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What’s not to love about going out to dinner? From ambiance and atmosphere to trying new cuisine and not having to hand-wash the dishes when it’s over, eating out is a chance to escape the daily grind and indulge in a little “me time.” While nothing can take the place of a dinner out at the best special occasion restaurant, it’s not that hard to create your own fine-dining experience without ever having to leave the house.
Part of eating dinner out is not having to slave over a hot stove for hours, so use a few meal prep hacks that will save you tons of time. If you’re marinating meat, start the day before. It makes things easier and is also one of the best ways to cook cheap steaks. You can also chop onions and other ingredients ahead of time.
There’s nothing like music to help set the mood. Many of the best restaurants in America have specially curated playlists to help create the perfect atmosphere for guests and you should too.
Using tablecloths or placemats for meals is just one of many dining etiquette rules that should make a comeback and is essential if you want your dinner to have a true restaurant vibe. Some of the oldest restaurants use antique linens to create a sense of nostalgia. So, if you’ve got your grandmother’s tablecloth, put it out.
If you have it, your good china is probably gathering dust somewhere in a cabinet. Why let your best dinnerware go to waste? Unless you’re eating at a food court, it’s unlikely that your favorite restaurant is going to serve dinner on a paper plate and you shouldn’t either. Break the china out, give it a deep clean and enjoy using it.
You don’t need to run out to your local grocery store or even leave the house to create a centerpiece for your dinner table. If you’ve got flowers growing in the garden, cut a few and put them in a glass or vase. No flowers? No problem, just be creative. Bunches of green leaves, candles, fresh fruit in a bowl or even a pile of books can all get the job done.
To really give it a restaurant feel, print out some menus and outline each course. Design your own or search online for inspiration. You can make it fun by adding food facts or trivia like how every state got its nickname.
According to a study by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, diners enjoy food more in soft or dim lighting. It also suggests that dining in that relaxed environment can lead to greater satisfaction, which explains why even the most expensive restaurants on Earth keep the lights low. Dim the lights or use candles to set the mood. It doesn’t have to be fancy — putting a few votives on a plate will do the trick. Just make sure the candles are unscented.
Using place cards is just one of the biggest wedding trends through the decades. They lend an air of elegance to dinner at home. Write or print off names of guests, even if it’s just two of you, and attach them to napkins, shells, pinecones, wine corks or anything else you can think of to add an element of whimsy to your dinner.
Every good restaurant offers a signature drink and you should think about having one too. Make coming up with ideas part of the fun. If you’re having burritos or other Mexican-inspired dishes, then specialty margaritas are in order. If you are more of a beer person, find a craft beer or IPA to serve.
Your wine doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, just mindfully chosen for the occasion. Consider trying something new or, if you’re serving boxed wine, put it in a nice glass, which is one of the ways to make a cheap date not seem cheap.
If you’re cooking for an anniversary or special night, dressing inappropriately for dinner is one of the worst dating etiquette mistakes you can make. Either way, much like the china, your finest clothes probably get worn just a handful of times. So, take your favorite dress or suit out of the drycleaning bag and go all out.
What makes some of the best historic restaurants so charming is a fireplace. If you’re lucky enough to have one of your own, lighting a fire is a great way to elevate dinner. No fireplace? No worries, both Netflix and YouTube offer hours-long fireplace videos (sound included) to play on your TV or computer screen.
Whether you’re out at a restaurant or at home, checking your phone during dinner is one of the worst etiquette mistakes you can make. So, seriously, put it down. Also power down computers and TVs, and remove other distractions in order to stay in the moment.
Arguably, one of the best things about eating dinner out is the breadbasket. If you’re ambitious, try making your own bread. Otherwise, heat premade rolls or bread in the oven and serve warm in a basket.
Everyone knows that ordering an appetizer to start off the night is essential to eating out and being home is no excuse to skip it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Whip up your favorite go-to party dish or recreate a vintage appetizer recipe from days gone by. Make sure to serve it early so you’re not full before the next course.
Dinner isn’t complete without a dessert to share when it’s done. If you have the time and energy, make a tiramisu or trifle or another one of those desserts that are difficult but impressive.
Though drinking coffee after dinner is common when eating out, not many people do it after dinner at home. Fortunately, there are a lot of recipes and tips for making coffee at home and it’s a relaxing way to unwind after a big meal. Brew up a latte, cappuccino or macchiato to wrap up the evening.
One of the best parts of having dinner out is that it feels like a leisurely occasion where no one’s in a rush to be done. Adopt that same philosophy at home. Instead of being in a hurry to get through each course, take time to linger and enjoy it, just like you would if you were enjoying a meal at one of the hardest restaurants to get a reservation at.
Who wants to wash a sink full of dirty dishes after a big meal? No one, which is why most people go out to dinner in the first place. While leaving a mess is one of the rudest things you can do at a restaurant, it’s OK if you wait to do the dishes until morning. Just make sure you rinse them off and don’t leave any food sitting out, which is just one of many bad kitchen habits you need to stop now.
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