Last Updated on September 29, 2020
Eating at a restaurant is, quite simply, about people being together.
Nothing is more satisfying or exhilarating—for guests and employees alike—than that perfect moment when the dining hour reaches its peak, when the room is packed, the lights dim, and the entire environment comes alive with the music, joy, and energy of people truly living and sharing a brief moment in each others’ company.
With life a little different for the time being, we wanted to share a few ways to bring the restaurant experience to your home—whether it’s for a special date night, an anniversary, a family achievement, or just to break up the routine a bit.
Here are a few tips to have a night out while you stay in.
1. Send an invitation: Even if it is a date night, make it a double date! There are no shortage of FaceTime and virtual conferencing apps, so find some friends to have a meal together. Better yet, send them a formal invitation! Make it special. (An Evite probably is best these days, the mail delivery systems are working at max capacity already.)
2. Set the scene ahead of time: This is really the key to making dinner at home feel special. I do this by reserving a spot, typically my dining room table, and putting a table cloth down a day or two before. Maybe even set the table. I’ll use my nicest plates and silverware, actual wine glasses and cloth napkins. Anything to make it decidedly different than your normal dinner experience. (If you’re already fancy on a daily basis, bless you. I typically eat off a plastic picnic plate with a kitchen towel for a napkin. Old chef habits die hard.)
Setting your table the day before makes it stand out from the regular clutter, and as you see it throughout your day, it builds anticipation. Get excited!
3. Physical and Mental reset: Take some time before the meal to reset from your day-to-day. If you would get dressed up to go out, get dressed up. I find a shower and a nice shirt can make a huge difference in my mood. Shedding my work clothes is an act of moving away from the workday.
4. Lighting and music: I’ll often do this before I shower or change. Then, once I’m ready, I’m walking into a special environment. Some dim lighting, a few candles, a little centerpiece on the table, it all goes a long way in setting the mood. And of course, choose some music that’s appropriate to the occasion. The music should add to the experience but not distract or overwhelm.
Think of it as the last sprinkle of seasoning, or the little garnish, that ties a perfect dish together.
5. And of course the food: If possible, I’d suggest supporting your local restaurants and find somewhere special that’s preparing food for takeout. I’ve spent most of my career working in restaurants—in nearly every position, from the front of house to the kitchen—and I feel deeply for so many of my restaurant friends and former colleagues right now. Help them if you still want that experience of someone else cooking your food.
If you choose to cook, think about doing a few courses. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. That being said, plating a complex meal at home can also be an adventure; I nearly always push into something a bit complicated. Whatever route you decided, the more prep work in advance the better. An appetizer, an entreé, and a dessert are enough to break up your regular routine and make the experience a little more special.
Try our one-pan filet mignon recipe for a quick and easy dinner that will definitely please your “patrons.”
6. Disconnect a bit: And finally, if you’re having guests, put away your phone and computer, especially if you are trying to have an intimate dinner.
Turn off notifications, alarms, ringers, just shut it all down.
And then, take a moment before you begin. Sit down at the table with the clean tablecloth, the nice China, and the fancy silverware. Notice the candlelight reflecting off the glasses and the music softly filling the space.
Then, take the moment and just breathe.
We are all here, together, at our tables.
Yankel Polak is the Head Chef at ButcherBox.