The highest and most expensive level of restaurant in the United States specializes in the “fine dining” experience. Some of these restaurants serve traditional or modern American food, while others specialize in “continental” food; the term generally refers to French and, more commonly, Italian cuisine. A fine dining establishment is characterized by the presence of linen napkins and linen tablecloths, an elaborate setting of cutlery and glassware, and a flower arrangement or a candle as a centerpiece on each table. Servers and other personnel typically wear well-maintained uniforms. Live dinner or cocktail music may be available.
Fine dining restaurants expect their patrons to dress nicely. Communities in the United States (and indeed individual restaurants) differ as to what this means. Business dress, meaning jacket and tie for men, will always work, but often the “business casual” standard will suffice.
Depending on day of the week or time of day, fine dining restaurants may require that you make a reservation in advance. When you arrive, a head server or greeter will seat you. A server then arrives at your table to see to your needs. Larger restaurants often have personnel (the term “busboy” is sometimes used) who help the waiter by refilling water glasses, bringing bread to your table, and removing dishes. The server takes your order and should check on your table every now and then to make sure your needs are being met. At a fine dining restaurant, a gratuity of 20% to the server is appropriate.
The highest level of restaurants have separate servers who specialize in wine; the French term sommelier is universally used for this profession, for all cuisines. Most restaurants give the task of suggesting wines to go with your dinner to the regular server, however. Wine at fine dining establishments can be particularly expensive, both in terms of the styles of wines available and the markup over retail price the restaurants charge their diners.
Note that a “fine dining” atmosphere does not guarantee good food or service, despite the fancy table setting and the background music. First-rate restaurants, of course, exist all over the United States. Some of the best, however, even if expensive, take a more casual approach to the concept of atmosphere.
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