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What is YOUR meaning of fine dining?

I'm pretty crazy about top-notch food and fine dining restaurants. As a researcher in the food service industry, I've focused my research on this field. So far, I got some quite varied and sometimes contrary views on what fine dining means to the individual, ranging from "expensive and overpriced", through "stiff ambience" to "two-hour vacation from a busy day". Obviously, this is a quite controversial issue for some.

So I thought it might be pretty interesting to see what a bunch of foodies has to say to this topic. What is your personal meaning of fine dining? And what do you personally associate with it?

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  1. Fine dining is something that I can only afford once in a while and that I want to "dress up" for the occasions.

    Expensive and over-priced are two different things. something expensive is not necessarily over-priced and something cheap can be over-priced.

    Ambiance: if you do not feel welcome in a restaurant (stiff ambiance, posh-ish staff, ...) then it's NOT fine dining.

      1. re: beevod

        LOL... that is what my grandpa says makes a restaurant great!

      2. For myself, it means dressing up, a warm and inviting environment (something with a great view also is a plus - ocean, city lights, etc.), linen on the table, DH across the table, candle light, fantastic food that I would not necessarily make at home, not having to worry about time and a fantastic wait staff. It also is usually expensive, but not "over priced" - as Max said - "expensive is not necessarily over-priced and something cheap can be over-priced."

        1 Reply
        1. When the waitress doesn't begin the service by introducing herself, that's a good sign.

          1. If you come back from the ladies room & your napkin is folded, you're in a fine dining restaurant. Unless it's a paper napkin. Then I'm not sure.

            7 Replies
            1. re: small h

              If it's a paper napkin than it should be folded into a crane.

              1. re: bookhound

                Where do you stand on aluminum foil swans for leftovers? Back in the day, THAT was the mark of a quality establishment.

                1. re: small h

                  Puleeze, anyone can make a tin foil swan,

                  1. re: bookhound

                    HEY! Don't wreck it! I freakin' love those things.

                    1. re: bookhound

                      Well, sure, but I can also fold a napkin and make a salad. Doesn't mean I don't appreciate that someone else does those things for me when I'm out & about.

                      1. re: small h

                        I was being facetious or at least trying. Honestly I've never even seen the foil swan except on an episode of Seinfeld. The joke about asking for a doggy bag on a date was pretty funny.

                        1. re: bookhound

                          I know you were kidding. I've seen plenty of foil swans. I accidentally left one in the limo on the night of my junior prom, which tells you exactly where I stand re dates & doggy bags - pro!

              2. To give examples:
                La Grenouille in NYC is fine dining. I can't afford to go too often but when I do it's an occasion unto itself. It is expensive but not "overpriced" as this is an experience I cannot replicate in my own kitchen. DH has to wear a jacket and his "wedding shoes" and I put on a dress. It's a little evening vacation without traveling too far from home. I want it to be different and formal.

                1. Trust enters into it for me, and I look toward the back of the house far more than I do to the front for this to be satisfied. I'm not saying I disregard the FOH staff and their knowledge, or the decor, but those remain secondary. I am looking for the chance to order a dish and be given something that has been composed with care that I could not easily create for myself. Fine dining is giving that kitchen the chance to surprise me with pairings and cooking techniques. I want to taste items I can not easily procure on my own, or be shown how to better use something that I can. For me, it's all about the food, and what I can learn from it, and the person who has made food their life's work.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: onceadaylily

                    What you describe is how I feel two years later after dinner at Babbo. Things I'd never tasted or not tasted in their particular combination and layers and nuances of flavor. We still remember every bite and swallow of that meal. And, yes, the rest of it was there also (FOH, decor, etc.) but very, very secondary.

                    1. re: onceadaylily

                      We don't have to agree but I totally disagree with you. For me how I'm made to feel is most important when it comes to "fine dining". The food should be of an extremely high level but if the pampering isn't there, the suggestion that they'd do virtually anything to make your visit a remarkable one then for me it's missing an essential element. You should be made to feel like you could be the only party in the dining room.
                      The wife and I ate at a molecular gastronomy restaurant in Spain two years ago. I loved the space and the service and the food was nothing that I'd even attempt to make. Exceptional tasting and looking. Broad wine list. Great time. Not fine dining. Just an opinion.

                    2. Super delicious food and beverages.

                      1. I don't want to sound like a food snob, but.... For me "fine dining" means a restaurant with great ambiance, a well trained wait staff, and last but very far from least, a chef who can cook at least as well as I can and preferably better. These places are difficult to find.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: Caroline1

                          That's exactly what I was going to say!

