridiculously exaggerated bad, you might find something out about the restaurant that you couldn’t find on their website. …Even if you don’t, at least you come away with the knowledge that Michelle M. from Columbus, Ohio thought the wait staff was singling her out for bad service because she wore her glasses instead of her contacts the night she ate there.

Bottom line: When reading Yelp reviews of your favorite restaurant, assume every reviewer is bipolar, but still read what they have to say and draw your own conclusions. And wear your contacts, just in case.

Don't wear this. Image source: fanpop
Don’t wear this.
Image source: fanpop

Embrace Business Casual

Nothing screams, “I’m middle class and I can’t afford to eat here!” more than showing up to an expensive restaurant in jeans, flips flops, and a Rush tee shirt. If the place you’re going to requires a reservation, you probably shouldn’t show up to dinner in your least-ripped pair of overalls, because unless you’re Rihanna, you can’t get away with it. When in doubt, dress how you’d dress if you were going to work at a three-last-name lawyer’s office. Don’t go overboard and wear an evening gown or a tuxedo with a monocle pocket—that’s almost as bad as being underdressed.

Bottom line: At the fancy restaurant, it’s safer to dress like Jackie O than Jackie from That 70s Show.

Learn the Language

The most important phrase you need to know at a fancy restaurant is à la carte. À la carte is a French phrase that means “we’re going to charge you $50 for this, and you’re not even going to get any kind of potato or vegetables with it.” At an “à la carte” restaurant, every entrée on the menu will feature some cut of meat looking lonely on a big plate without any adjacent mashed potatoes or asparagus to keep it company. The secondary translation for à la carte: pyramid scheme.

Beyond the à la carte debacle, you may find yourself faced with ordering menu items you can’t pronounce. I’m in the habit of picking dishes that start with some weird word, like Tijheaihjea Steak Florentine. You have a couple options here. You can go the charming route, and take a stab at pronouncing the tricky word and laugh with your server and say things like “Well, at least I tried!” …But I generally avoid this option, because it makes me hate myself. Pronounce what you can, and don’t be afraid to point to it on the menu. Just don’t use your middle finger. (Unless you have a server that’s bad Yelp review material).

Bottom Line: À la carte is the fancy restaurant’s way of overcharging you for food using a romance language, and don’t be afraid to be a wimp when ordering linguistically complicated dishes.

Practice Your Poker Face

$900 champagne... no big deal.Image source: gossip in da' gumbo
$900 champagne… no big deal.
Image source: gossip in da’ gumbo

Before you go to an expensive restaurant you should feel at home in your poker face. Whether that means you play a few hands of poker prior to your evening out or listen to that Lady Gaga song on repeat in the car—you need to be prepared. There’s no bigger faux pas in a fancy restaurant than seeing the menu and letting your mouth hang open when you see a $99 appetizer or a $145 glass of wine. You need to look as if that’s totally normal and not absolutely, mind-blowingly ludicrous. The poker face also comes in handy when your server leaves your bill on the table with that coy, “I’ll take this whenever you’re ready…” and after 15 minutes of procrastination, you open the leather book to see an astounding three-figure amount. Back in the old days, when smoking in restaurants was allowed, the poker face’s predecessor was the act of lighting your cigar with a $100 bill. Sadly, the times have changed.

Bottom Line: When it comes to money at the fancy restaurant, do whatever you think Jay-Z would do. (Emphasis on the spendin’ g’s, not the big pimpin’.)

There are other finer points that are worth noting: you should wait to belch, pass gas, and undo your belt/pants button until you get back out to the car (unless of course you’re isolated in the restaurant!). If you’re going to steal something, do it covertly, like putting the silverware in the bag with your leftovers or sneaking the pen from the bill into your purse or pocket. In short, just remember to be on your classiest behavior, and you’ll be fine.

