Going to a high-end restaurant can be an unforgettable experience.
But going to one for dinner can be intimidating — how do you navigate the massive wine lists, translate the confusing prix fixe lingo, and decide what to wear?
We recently spoke with Andy Hayler, a food critic at Elite Traveller who has dined at every three-starred Michelin establishment on the planet. He broke down his top tips on everything from getting a reservation to how to behave.
Making a Reservation
Reservations vary dramatically at high-end restaurants. Some establishments will allow you to leisurely book a table months or years in advance, while others have a hectic call-in reservation system where you can only book two or three months in advance on a specific date.
“You have to ring at 8:59 in the morning with your hand on the redial button and hope to get through,” Hayler said. “Just making a reservation at popular places like Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, or at restaurants in big cities like New York and London, takes logistical planning.”
Look up a restaurant’s rules for reservations before calling (most will have them on their website). It’s also never a bad idea to follow the restaurant’s social media account since they will sometimes tweet or post to Facebook when there are open tables or when the reservation period is approaching.
What To Wear
Certain establishments do require men to wear a jacket and tie, so always check the website or call ahead to find out what the dress code is, if any.
Otherwise, feel free to wear whatever makes you comfortable.
“Places are not particularly formal. Some of them can be, of course — the Paris restaurants are particularly smart. But you can go to a place like Sushi Saito [a three-star Michelin restaurant in a Tokyo car garage] and turn up in jeans.”
Courtesy of Andy Hayler
The more expensive restaurants will usually have what’s called a “prix fixe menu” which is a tasting menu that comes in a series of courses. You can also order “à la carte,” which just means choosing individual dishes.
“Certain restaurants have signature dishes, and if you browse through blogs or guides you’ll get an idea of what the chefs are known for,” Hayler explains. “But depending on the season, it may not be there.”
In general, there’s no need to research the food in advance. “I tend to see what they’re making that day and generally go with the chef’s recommendation at nice restaurants, or the prix fixe,” Hayler says.
“In a lesser restaurant, a chef’s recommendation can be a way to sell things that didn’t sell at lunch, but at high-end restaurants you can trust the chef,” he says. “Actually in Japan, it’s very rare to see a menu. You just have whatever the chef is making that day.”
Unlike ordering food, ordering wine will usually require a bit of online research beforehand.
Some wine lists tend to be more like a wine book, filled with thousands of varieties and sorted by region. Hayler says the best thing to do is to look up the list online and make your choices in advance when there’s more time for research and reflection.
“That way, you’ll be able to know how much the wine is marked up, and what’s a good deal,” Hayler says. “At restaurants that charge me lower mark ups, I tend to order better wine. By looking at the wine list in advance, you can figure out how mark up levels are behaving, and find sections on the list that aren’t as expensive.”
If you don’t have time or forget to research, Hayler created an app called Wine Search that helps you look up the retail price, vintage, and mark up of the wine right at the table.
How To Behave
But a Michelin-rated restaurant can be anything from a booth inside a Japanese parking garage to a rustic wooden table in the Italian countryside.The stereotype of three-star restaurants with white table cloths, bow-tied waiters, and a wide array of utensils can seem stuffy and daunting.
Even if you do go to a restaurant with a more traditional décor, Hayler insists you should never feel uncomfortable. “Act like you would in any restaurant,” he says. “A really good restaurant should be welcoming to customers, you shouldn’t have to behave in a way that you wouldn’t normally.”
Even if that means taking pictures — just make sure not to disturb the customers around you. (If you’re unsure if the restaurant allows photography, you can always politely ask your waiter.)
And if you do feel intimidated, just remember Hayler’s sage advice: “A Michelin-starred restaurant is just a restaurant that’s serving better food.”
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