Sure, Applebees is fine for, like, the first thirty dates, but there comes a time to step up your dating game and take that special someone into the wild mist of highbrow culture that is "fine dining." It's easy to get lost in the brandy-swirling tundra, what with all the veal shanks and jacket-rentals, but never fear: I may have no idea what I'm doing in a fine dining restaurant, either, but I've perfected the art of faking like I do.
Let's start at the start.
Getting Seated. So, this may be your first time at Le Fromage or whateverthecrap, but you don't want anyone to know this. On your way in, remark that it's slow for whatever night of the week it is, even if it's busy. You've seen busier. As you're taken to your table, ask the hostess if "Juan" is working tonight. There's a really good chance there's a waiter named Juan, and if not, there's an even better chance there's a cook named Juan. Even if the hostess has no idea who Juan is, tell her to "tell Juan you said hello." If anyone is going to feel stupid, it's her for not knowing Juan, not you for making up Juan.
The Table Treatment. Once you've taken your seat, buckle up for a whole bunch of people doing things you usually do for yourself. This can be awkward, like when the salesperson at Foot Locker laces up your sneakers for you. You could do it, but you have to let that modesty go. At any restaurant where a coke is $7.50, act like you love having your chair pulled out for you, your meat cut for you, and your napkin put on your lap for you. Be ready for it, though. Otherwise you may forget and think someone is trying to steal your chair, eat your food, and grope your crotchables.
Beverages. When it comes to water, the waiter will usually ask if you want bottled or tap. Don't say tap. I know it's more expensive, but tonight is all about excess. If it helps, pretend tap water killed your family. Bottled water comes carbonated ("sparkling") and non-carbonated ("still"). Go with still. Not only do you avoid the emasculating experience of saying "sparkling" in public, it will prevent the possible belch-carnage carbonated water can induce, and no one wants that, especially after the cheese plate.
Wine is your best bet for booze. If your date wants something else, get a Southern Comfort Manhattan, straight up, dry. Not because they're any good, it just sounds cool. Then when it comes, tell your date they made it a little too sweet and you swore you said "dry." You're not annoyed, you just know your stuff. Comment that "Juan makes them just perfect" and propose a toast in his honor.
If you do get wine, don't get merlot. In fact, snidely tell your date "merlot is highly overrated." If they ask why, use words like "leathery," "rusty," "thin," and "burnt." Hide the fact that you only started hating merlot since you saw the movie Sideways. When it comes time to taste the wine, the waiter will show you the bottle and wait for your approval. Look at it, pretend to read it, and nod. Resist comments like, "The bottle has a kitty!" or "That should get us drunk nicely, thank you."
Edibles. There are a couple certainties on fine dining menus. Ninety percent of the time, there will be some sort of beet salad. It will probably have endive, a type of lettuce-like weed that tastes like shoelaces. Get this. Lettuce is for Big-Macs, endive is the shrub of the snobgods. Pretend you like it. If it helps, tell yourself that endive saved your family form a tap-water attack.
The menu can sometimes intimidate, but don't lose it now: you're so close to the end. Here's a valuable tip: Read the descriptions of the food you're getting. Memorize an ingredient, like "paprika," so twenty minutes later when you take your first bite, you can say,"You can really taste the paprika." If you're up to memorizing two ingredients, you can whip up some great verbal gems such as "the paprika really brings out the shallot-zest." If you blank and forget what it is you're eating, pretend it's so delicious it's making you speechless. That's a nice cover.
Dessert. Somewhere next to the flourless chocolate cake and the creme brulee is a dessert option you don't see everywhere: cheese. Not cheesecake, just straight-up cheese on a plate. They call it (wait for it" ) a cheese plate. Sometimes you choose, sometimes it's the house's choice. Either way: goat, lamb, sheep" they're all there, in cheese form. Go bold and ask for something really unique, preferably from a smelly place, like France. If the waiter says the cheese is "pungent" or "has a strong aroma," get ready for a cheese that both smells like a barn and tastes how a barn smells. Put some on a little bread, eat it and pretend you enjoy tasting the scent of lambass if you do, you'll earn yourself some mad snobbery points, which is sure to impress.
Warning: If you order Bananas Foster, or anything else "prepared tableside," this means the waiter brings a stove to your table and cooks it all right there in the dining room. This means get ready to have everyone in the restaurant staring at you while the waiter shoots flames and bananas everywhere. Is it worth the attention and the possible eyebrow singing? No. It's just sweet, burnt bananas. Go with the cheese.
After Dinner Drinks. This is your sweet, sweet reward for making it through the meal with nary a slip. And what a nice finish: where else but a fine dining restaurant do you look MORE civilized for ordering hard liquor AFTER your meal? Order a double shot of Grand Manier at Chilis after your Sizzlin' Meat-Cheeze Shrimp Nacho Combo Platter, you look like a classless boozehound. Order it in a snifter at Chateau Bolongeyloon, however, you're one step away from a Bentley and an honorary monocle. Getting loaded is what the upper-classes are all about! Get into it! Sure, most cognac taste like DayQuil and burns your nosehair on airborn impact, but it's all part of the fun. Swirl it, sip it, drink it however you like, but for the love of cufflinks, don't mix it with anything. Most of these places hear "I'll have Hennesey and Coke" as "Please kick me in the mangroin." These are the finer things; they're to be savored as is they don't socialize with the common liquids.
There's more to it, I'm sure, but that's all I really know, and it has served me well. If you follow this advice, there's a good chance everyone will think you're an acceptable fine diner and not a Joe Everyman who dips his fries in honey mustard and prefers Pabst to Pinot, KFC to organic chicken breast with free-range mustard, and sweatpants to cummerbunds. To be honest, I don't even know what a cummerbund is, but it sounds illegal. Good luck!