Don't ever say I don't take my own advice...
Don’t ever say I don’t take my own advice…

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42 thoughts on “Foolproof Tips to Avoid Looking like a Fool at a Fancy Restaurant

  1. Good advice. I usually hate going out to eat…I always feel like a fish out of water. I feel like I’m on show and if I make a mistake everyone will see. I’m not sure where this comes from since I’ve never actually had an incident in a restaurant…either way, thanks for the tips!

    1. I love going out to eat because there’s no cooking or cleaning for me to do. I just have to eat, drink, and pay. (Which is something I’d usually prefer to cooking or cleaning…) But I feel like when I’m at a fancy restaurant I’m going in undercover. At any given moment, someone could discover I don’t belong there rubbing elbows with the rich folk.

    1. The pen even writes well! I would have stolen it even if it didn’t say the restaurant name. …I turn into a kleptomaniac with restaurant pens. It’s not a problem, yet.

  2. There’s generally never enough food on the plate to cause me to have to undo my belt after a fancy meals. I HATE fancy restaurants!! I love the poker face advice though. I’ve been there before, nodding my head and smiling like an asshole while thinking “Holy FUCK, did he really just say that special costs $79!!!). Another piece of advice in line with that is, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.

    1. Definitely! I hate how on the website of most fancy places, they’ll have the menu but no prices. That’s not exactly making me grab the car keys.

      I see leaving a restaurant feeling anything but uncomfortably full as a failure. I spend enough days unsatisfied by own shitty cooking, when I go out, I want to feel it.

      (I’m kind of kidding.)

      1. The Chinese buffet that both sickens and delights the wife and I charges kids a dollar per year of age. We tell Cool that he’s 2 (he’s tiny enough to pass) and G$ is going to be one for another 6 months even though he’s 2 now. Are we terrible? Cool called us out on it last time though and said “NO, I’m 4!” Right in front of the mean Chinese lady. She scowled at us but only charged him for being three. Nice Compromrize, lady!

      2. That’s called being economical. But speaking of that, I think this Chinese Buffet is missing out on an opportunity here: they should be charging a dollar per year for everyone’s age, kids and adults. Then you could really find out how young (or old) you can pass for.

  3. All good tips…another one.. go on offense…when asked about drinks… order some rare bourbon or scotch like Johnnie Walker Blue Label King George V…it will most often send the server scurrying to the barkeep for the 411…If they don’t have it you pout a bit for having to settle for less, if they do have it, (it will cost a small nation’s 1st quarter GDP) have your companion chime in that you promised to dine with wine…

    one more.. over order, just a bit, appetizers asking the server to hold on your main order until your appetite has been properly stimulated. This allows clue to portion size, and often results in a wise call for just a slab of la boeuf, or singular seafood.

    The big thing to remember. Once seated…it’s your table. No need to feel awkward or inadequate at your table.

    There are workarounds for prix fixe greasy spoons…but they are more complexed and interesting and usually start with knowing that barkeep.


  4. Would you consider Red Robin a fancy restaurant? Cause I went there once and it was so classy that they had someone come to my table and ask for my order instead of me having to go to the front or drive through to order. It was such an exquisite experience.

    1. Red Robin is the definition of opulence. I mean, “yum” is in their slogan. Did you get the huge tower of onion rings? I didn’t, and I regret it every day.

      …I went years ago.

      1. You can only afford such oppulance every few years. I went ahead and passed on the Tower O Onion rings as I am allergic/don’t like onions. However, I did get the cheese sticks and they were ever so slightly better than the ones that you can get in your freezer section. YUUMMMM!

      2. Wait–WHAT? How has there not been a bitter post about your unfortunate handicap? No onions?! The horror!

        I had an overpriced mediocre burger. It wasn’t worth eating among 30 screaming children. YUUUM!

  5. I recently went to a fancy restaurant with my family. The dishes weren’t outrageously expensive, and the service was really nice and everyone there was being classy… except my siblings. My siblings all all 17 and younger, hungry and loud. Every time the waiter placed an appetizer before us they would dive in and wipe it clean, squealing about how good everything tasted.

    So… I guess what I’m trying to say is, one other thing you should keep in mind when you go to fancy places: leave the kids at home!

