The first time dining in a Michelin–starred restaurant is never forgotten. However, sometimes, it might not just be the food, wine or atmosphere that were unforgettable, but the awkward moments you experienced or the 'faux pas' you might have made in the moment, highlighting your unfamiliarity with fine dining etiquette.
To help avoid those embarrassing situations we've highlighted 10 suggestions on how to make the most of your first Michelin starred dining experience, and make sure you come out of it looking like a seasoned professional having had a wonderful time.
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Michelin–Starred Dining: The Dos
1. Inform yourself beforehand
The fact that a restaurant holds Michelin stars doesn't necessarily guarantee that you will like it. Read around your chosen restaurant on the internet, or, ask. At Villa Crespi with Antonio Cannavacciuolo or Don Alfonso 1890 by Ernesto Iaccarino, in Italy, you will find a more tangible cuisine with Mediterranean influences; compare that to Enrico Crippa at Piazza Duomo in Piedmont and the experience becomes more cerebral and less substance.
Avoid arriving unprepared or you could be in for a surprise; rather, try selecting a restaurant where you want to experience their unique vision.
2. Reserve your table
Not all restaurants have waiting lists of several months, but for some you will need to plan your visit well in advance. If you are passing through Modena in Italy, it's extremely unlikely you will find a table at Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana just by calling on a whim. Some restaurants also ask for a credit card when booking, so think twice before you cancel at the last minute.
3. Inform the restaurant of any dietary requirements or intolerances in advance
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten–free choices will probably be indicated on the menu, as restaurants, including Michelin–starred, adapt to specific dietary requirements. However, be sure to notify the restaurant at the time of booking, otherwise don't be surprised if they can't cater for your specific dietary needs.
In a Michelin–starred or high level restaurant there are many "unpaid" extras. The glass of sparkling wine offered when you are seated; the bread selection (which should be) varied and good, accompanied by oil, butter or other condiments; amuse bouche before the starter; pre–dessert before the true dessert; and petits fours with coffee. However, beware: if you ask for an aperitif of your choosing, you will be charged for this.
5. Tasting menu for all
The tasting menu is meant for the entire party seated at the table. You can find it on almost every menu and it covers all courses.
Michelin–Starred Dining: The Don'ts
1. The Presence
The waiter/waitress will be 'around' – behind you, in front of you and beside you. They'll inquire if everything is ok, fill your water glass, accompany you to the bathroom and replace your napkin before your return. They will also probably clean the crumbs from the table at the end of the meal. If all this sounds like too much attention, consider if you are more comfortable with less 'attentive' service in a more informal environment.
2. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
There is no reason to feel stupid asking questions – request additional information and get interested in the menu. If the dishes are described in vague and evocative terms ("Essence," "Deep Red," "Spring Perfumed"), without a mention of the ingredients, you are more than entitled to find out more about exactly what you will be eating. The same goes for the wines: we are not all born sommeliers.
3. Our Price
The tasting menu is always the best way to get to know the chef's cuisine and have the fullest restaurant experience. And it's also the best way of spending less: ordering a la carte will significantly increase your bill, especially if a cover charge of 4-5 euros is also included.
4. Don't be upset if the chef is not there
Contrary to what you might like to believe, the chef is not always at the restaurant. The greater the chef's popularity, the more likely they will be out and about pursuing other projects or attending events. The kitchen brigades are perfectly able to make up for the lack thereof, but if you really want to shake the chef's hand, inquire in advance if they will be around.
5. Don't finish by saying: " I'm Still Hungry"
Seriously, avoid this one. Apart from the fact it is impossible to leave hungry after most tasting menus, it will mark you out as an amateur with little understanding of the whole dining experience.