You've Been Served 

Rediscovering the lost art of fine dining

While fairly common in nature, the color violet (purple) has always been difficult to reproduce in textiles. For that reason the hue has typically been associated with royalty and wealth, for only the rich could afford such rare fabrics. As the industrial and chemical age evolved and it became easy to reproduce color inexpensively, violet became accessible to the general population.

A similar evolution has occurred in food. Today, thanks to the mass production of food, the ease with which we transport it and lower food costs, the masses are able to enjoy food that once was only available to royalty. Like purple clothing, fine dining, which was once the exclusive privilege of the rich, has become readily accessible to the general public. However, some gourmands wonder what has happened to the lost art of fine dining.

Not more than 50 years ago the stereotypical nuclear family dressed up for family dinners at home. Today, one might encounter a baseball cap and a Megadeth T-shirt at a nice restaurant, attire that would shock old-school dining patrons. What happened to dress codes? What happened to etiquette? Have we become desensitized to exquisite experiences? Are we devolving into culinary cavemen?

Transplants to Boise may have noticed the degradation of the quality of diners' behavior at area restaurants, but that may be only a symptom of our geographic isolation.

Chef Andrae Bopp, proprietor of the contemporary French restaurant Andrae's in downtown Boise and trained at one of the finest French culinary institutes in the world, says that Boise diners are not as experienced as those in larger cities, where people are exposed to a greater number of fine dining restaurants.

"It's a new thing to them," he says, adding that it isn't necessarily a bad thing that Boiseans are being exposed to new experiences.

If you have ever eaten at a restaurant where you are presented with more than two forks as you sit down, you probably have some experience with fine dining. Fine dining isn't just about the food. It is about the service, the atmosphere, the entire experience. Fine dining is a state of mind. But to enjoy it, and for the enjoyment of others around you, you may need to slightly adjust your dining habits.

John Galloway, in his book Fine Dining Madness: The Rules and Realities of Fine Dining, says it isn't the country bumpkins and prom dates that are the worst offenders at fine dining establishments, it's the big shots who think the rules don't apply to them. He says these basic rules are, "Don't browbeat the staff and don't disturb your fellow diners." In addition, he establishes some general advice.

Don't be late. If you make a reservation, stick to it.

Don't drop names. It's not who you know, it's how much of an ass you look like saying you do.

Don't take off your jacket. We're not talking about your L.L. Bean, negative 20-degree down coat, we're talking about your suit jacket. Even if it's hot, don't take off the jacket. Men should take off their hats.

Don't use a cell phone. In fact, don't use your cell phone in any restaurant, especially if you have one of those earpieces. It bothers people to see you talking to yourself.

Don't sniff the cork.

"Sniffing is for cocaine addicts and French truffle hogs," Galloway writes. You can touch the cork. It should be wet, but if it's dry it might let you know the wine was not been properly stored.

Don't tip less than 20 percent. Fifteen percent may be fine for a burger joint, but you might have two to three people serving you at a fine dining restaurant. Be aware that your waiter might have to split your tip with the busboy, the bartender, the hostess, the sommelier and sometimes the cooks.

While Galloway outlines basic rules, there are several more guidelines BW would suggest you follow when dining out. Unfold your napkin and put it on your lap. Allow women order before men. Dress up; it's better to be the best dressed than the worst dressed (and if you look really nice people will wonder who you are). Know that you should hold your utensils with your palm up, instead of like a shovel. When in doubt as to which utensils to use, work from the outside in. Your waiter or waitress will remove the utensils you will not need further into your meal, so the process of elimination will apply. If you have used a utensil, don't put it back on the table. Balance the used part of your utensil on your plate while you eat and when you are done with it, put the whole utensil on the plate. Do not stack dishes for the waiter to take away. While you might think you are helping, you're not. Know what you can eat with your fingers. Don't pull a gristly piece of meat from your mouth. Politely spit it out in your napkin. Be kind. Be courteous. And if you don't know what to do, just ask. In life, it's always better to be a little ignorant than pretend like you know what you're doing when you don't.

While it may seem like there are many rules to consider in fine dining, it really isn't that different from eating at any restaurant where you are served.

Chef Andrae says, "Here, people walk in and they don't quite know to expect."

He admits it can be a little intimidating, but advises, "Relax. Don't stress about making a mistake or using the wrong utensil. We have a great service staff that really helps the customer feel at ease. Relax and enjoy the whole experience."

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