Even when money is tight you can find ways to indulge yourself and while dining out at restaurants can be a wonderful experience it can also shatter a budget.
Don't deprive yourself of wonderful dinners because you can't afford to go out but learn to do them at home at a fraction of the price.
Even if you are not a gourmet chef there are plenty of easy recipes that you can learn that will rival almost anything you can find in a restaurant. Restaurant meals are designed to be profitable (cheap to make) and once you learn the secrets of upscale eating you will find it easy and inexpensive to mimic at home. Here are 15 tips restaurants use so you can experience fine dining at home on a dime.
1. Atmosphere- When you are paying big bucks for a meal you want to feel as if your surroundings justify the cost. Restaurants make their seating so you will be looking at something interesting. You can do the same by changing up where you eat in your own home. During the warm months deck out a cozy nook in your yard or balcony. It doesn't have to be a large space but an interesting one.
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Copyright Ingrid Talpak 2010
In your home instead of eating in the kitchen or dining room set a table in front of the fireplace or in your living room. Is there any interesting nooks in your home that you could place a small table and some chairs? Add a interesting piece of artwork to the wall and you have an instant dining area.
If you are planning to eat in the dining room make the table smaller so you will have a more intimate dinner if it is just you and your heart's desire.
If you don't have the space and have to eat in the kitchen a large plant on a small table can block any unpleasant view of kitchen sinks or stoves.
2. Lighting- Not just candlelight on the table but interesting lighting beside the table as well. If the room you are in has a dimmer then use it. If it doesn't think about bringing in small table lamps that you can place next to the table so there will be a warm glow in the room.
If you are dining outside then strings of white lights can look magical as can a garden full of candles. Never leave candles unattended
3.Music- Classical or Jazz music adds a sophistication to a meal. A 2003 British study showed that people send more money in restaurants that play classical music and tend to linger longer.
You want to listen to something that can fade into the background during your conversations. This isn't the sort of music you listen to while you work out or has a strong beat to it. You want mellow. Look on line for suggestions, you could also make up your own dinner CD.
4. Linens- There is something elegant about a table that has been decked out in white linens. The more expensive the restaurant the whiter the linens seem to be. Table clothes and table napkins both in white are classic and timeless and never go out of style. Look for them at restaurant supply stores or on sale during white sales.
5. Table Arrangements - The trend is going towards simpler more sophisticated table arrangements of one or two unusual flowers or foliage in low, clean, geometric glass containers. You never want a tall table arrangement and never put a potted plant on the table unless it is an orchid or something equally as exotic and it is set off to the side so it doesn't block your sight line.
6.Plates- Oversized plates that have been warmed to serve hot food on and cooled to serve chilled foods on is the standard of good restaurants. The classic style is a simple white so the food is showcased. White plate ware is easy to find in all price ranges and styles. For cutting edge food look for square plates.
If you are using plates that are patterned then the table arrangement should match some element in the plate. If they have a boarder of colored flowers then chose one or two of those flowers and colors in your arrangement.
7.Cutlery and Glassware - It has to be spotless, you wouldn't want to eat off anything less in a restaurant so at home make sure you have the same standard when fine dining. Even though stainless steel is marketed as being stainless that doesn't mean that it actually is. Even high quality stainless steel cutlery can get brown spots on it, especially if it is only every being cleaned in a dishwasher. There are very good stainless steel cleaners that will bring your cutlery back to looking new.
This is also a great time to pull out your fine silver if you have it. Make sure that it has been polished to a shine.
Take a moment to shine your glassware so it sparkles. You can buy glass clothes at restaurant supply stores but they are very inexpensive and easy to find in antique malls. These are clothes made of fine linen that you only ever use to polish glass ware.
8.Timing - Things look effortless when they are well timed. You walk into a restaurant and are seated at a lovely table and each course is brought to you then whisked away when you are finished. The timing has been planned very carefully. The table set, the wines chilled and the timing of the meal was all prepared hours ahead of time. Don't be rushing around at the last minute trying to get done anything that you should have done hours, or even, the day before.
9. Drinks and Wine - Make sure that you have water glasses on the table along with any drink glasses that you will be using. If you are unsure of the types of wine you would like to serve then go for something very simple that will match the main course of your meal (there is plenty of advice on line and in liquor stores).
Many people prefer having sparkling water with their meal other than wine. Are you going to start with a before dinner drink? Sparkling champagne type wines like Spanish Cava or Italian Spumante can be a very elegant option.
10.Plating - Some of the simplest meals can look amazing with just a garnish. Forget about plastic looking parsley and think how restaurants use squeeze bottles to squiggle sauces onto plates or have the vegetables cut in unusual ways. Simpler is always better.
11. Service table This is just a small table that is outside the kitchen and near to where you are dining that would have all sorts of odds and ends that you might need during your meal like extra cutlery, glasses and lighter in case the candles go out. You can also have another bottle of wine or sparkling water chilling here and your coffee maker could sit here ready to be started.
12.Appetizers and Breads - Not everything that you make has to be home made. Appetizers and breads can be bought frozen and heated in your oven. Restaurants often outsource parts of their meals. (There are two reasons restaurants like breads to their customers. It fills them up so the main course can be smaller and cost wise they are very inexpensive).
13. Main Course - Most people when trying to have an elegant meal tend to cook way too much food. If you are having appetizers, bread and dessert then keep in mind portion sizes.
14. Coffee, desserts and liquors - Have your coffee ready to go in your service area and your dessert already plated and in the refrigerator or freezer. You could have made your desserts the day before or even picked them up from the grocery store. Take your time in plating them beautifully so you will have a show stopper to finish off your meal.
If you are not much of a dessert eater then you could finish your meal with a liqueur and coffee.
15. Clean up - You should have been cleaning as you cook so by the time dinner is served the kitchen is not an unholy mess. Your counters should be clean and you should fill one sink with warm soapy water that you can put any empty pots and pans in.
Before you start you dinner make sure that your garbage is empty, that way after dinner you can take a moment or two to scrap food from the plates, give them a quick rinse and stack them (or place them in the dishwasher) and go enjoy the rest of your evening.
With some thought and careful planning you can have a really special dinner that will rival what you can get from even some of the best restaurants and the only thing missing in the end will be the bill.
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Photography and Content
Copyright Ingrid Talpak 2010