How to avoid a dinner disaster
Whether it's knocking over a glass of red wine, slurping soup, spilling food or dropping cutlery on the floor, most of us would admit to the odd faux pas while out to dinner.
But can these mishaps - and the way that they're dealt with - seal the fate of a romantic dinner date with someone you're still getting to know?
According to etiquette expert Louise Percy, principal of The Percy Institute for International Protocol, being etiquette-savvy can go a long way to securing a second or third date.
Percy says that while most people know the basic dos and don'ts of romantic dining, there are other rules that can help make a first date - or any romantic meal, especially Valentine's Day - an occasion to remember.
Here are her top 10 tips to impress your dinner date on Valentine's Day, February 14.
1. Choose a restaurant with which you are familiar.
“Don't go somewhere where you think it's going to be really impressive and get into a situation where you are completely uncomfortable with the table setting because there is an enormous amount of cutlery or glassware, ” Percy says.
“You don't want to be a fish out of water, especially when you're trying to impress your date.”
2. Be aware of dress standards and avoid wearing pastels, white or anything pale if you have a penchant for pasta.
“If it's a more fine dining style restaurant, make sure you are aware of the dress standards and communicate them to your date because you don't want your guy arriving in shorts and sandals if you're going somewhere like Windows, ” Percy warns.
3. Don't order crab, spaghetti, peas, mussels and corn on the cob.
Foods that are awkward to eat have no place at a romantic meal.
“People can tend to get a little bit carried away and it's a time when you don't want to be carried away - you want to feel as comfortable as possible, particularly if it's fairly early on in the relationship, ” Percy explains.
“I mean, you're not really there just for the food. You're actually there for the food and the ambience and the fact that it's Valentine's Day.”
4. Have a drink but err on the side of caution.
“If you know each other, Valentine's Day can be a super romantic time and that extra glass, as long as you're not driving, can certainly help the ambience along, ” Percy believes. “But if you actually don't know somebody very well, the adage is always better safe than sorry.”
5. If perplexed by the which-implement-for-which-dish dilemma, a general rule of thumb is to start from the outside and work your way inwards. Work in the reverse order for glasses, the nearest glass being the first to use.
“If you use the wrong fork these days, nobody is going to look down their nose at you, ” Percy says.
6. Never slurp soup, chew loudly or chew with your mouth open.
Speaks for itself.
7. Use your common sense if you've spilt something, dropped cutlery off the table or notice that your dining companion has food on his or her face.
Embarrassment aside, these mishaps tend to help break the ice with someone who you're still getting to know.
“If you want to be really romantic, you can even offer to help remove it, ” Percy jokes. “That doesn't mean pulling out a tissue and spitting on it like your mother does.”
8. Have a few conversation starters up your sleeve for those uncomfortable silences. But steer clear of religion, sex and politics, and under no circumstances mention your ex or discuss dieting.
“The best thing to do if you don't really know someone is to ask them to tell you about themselves and hopefully they will return the favour, ” Percy says.
9. If you don't want to incur the wrath of your date or fellow diners, switch off your mobile phone. Better still, leave it at home.
10. Dining etiquette is not rocket science.
“Being slightly more formal in your manner rather than really familiar can be quite nice because it can add to the atmosphere, ” Percy says.
“Romantic is the main adjective for Valentine's Day and what you want to do is create a nice relaxed ambience and take it from there.”
What the restaurateurs say:
Restaurateurs at some of Perth's top romantic spots also gave their tips for the perfect Valentine's Day dinner.
Mead's Mosman Bay restaurant manager Jessica Mead believes a candlelit table, soft lighting, mood music, a view and delicious food are the key ingredients for a romantic dinner date.
And, according to Phil Clements, owner of C Lounge and Restaurant, pre-organising a small surprise for your guest on arrival adds a special touch to the evening.
Flowers, a song request or even a personalised message on a champagne bottle were some of his suggestions.
“Most importantly, do not make any plans for the next day, ” Clements jokes.
Neal Jackson, of Jackson's in Highgate, believes good service, an ambient atmosphere and fine food go hand-in-hand for a memorable romantic meal.
“Mention special occasions when booking so the waiter can recognise and do something nice - so SNAGGY and the girls love it, ” Jackson says.
Loose Box's Elizabeth Fabregues says people have to remember to relax and enjoy each other's company. The biggest dining faux pas was to focus on what's going on at tables around you instead of concentrating on your date.
“Be happy with your chosen one, ” Fabregues warns.
But what about people who want to steer clear of restaurants on Valentine's Day?
Karen Hickling, supervisor of the food hall at David Jones Hay Street, recommends a romantic picnic or a special home-cooked candlelit dinner.
Must-have picnic basket suggestions included Moet-Chandon Rose Non Vintage 200ml ($29.50), Maggie Beer Farm pate (from $6.95), Pride of France mini toasts ($2.95 each), quiche ($9.95 each), roasted vegetable salad ($19.95/kg), Enterprise Dairy Double Brie ($39.95/kg) mud cake ($2.25 each) and assorted chocolates (95¢ each).
For a home-cooked dinner, a menu consisting of smoked salmon and scallop brochette on rocket and tomato salad for an aperitif, a standing beef roast with green beans and steamed gourmet potatoes in blue cheese sauce for mains, and a dessert of cranberries in Belgian chocolate dessert shell with vanilla and honey yoghurt (all ingredients available from the David Jones food hall).
Happy Valentine's Day!
Do's and don'ts for romantic dining (Source: The Percy Institute of International Protocol)
DO . . .
- Pay for the meal if you have done the inviting.
- Make a Valentine's Day dinner reservation three to four weeks in advance so you don't miss out.
- Choose a restaurant that you are familiar with.
- Know what the dress standards are.
- Check your date's dietary requirements or food likes and dislikes.
- Tell people if they have food on their face or food stuck in their teeth.
- Start from the outside and work your way inwards if there is plenty of cutlery.
- Be gracious at all times even if the experience isn't meeting your expectations. Ask open questions of your guest.
- Maintain a sense of humour.
Don't . . .
- Be late.
- Order food that is awkward or messy to eat.
- Whistle or snap your fingers to get the waiter's attention.
- Drink or eat too much.
- Use toothpicks at the table in a Western restaurant.
- Mention your ex or talk about dieting at the table.
- Complain as a guest.
- Slouch at the table.
- Eat loudly or chew impolitely.
- Show off or take over the conversation.
- Groom yourself at the table.
- Use a mobile phone at the table.
© The West Australian
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