                          It needs to be a place that provides a hard-to-find experience, and if I or my friends can do just as well on our own it isn't fine dining.

                          1. re: Dan G

                            I guess it depends on where you live.

                            1. re: bookhound

                              Not where you live. Where you eat! '-)

                          2. re: Caroline1

                            Hey Caroline1,

                            What is it, that makes "great ambiance" up for you?

                            1. re: bluebeary

                              Great ambiance? Well, a whooooooole lot of things! But for openers:

                              DECOR: For truly fine dining, a restaurant's interior should be soft and sound absorbing. A decade or so ago, during the industrial/hi-tech era of restaurant decor (I believe Tom Callichio's Craft in NYC is a holdover from that, judging from what was shown on Top Chef), lots of hard surfaces and high noise levels was "in." Wrong move! It's bad for digestion, an assault on the ears, but it does promote a fast turnover of customers, which I suspect is why it was adapted by so many expensive places. A great dining experience is "user friendly" to ALL of the senses! So attention has to be paid to acoustics (soft surfaces, drapes, plush carpeting to drink up noise, to furnishings, and all of the things that are pleasurable. The color scheme should reflect that too. The right color scheme and execution of decor can make good food taste great!

                              TABLE SETTINGS: Nice linen with a pad under it to cushion noise and cut down on the clatter of cutlery and such. Flowers are nice but should be odorless lest they interfere with diner's taste perception. Lighting should be well balanced, not glaring, and candles on each table are nice. There is no more flattering light to people's faces than candlelight. And NEVER scented candles! (What ever happened to my nice butane candles from the '60's? Loved 'em!) Nice china and crystal is part of the deal. And it should NOT be swept away and replaced with dime store junk. See my profile for a real restaurant nightmare.

                              STAFF: Should be well dressed and absolutely know what they're doing! And that's a tall order. At my age (76), I'm rather a throw back to an earlier time, but for whatever cultural warping I'm the victim of, I strongly prefer an all male staff. I have real problems with today's "dress code." It's more like an UNdress code to me. I watched some of the coverage of Chelsea Clinton's wedding and it was an incredibly jarring experience for me. I hate it when the best dressed people in the room are the wait staff! Yes. I like maitre d'hotels in tuxedos, as well as the captains, and vests and aprons on the sommelier(s). You can still find that kind of dress code for the staff in most cities, but hardly ever for the clientele. And that makes me sad.

                              FOOD It goes without saying that the food has to be mind blowing. Which is why I had no interest in becoming a chef. You have to do "mind blowing" and "boring" at the same time so that your food is exactly the same, down to the smallest nuance, night after night so your customers wont sulk that it was much better last time. I am a good cook, but I'm a creative cook, and could not handle making a fixed menu night after night. But being a really good cook also makes it incredibly difficult to find a really good restaurant. I was radically spoiled by living in Las Vegas during the Rat Pack years, and dining out often. Oh! And I hate miniscule portions on a football field of porcelain. Don't much care for tasting menus. They make me want to scream, "Enough with the snacks already! I want my dinner!" But that would be rude. Time has turned me into a curmudgeon! '-)

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                A very good summary of my idea of fine dining as well. Thanks!

                            2. re: Caroline1

                              You can't find professional chefs that cook better than you? Where do you live?

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  People here abouts are fond of the fact that the DFW metroplex has more restaurants per capita than NYC, to which I fondly reply, "Yes, but New York has all the BEST ones!" And now I will be stoned any time I go on the DFW board! :-|

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    If you can replicate what I recently had at fuego at Stephen Pyles, please have me over for dinner.

                                  2. re: pikawicca

                                    Do you think I'm THAT bad a cook? '-)

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      I live in a relatively small town (Bloomington, Indiana), and I consider myself an excellent home cook. There are several professional chefs in town who can cook rings around me when they're at the top of their game. Surely in Dallas, there are world-class chefs.

                                2. Any place with a napkin on the table.

                                  Hell, if the place HAS tables it's almost there.