    1. I hate to admit, I’m guilty of the behavior. I don’t squeal… But once the server puts the plate down and gets a solid six feet away, the frenzy begins.

  6. Oh…so no Big Pimpin’ then? Darn.

    I like the poker face tip. I worked at a high end establishment and when people mentioned prices or had their mouths wide open about it and were rude to me about it, I couldn’t help but think “well you knew where you were coming” and I secretly judged them for the rest of the experience.

    1. Well, Big Pimpin’ is always an option.

      I knew that people would judge! I know I would if it were me. I mean, you can kind of tell by the name, menu, and website what kind of restaurant you’re going to. To get ignorant about proce just makes you look like a buffoon…

  7. Oh man! This takes me back so much! I used to work at a fancey-schmancy restaurant in Chicago and when our staff went a week without a diatribe on Yelp or Time Out, we’d all get ripped together on Saturday. Those were the days ;D

    1. I literally can’t imagine the people you must have met. I think if I ever worked around people and food, I’d be writing this from a jail cell. Food brings out the crazy in people.

  8. Haha, I enjoyed this, I have been to a couple of restaurants which are Michelin starred, the prices for the food are doable though, although not for every day of the week, some of the wines and spirits are outstandingly expensive and as such I leave them alone. I loved the poker faced bit, I had to use that a couple of times in the past, luckily some other schmuk paid.

      1. haha, no it is a publication that essentially rates restaurants, the more Michelin Stars or Rosettes a restaurant has the more they charge and the smaller the portions (so it seems anyway)

        I thought it was a worldwide thing, I guess it is just us in the UK that are honoured by this rating system.

      2. Huh! I never heard of it before. The portions (though healthier) are something to hate about nicer places. Though, I guess I’d rather eat something smaller and delicious than a huge pile of mediocre junk.

      3. absolutely agree, when you go out for something to eat I have one criteria (its got to be better than what I can cook at home) lol. There is a place near me called Chapter One, the food is not badly priced (maybe average 50 for 3 courses inc drinks) which is about 70/75 $ US) but it is delicious.

    1. Yes! I also like when you can look in the window at the diners and press your nose against the glass while they chew on their steaks and chocolate soufflés. Not that I’ve ever done that outside a restaurant…

      1. Of course you haven’t 😉 That actually reminds me of the show Boiling Points that used to be on MTV. Except the scenario involved a guy in a speedo and on roller skates.

  9. You jest, but I can’t even hold the poker face while reading some of these comments. $75/per person? For one meal? Seriously?

    Call me a hick. Call me unsophisticated. Call me a rube, a scrooge, or a tightwad, I don’t care, but at $75/pp (or more) you’d better be serving triple-orgasm on a plate and a tossed salad on the side.

    Give me my $55.00 bill (for TWO!) from Texas Roadhouse, with enough leftovers to have for tomorrow’s lunch, any day.

    Maybe it’s the way I was raised, maybe it’s the fact that I’m perpetually broke, but I can think of so many better things to blow the extra fifty bucks on than some fancy meal at some fancy restaurant, surrounded by patrons and waitstaff I secretly despise.

    Like a new vibrator and a pair of edible crotchless panties. That’s right. I bring the class to the bedroom, not the dinner table. 😉

    1. HA! On the contrary I love dining out (I tried to call it that because “eating out” is something very different), which is a surprise because I don’t like being among people. The one thing that trumps my dislike of being around people is my disdain of dirty dishes and cooking. I probably spend too much of my money on restaurants and Panera Bread. Lunch at Panera Bread for two people is like $30, can you imagine? But that iced green tea is so damn good… What was I saying?

      I actually wrote this post after spending $300 at this disgustingly nice steak place to celebrate my boyfriend’s new job. I told them we were celebrating a new job, and the staff signed a card and put some flower petals on the table. Like what the fuck is he going to do with that? Now, needless to say, eating anywhere that nice is NOT regular occurrence, and I left the restaurant holding my credit card like it weight 30lbs., but it happened.

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