When I was growing up, my mom taught me the ins and outs of manners and fine dining etiquette. She showed me how to set a place at the table, where the napkin and drinking glass go, and which silverware to use at a nice restaurant. One of my fondest memories was from when I was about 10 years old when we got dressed up and went to a “fancy dinner” at a fine dining establishment. I felt so special and it was a wonderful bonding experience with my mom.
I also used that meal and her lessons at home as a reference point growing up. When I had the opportunity to eat friend’s houses or out on a date, I had the confidence in how to approach a meal and my surroundings without being intimidated or overwhelmed. Over the years, that knowledge served me well when navigating meals in a professional setting, attending beautiful wedding dinners and traveling to different eating establishments.
The lessons I received as a young girl were so beneficial and treasured that I looked forward to sharing them with my children someday.
As my daughters have grown into young ladies, I have worked with them on place settings and table manners, and we’ve dined at plenty of restaurants (until COVID). In that time they’ve gained an understanding of the basics and a standard for table manners. Each of them relish the opportunity to set the table at home before meals, declaring victory when they get all of the place settings correct.
Since they were toddlers, my girls have loved dressing up in their nicest ensembles, wearing heels and getting their hair and nails done. Now that they are school-aged, they wanted to take things to the next level.
I told them about my “Fancy Dinner” experience I had as a young girl, and they have been asking to have one for ages.
After careful consideration and reassurance that I could find a place that was safe to dine that also provided the appropriate ambiance, we put the plan in motion. I reserved a private dining room (at no extra cost!) at a local restaurant and surprised my daughters with a “Fancy Dinner” of their own.
In preparation, I curled their hair and painted their nails as we chatted about how thrilled they were and how they planned to match their lip gloss with their most exquisite dresses.
As they fastened their little sparkling heels on their feet and put their purses over their shoulders, they smiled and giggled with excitement.
When I set the reservation in advance, I let the staff know that this dinner was a special occasion for our small group and that there would be some young girls in attendance. We arrived and were immediately greeted by the sweet hostess who led us to a small but beautiful room. The table was set with all of the trimmings and the chandelier glistened in the soft lighting. The girls were in awe and gasped at everything, from the centerpiece that looked like bubbles in the air to the decorative wallpaper made of newspaper articles about the restaurant.
As they hung up their coats they looked at me for guidance on the next steps. We quickly reviewed sitting down politely with a dress on, places they could set their purse and where they could put their silverware once they unrolled it from the linen napkin.
They reviewed the menu and my oldest daughter proudly read each option out loud as they considered what sounded most delicious. Our server arrived, masked of course, introduced herself, and took our drink order. It was time to introduce a classic: Shirley Temples!
We clinked our drinks together, their small pink bubbly glasses with double cherries in the bottom and my glass of white wine.
Luckily this restaurant had a small but flexible menu. We dined on gourmet burgers and fries and used tiny individual bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise. Napkins were gently placed in our laps and the girls used their most polite voices while speaking with the server. While we donned our masks when appropriate, it didn’t detract from the experience.
In fact, it was such a quiet night that we didn’t see anyone else in the restaurant and while it was memorable to be alone in the restaurant, it was sad to witness the effect of the pandemic on a local establishment up close.
Before dessert, the girls went to “freshen up” in the restroom and reapply their lip color, just like in the movies. I watched them come back, hand in hand, and saw how grown they looked in that moment. It was like looking into the future and it was another reminder that time is passing so quickly.
In the days since our “Fancy Dinner”, some positive takeaways from the experience are evident.
They loved that they actually liked the food and that there was a revolving door at the entrance. It truly was a memorable meal and I look forward to more of them in the future.
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