                                  1. I hate the expression. It is meaningless claptrap used as a marketing ploy.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Harters

                                      Of course the term "fine dining" is relative and somewhat arbitrary. I think OP acknowledges this when they inquire about each individual definition. Personally, cost doesn't really factor in to whether I consider it a "fine dining" experience, but higher prices do tend to strongly correlate to what I consider fine dining establishments. I think it's first and foremost exquisitely prepared fresh food that is presented artfully. Secondly, service is a definite consideration. Having a gracious head waiter, knowledgeable and attentive sommelier, all dishes served at the correct time and temperature, etc. Basically a seamless dining experience. Finally, ambiance must be considered. A vase of fake flowers, worn carpet edges or patrons welcomed in shorts and flip-flops negate my idea of "fine dining." All that said, I've had awesome food and service at many restaurants which I cheerfully recommend (at all price points) which, in some cases, have surpassed the quality in "fine dining" establishments.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        Hey Harters,

                                        Interesting view! I can see your point and in a way I think that some fine dining establishments out there don't offer nothing except a huge bill at the end and a reason to fume for the rest of the evening (or day). But then there are also those that send you home with a smile on your face and make you think you had the best meal experience ever...woth every penny...

                                        1. re: bluebeary

                                          Ah, please don't get me wrong, bluebeary. I love upscale restaurants and spend significantly in them. I generally have a better time than at more casual places.

                                          It is simply the phrase that I find meaningless - and the fact that so many folk have posted here their many different responses as to what it means for them, is the evidence that it is in fact meaningless in general usage. Your "fine dining" is different from his fine dining which is different from mine whoch is different from hers. You cannot have meaningful conversation unless you're speaking the same language.

                                      2. Reading jdinsf's response, I suppose I have to admit that, in my case, more than one of my local taquerias fit the bill, according to the criteria I listed above. :)

                                        It's been interesting to read the responses.

                                        1. Fine dining is a feast for the senses. It begins the moment I walk through the door. It shows up in the way I'm welcomed, the way I'm shown to my table, and the way I'm treated by the staff. The presentation of my food counts a LOT. It should be a treat for my eyes as well as my palate. Everything about the fine dining experience demonstrates to me that the chef/owner cares about his/her guests and is doing everything possible to please. The service should be seamless and invisible; my water glass is always filled, but I never notice the server hovering. The wait staff must be knowledgeable about the menu items -- about the ingredients and preparation. Fine dining is much greater than the sum of the individual components that comprise it.

                                          1. Given the high correlation between the attributes listed so far (superb service, knowledgable sommelier, new combinations, high quality ingredients) and price I would sum it up thusly:

                                            Expensive and worth every penny.

                                            1. In my current city, the state of dining affairs is pretty poor. There are a couple of decent fancy-casual places, but nothing I'd really classify as "fine dining." I'm starting to establish a personal definition of "gourmet" or "fine dining" - a place that offers a variety of cooked vegetables (not just salad, and not just one option of "mixed vegetables" or "grilled Asparagus") that are well-prepared and seasoned. You can have good food, and you can have ambiance, but if you can't give me more than meat and potatoes, you are not, in my world a "fine dining" establishment.

                                              1. For my definition, it's a restaurant where there are cloth napkins and table clothes, a pleasant ambience and a distinct lack of screaming children (and children's menus). The food is good - as good or better than what I can make at home (my standard of home cooking is pretty high) plus excellent service - servers who know about the menu items, and have that combination of attentiveness and discretion that renders them un-noticed until you need something, and then suddenly they are there. The dinner experience is relaxed and leisurely, and you dress up.

                                                I do recognize the existence of a higher level of dining - the kind of restaurants that the New York Times writes articles about, that are named after their chef, and that sort of thing. My actual experience with this sort of fine is entirely theoretical, however, because we simply can't afford to drop a significant fraction of our monthly rent on dinner, no matter how good, or how special an occasion.

                                                As a result, the kind of place I normally go to are eccentric hole-in-the-walls with great food and scruffy ambience.

                                                1. Heavy, generous linens, place settings out of an old-school etiquette book, quiet efficient gracious service, never having to re-use a utensil or glass from course to course, and food that is prepared from only high-quality ingredients with careful thought as to flavor combinations and attention to detail in cooking/putting the dish together. Bonus points for excellent decor or views.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: weezycom

                                                    While the service last night at the James Beard House wasn't the best (I'm a fan of every plate hitting the table at the same time in front of each guest at the table), the food, the wine, the experience of eating there and the chef were what I would consider fine dining. 6 courses, each with it's own silverware and own wine glass. Worth every penny. Very civilized.

                                                  2. As some others have said, I hate this term. If you go to a steakhouse wearing jeans and a polo and spend $200/per it's not fine dining? If you go to an elegant Italian restaurant, but your meal isn't as good as the neighborhood joint, but costs three times as much, is that fine dining? If you order the risotto and it comes in a tea cup, is that fine dining?

                                                    I personally hate getting dressed for dinner. Wearing a tie while eating is one of life's thorns in my side. I love good food, but have found that most places people rave about are ehhh. I used to go out when I was younger much more than I do now, because now, I prefer a relaxed atmosphere. Shorts and a tee shirt and a delicious meal. I'm willing to pay just as much at a dive for a good meal as I am at a hoity-toity spot.

                                                    I could care less if the wait staff kisses my butt or if they are surly, as long as they are effective. Peter Luger to me is the benchmark. Considered fine dining, but you feel lik you're in a beer hall. If you walk in and act like you've been there before, they treat you like gold. When you start asking what everything is, they rol their eyes and treat you as such. My feeling is, when I go out, I want my glass filled, my food to taste delicious (and be the right temperature) and I want to feel like the experience was worth the money. Very few places that are considered fine dining deliver all three. Many places that aren't do.

                                                    1. For me it starts first with service, if the wait staff is attentive, knowledgeable and welcoming. Then the food must be well prepared and expertly presented. Price doesn't really come into play for me I have had find dining experiences at my local chop house as well upscale restaurants. Some examples of my best find dining experiences are Emeril's, NOLA and Herbsaint in New Orleans. An example of Posh that was not fine dining to me was Savoy Grill, one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants in London. It was way too stuffy and I did not feel comfortable or welcome.

                                                      1. To me, fine dining means a whole lot of different things.

                                                        This is when I expect certain foods prepared and served to perfection. I don't want the server to harass me about my plate or forget about me or keep talking to me or expect me to remember their name. When I put my fork and knife on the plate in a specific way, I want them to know I'm done. Please don't spill my beverage or leave five thousand glasses on the table if I'm not using them.

                                                        I don't want to see other peoples chewed food and I won't show mine. I take my time enjoying my meal and, oddly enough, I expect other people dining with and around me to do the same. I like a certain tone such as no vulgar conversations, please don't be loud, try not to clang your dishes and utensils.

                                                        I hate when people touch their faces or hair while eating and when I'm "fine dining" I expect good manners and, please, if you have to reapply lipstick please do so in the ladies room!

                                                        I don't think price has anything to do with fine dining but it does cost more, sometimes, to hire and keep good employees. I've been to quite a few good restaurants that might not be considered "fine" but, wow, have they got it right and have they found a solid and knowledgeable team or what? Yes, they have.

                                                        I also expect simple things to go right such as "medium rare" actually meaning "medium rare". That can be a tough one for some reason. It should also mean that just enough is often perfect. Too much salt really bugs me. I expect "fine" foods to be flavourful on their own accord and too much salt can just ruin the taste of perfection.

                                                        If someone orders lobster with a dish, I don't want them to be disappointed that there is an inch of lobster meat in their dish.

                                                        And, one of the biggest things for me is consistency. If I enjoyed a dish so much that I want to order it again, please don't change the dish by not preparing it in a consistent manner.

                                                        Now that I've proof read this, I realize that much of the things I listed are things I normally do and expect. Huh, whatever. I guess just because I finish my bite, put my utensils down, use my napkin when needed and take a sip of water before opening my mouth to speak doesn't mean anyone else does. Somehow, I expect to find others with similar tastes and manners when fine dining than when chomping on pizza at a corner stand.

                                                        1. No ketchup on the tables. Better yet, no ketchup in the building.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            Fine dining = little black dressworthy (for me, not for you). ;)
                                                            Never needing to ask for water to be refilled...it happens magically, seamlessly.
                                                            No paper placemats with puzzles on them, maps of Italy or crayons on the table. ;)

                                                          2. This reminds me of a place my boyfriend and I had dinner at during a roadtrip from Washington to Arizona. We had stopped at our motel for the night, which was kind of out in the middle of nowhere. There was a restaurant next door with a large sign advertising "FINE DINING." We asked the woman at the reception desk of the motel how the restaurant was, and she shrugged her shoulders and said "oh, it's fine." The dinner special was chicken and dumplings, with lime jello poke cake for dessert.

                                                            1. Am in the process of writing a book on this topic, which in part deals with the muddying of the category "fine dining." The fact that you ask this question is itself revealing of our current cultural situation, no? What exactly are your research interests? Would be interested to know, as I too am working in this area.

                                                              There are fewer and fewer absolutes of fine dining. So many categories have overlapped. For example, how many serious-food restaurants now with casual design have extensive or notable wine lists? Revealing....

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: alisonpearlman

                                                                "There are fewer and fewer absolutes of fine dining. So many categories have overlapped"

                                                                Precisely the reason for me saying much earlier that the phrase "fine dining" is meaningless.

                                                                Take this recent example of a Michelin one-star meal. Food was an absolute delight - multi course tasting menu, modern style of cooking, premium quality food. Service - attentive but informal, staff dressed in jeans, shorts, T-shirts, etc. Ambiance - casual, no matching furniture, no tablecloths, paper napkins. Pricing - about on par with other 1 star meals.

                                                              2. For me it's primarily all about the food. I want dishes that I can't really make at home, or served in new combinations and wonderfully balanced flavors. Sauces can delight me, as some of them require way to much time for me to do on a regular basis, such as a demi-glace.

                                                                Any time I have to order my sides for the main meal means that it's not fine dining to me. The main dish should have the sides that the chef thinks will go well with the main dish. I want my dishes to be well composed, both in form and flavor.

                                                                I also want service that is efficient, unobtrusive and seamless. As stated above, your water glass, and wine glass are always full and you're not always sure how that happened. There should be real napkins on the table, no paper or worse, dishcloths!

                                                                Also, the restaurant shouldn't be too noisy. It's more difficult to enjoy a meal in a deafening environment.

                                                                And people should be dressed nicely, but that means something different here in SF than it does other places, I can't think of one restaurant that requires a tie anymore. On a side note, I do remember places in the 70's that didn't allow ladies in pants.

                                                                1. several posts have referenced that it is a requirement of a fine dining restaurant to have table cloths. i find this bizarre. lots of crappy restaurants have table cloths and weak food-- lots of excellent fine dining places have no table cloths, excellent food, and their dining rooms look very sleek, clean and contemporary. arbitrarily deciding a place doesn't merit "fine dining" status based on table linens is problematic. now, if a place doesn't have a serious wine list, then odds are it isn't fine dining. . . or if the coffee comes pre-ground in a puffy vac-pak. . . not fine dining. if the server can't describe the specials, or is baffled by a dietary restriction. . . or picks up your plate admonishing you to "keep your fork". . .not fine dining.

                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    In regard to the tablecloth it promotes a level of formality that many think is a requirement for fine dining. And I'm curious what fine dining restaurants have you been to that have no tablecloth?


                                                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                                                      Sushi bars don't often have table clothes.

                                                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                                                        "I'm curious what fine dining restaurants have you been to that have no tablecloth?"

                                                                        Yet more backing for my belief that the phrase "fine dining" is meaningless, without further definition. For example, I reckon many people would generally consider that a Michelin starred place to be inherently fine dining. Yet, in recent weeks, I've eaten in two that did not have a tablecloth and, indeed, one had paper napkins.

                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                          "I reckon many people would generally consider that a Michelin starred place to be inherently fine dining."
                                                                          As I said above I had dinner at Tragabuches in Rhonda and loved every minute of it from the decor to the meal to the wine but was it "fine dining"? If someone called it that I'd understand but there was a level of comfort and pamperedness which was missing which I consider fine dining to include. Just an opinion.

                                                                        2. re: Chinon00

                                                                          locally and most recently, i ate at restaurant alma, where the chef is a james beard award winner, the food is exquisite, and there are no tablecloths. alinea is arguably the best restaurant in the u.s. and one of the best in the world-- no tablecloths.

                                                                          tablecloths, which can necessitate fussy crumbing interruptions, are not compatible with all cuisines. contemporary fine dining should not be confined to a 19th century french museum piece, imo, particularly when the cuisine is not french-- and what reads as a "level of formality" to some can come across as stuffy to others.

                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                            Before we get way off track I'm not stating that tablecloths equal fine dining. I was attempting to explain why tablecloths have been brought up repeatly on this string. I think that we can agree that they do promote a level of formality.

                                                                            "[T]ablecloths, which can necessitate fussy crumbing interruptions, are not compatible with all cuisines."


                                                                            Anyway I agree with most of your previous post that the food must be outstanding but fine dining ain't JUST about the level of cooking.


                                                                      2. I think of Fine Dining as an overall experience beyond the food quality. Complete and professional service, beautiful environment, expensive ingredients, extensive wine list. And the establishment catering to the diners' needs and whims. It should feel like a pampering and luxurious experience. Whether anything is overpriced or not is probably not exactly a relevant issue. If it boils down to just one word, it would be: luxury.

                                                                        It's not exactly a strange situation for you to eat better food at a great bistro or sushi bar. It's quite normal for great chefs to run non-fine dining restaurants. You can eat $120 multi-course chef's tasting menu at a place that's still not really fine dining. But you would not expect the sort of total luxurious experience, the expensive ingredients, the pampering, the regal fixtures, etc.

                                                                        1. I'll post this here so as not to personally disagree with any individual. To me "fine dining" doesn't have to be "formal" dining. If it does for you, that's fine.

                                                                          1. The term is very meaningful to me. Fine dining has fabulous, interesting food that I could not replicate at home; a warm, but not overly familiar staff ("Good evening," but NOT "How are we doing tonight?"); a clientele who think well enough of the place and of one another to dress well; and tables that are really far apart. (I am curious about other human beings, but I really do not want to know about my neighboring diners' divorce settlements while I am trying to enjoy my meal.) And yes, I am willing to pay for this experience.

                                                                            Fine dining to me does mean a more formal experience. Anything else is just "eating well," and that is what I prefer most of the time. But for a special occasion, fine dining is it.

                                                                            1. This thread is beginning to remind me of a discussion that three women were having on a reality show about housewives. They were trying to define the word 'class'. Such an arbitrary and intangible sort of thing that in the end it just became a contest on who could be the most pretentious.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: soypower

                                                                                My (Southern) mother used to say that it you used the word "class" then it meant you didn't have any. BUT. I think you're incorrect in your judgment. I've found few of these to be "pretentious." People live and have lived different kinds of lives.

                                                                              2. I hate that term "fine dining". I hate places where the pompous waiters with fake accents look down on you and do pirouettes around you. I hate when they "draw on your plate" i.e. give you a huge plate with some stupid decorative trail of sauce or syrup and a miniscule portion of culinary pretentiousness, complete with a piece of parsley or carrot shaving. To me there is no entree in the world worth $40+ dollars unless I'm going to a charity function and the profit goes to a good cause. Most people I know who enjoy so-called "fine dining" also carry credit card debt month to month. I don't.
                                                                                To me a good restaurant is value for money, warm attentive timely service, quality food and relaxing ambience. If they can accommodate my food allergies by making some modifications to my order, then they have my respect and my customer loyalty.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: precious

                                                                                  You sound like my father. There was a restaurant in Center City, Philadelphia named Striped Bass that I enjoyed going to back in the 1990s. It was an old bank that was converted into restaurant. As you might imagine it had a high high ceiling, huge windows, marble, and was accented with ferns and flower: beautiful. The waiters were super attentive and the fish was always cooked perfectly, glistening. Nice large wine glasses and an attractive wine list to go with it. I gave my mom and dad a gift certificate for the restaurant. He literally hated every minute of it. First he tells me that when he walked in that he immediately sniffed out that it was an old bank. He wasn't "fooled" he tells me. Second after being seated he says that the waiters wouldn't leave him alone asking him was everything ok or did he need anything. He said that he felt like he was being watched. And lastly he complained about the size of his fish and price overall; despite the fact that he was given a gift certificate which covered everything.
                                                                                  We can all see things differently and have different expectations.

                                                                                2. For me this is not what 'fine dining' is: Going into any restaurant in which I pretend I can afford the ludicrous prices charged for average food served by wait staff who must pretend to 'really love' the crumby job and know they have to kiss every customers behind to get the obligatory tip percent. I am supposed to be so intimidated by the prices and the 'ambiance' that I wouldn't dare question my own palette when an entrée is cold or over/under seasoned.
                                                                                  For me 'fine dining' is eating at a food serving business which provides best quality ingredients which have been well prepared/seasoned and presented in a clean relaxed environment whatever the location. This can be from a food truck FAIC. The most memorable 'fine dining' experiences I can remember always center around these concepts. Without doubt the worst 'fine dining' experiences I can recall have always involved eating in some jumped up over priced 'Convivio type New York 'so-to-be-closed' nightmare where the waiters, for some inexplicable reason always seemed to spend their time doing pirouettes instead of remembering to bring the water and bread.

                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                    So for you fine dining must be affordable?

                                                                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                      Anyone who is willing to spend money on anything they know up front they can't afford needs to give their noggin a shake. So let's pretend that everyone who is willing to drop three hundred dollars on something to eat can afford to do so? I'm betting many many 'fine dining' patrons spend part of the 'fine dining' evening asking themselves if the money they are spending isn't money that ought to be going elsewhere in their budget. The fact that so many 'fine dining' restaurants are closing is because the business simply isn't there any more. Too many former customers are waking up to the reality that they can not afford to buy what 'fine dining' restaurants have to offer. They have other priorities. It's actually a very simple concept. In A.B. latest book he mentions a 'fine dining' restaurant owner who suddenly closed down what appeared to be two successful restaurants. A.B. suggests this restaurant was "ahead of he curve". 'Fine dining, in the 'Convivio' sense,' is and always has been a luxury whether the customer can afford it or not. Times get hard and luxuries are the first thing people who were never actually able to afford in the first place are the first thing to be 'chopped'. One of the best real 'fine dining experiences I've had was in a ma and pa neighborhood Hungarian restaurant. I was served a bowl of crystal clear chicken broth with one baby carrot in it. Main was a real breaded veal cutlet from a real veal calf, medium rare, a large pealed steaming hot boiled potato and a large stack of home made white sliced bread spread with real butter. No desert. THAT was 'fine dining'.

                                                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                        "I was served a bowl of crystal clear chicken broth with one baby carrot in it. Main was a real breaded veal cutlet from a real veal calf, medium rare, a large pealed steaming hot boiled potato and a large stack of home made white sliced bread spread with real butter. No desert. THAT was 'fine dining'."

                                                                                        What exactly about this meal elevated it to "fine dining" versus say a simple hearty meal?

                                                                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                          I was served excellent quality food in an environment that was enjoyable and relaxing served by people who honestly took pride in what they had to offer. 'Fine dining' is an overworked phrase meant to imply that if you are willing to blunk down a few hundred bucks they will sell you in return an experience you ought to remember for a long time. The hilarious part is there are thousands of (cough) 'food writers' who make a living alternately trashing one 'fine dining' restaurant while extolling the virtues of an other restaurant only to reverse their opinion a week later and the herd of 'grazers' is willingly gullible to take what the food writers serious. I mean come. "Fine dining' is food served from a food truck prepared by someone who has the skills to create a delicious hamburger and an honest passion for what they are doing. I promise that you will remember that hamburger longer than when you blunked down three hundred dollars for a meal/experience you would just as soon forget where the ruder your waiter was the more you tipped him. It's an actual art form with these waiters and they love to make fun of your stupidity after you leave. Read 'Hotel Bemelman' and Between Meals if you want a good laugh.

                                                                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                            Yeah what I don't get tho' is that you seem to be saying that if a place is expensive then by definition it can't serve excellent quality food, can't have a nice relaxed environment nor a staff that honestly takes pride in what it offers. Is that what you are saying?

                                                                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                              I agree there are certainly restaurants around the world which offer and produce excellent quality food a relaxed atmosphere and genuinely friendly well trained staff. I'm saying that these restaurants are few and far between. Gordon Ramsey owns about a dozen 'fine dining' restaurants around the world and every one of them is losing money. If Ramsey can't make a profit how can a couple of dentists and a 'B' string actor? In a food 'grazing' culture like NY more and more customers of 'fine dining' restaurants are opening their eyes and closing their wallets. Anyone who can beg borrow steal a couple of million bucks can open a new 'fine dining' restaurant but we all know what the chances are of that restaurant surviving two years in. Why the stunning failure rate with these restaurants? The answer is always the same: the owner/s where unable to, for whatever reason/s, night after night, provide excellent quality food/ambiance/service for a price people where willing to pay for and an overall experience which ensured repeat patrons (the life blood of any restaurant). A.B.'s recent book 'Medium Raw' has some great insights into where the 'fine dining' industry is headed and why.

                                                                                              1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                Well I'll say that starting a successful restaurant is a risky proposition regardless of price point. Hundreds of restaurants will open and close in NYC over the course of a year. So it isn't exclusive to "fine dining" establishments. I do think however that two factors (other than poor food and service) have negatively impacted fine dining restaurants: the economy and changing tastes. As you've stated fine dining is a luxury; which is harder for many of us to enjoy during an economic downturn. And tastes have changed. For many getting dressed in suit and tie and eating decadent French food for three hours isn't what they'd consider a good time.
                                                                                                I think your issue is with what the term "fine dining" implies about other ways of eating. That they are lesser. Not true and not my feeling. It's just different not better. But it does have a definition; one you are well versed in from reading your posts on this string.

                                                                                  2. My niece, who is a fairly unadventurous eater, is also a waitress. She defines "fine dining" as a place where she can make good tips because the prices are fairly high and they serve alcohol--guess it's all a matter of perspective.

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: escondido123

                                                                                      Like you said tho' your niece is unadventurous so she might never see in a meal what we see in it.

                                                                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                        I wrote that post because it always makes me chuckle when she says she works at a "fine dining" restaurant. As far as I can tell they're big steak and seafood chains that serve big martinis and lots of meat.

                                                                                    2. I think the definition of 'fine dining' is changing. The classic image of a 'fine dining' restaurant say from the fifties as seen in so many movies is a thing of the past. I agree withy you that more and more the idea of a couple coming home from busting their butts all week then putting on fancy uncomfortable cloths and sitting in a dimly lit room where someone hands them a wine list and the cheapest bottle on offer is a hundred bucks ( the couple know they can buy the same bottle for twenty bucks at their neighborhood grocery store) then trying to understand a five page menu written in French where a cheapest entrée is eighty bucks each is appealing less and less.
                                                                                      "So you went to 'Chartusei's' on Saturday night. How was it? How much did it set you back?" "The food was OK but it took a long time to arrive and I'd rather not tell you how much it set us back. Let's just say Sally's put off her flight to see her mother next week."
                                                                                      How about adding 'Fine Dining Inspired' to the side panels of these gourmet food trucks owned and operated by former souse chefs who used to work at 'Fine Ding' restaurants many of which are netting a grand a day. LOL

                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                        Well you seem insistent on portraying fine dining as inherently criminal so I'll leave that topic alone. I will add though that yes there is cross over from fine dining or gourmet to street and pub foods. For example a Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with truffle sauce and Foie Gras Mousse on a hot dog bun. That definitely blurs the line between street food and gourmet. And at ~$10 it's not cheap but allows access by most people for what are some truly decadant ingredients.

                                                                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                          I'm not insisting anything of the sort. I'm suggesting that yes there was a time when 'fine dining' really was 'fine dining' but in the last couple a decades too many 'fine dining restaurants popped up that were/still are attempting to sell something to the gullible that the owners of these restaurants can't deliver and that's why so many former customers are not willing to blunk down hundreds of dollars for food and wine they aren't quite sure they're getting their money's worth. A lot of blame can be laid at the doors of food shows and the Internet. Two decades ago no one had ever actually seen a trained French chef like J. Pepin demonstrate how to make classic french dishes. Suddenly everyone wanted french cuisine and just as suddenly every street in America housed an 'authentic' french 'fine dining' restaurant. Now people who would probably never taste Foie Gras in their lives can get some from a gourmet food truck. Theses same people ar not going to blunk down twenty five bucks for a little dab of Foie Gras in a 'Fine dining' restaurant anymore. According to A.B. the American resturant industry is starting to morph into what you can see in any city in Asia with millions and millions of street vendors serving well prepared local authentic food. The difference so far is these street vendors in America are using converted UPS trucks.
                                                                                          Last post on this thread.

                                                                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                            ".. fine dining restaurants popped up that were/still are attempting to sell something to the gullible that the owners of these restaurants can't deliver and that's why so many former customers are not willing to blunk down hundreds of dollars for food and wine they aren't quite sure they're getting their money's worth."

                                                                                            So you WOULD spend hundreds of dollars on a meal if it were worth it to you? I'm not sure if your issue are the high prices alone or the quality of the experience that you get for the high prices.

                                                                                      2. Hmmm..this is a great question. First off, "fine dining" can be slightly subjective, but here goes:
                                                                                        As others have stated, it is expensive but not overpriced. Expensive because of the top-quality ingredients that go into the meals and the skill of the chef should be taken into consideration.
                                                                                        You should be made to feel a genuine welcome to the establishment. I'm not talking overly friendly waitstaff with a fun-house smile permanantly locked on their faces and reciting the menu in a sing-songy voice. I'm talking about being cordial and informative. I'm at your establishment to dine--not to become besties with the waitstaff. The waitstaff should be able to answer any questions you may have about the menu rather than saying "Hmmm..I'm not sure about that--let me find out and I'll letja know". Fine dining means having great red wine that smells like dirt and tastes very earthy (my personal fave), it means an impeccable table setting. No paper napkins or tablecloths and no magic markers or crayons to draw with while waiting for the meal--lol! The portions should be sufficient--not massive. Just enough to satisfy. All veg should be fresh. All desserts made on-premises. All meats cooked the way you like it. No "we can't serve your meat rare". Unh, unh. that ain't fine dining. Oh...and...the waitstaff should know enough NOT to clear the plates away from the table until the last person is done with their meal. (Big pet peeve of mine).
                                                                                        Ambiance and decor are subjective. I've been to very rustic-looking establishments of fine dining and minimalist places and belle epoque decorated places...all nice. Oh...and lastly, some really off-the beaten track dishes that aren't found in most resaturants.