9 Tricks to Make Eating in Every Night Feel More Special

published Oct 30, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Pearl Jones/Kitchn

What’s your favorite restaurant? Chances are, you love this spot not just for its food, but for the experience: the service, the atmosphere… all the bells and whistles that make eating there feel unique.

Though you may not be able to duplicate all these things at home (not to mention the convenience of being served) when eating out isn’t possible, you can still make your eating experience special—whether you cook your own meal or opt for delivery. Here, restaurant experts share their best tricks to make dining at home more exciting.

Set up a calendar reminder

There are no reservations needed for in-home dining, but you can up the fun factor (and make it feel like a reservation) by setting up a calendar reminder for your family, says Natasha Levey, co-owner of Speaks Clam Bar and the forthcoming Central Park St. Pete Food Hall. 

Tidy up your space

There’s no better way to kill the mood of your at-home restaurant than tripping over your kids’ toys on the floor or walking through a room full of clutter. Practice self-hospitality by tidying up areas of your home you’ll want to enjoy, especially your kitchen, dining room, and living room (you may want to to lounge there after dessert). And while it’s not part of the official dining experience, don’t neglect the bathroom, says Danny Lledó, executive chef and owner of Xiquet DL in Washington, DC.  Why? When everything about the “restaurant environment” is in tip-top shape, diners can focus on what should be the star of the show: the food.

Clean up cooking messes as you go 

Cooking can be messy, but it’s hard to relax in your at-home restaurant if your kitchen is a disaster. So take a tip from the pros: take care of food prep messes before you sit down to eat. 

“You don’t wait until the very last minute to clean, so that you’ve just had this beautiful meal at home, and you’re very relaxed afterwards, but then you get frustrated having to do all the cleanup yourself afterwards, which ruins the mood,” says Lledó.

Have dinner on the veranda 

No, you don’t need an actual veranda—that’s just a silly code expression for setting up dinner anywhere but the dining room table. “Try a blanket on the floor in the living room and add some French music or cricket sounds, or bake a killer quiche and have breakfast-for-dinner, in bed,” suggests Meredith Boyle, co-owner of Balvanera in Manhattan.

Copy your favorite restaurant

Don’t forget all the necessary accoutrements. No, we’re not talking about garnishes—we’re talking about the other elements that make for a thoughtful, cohesive dining experience: a playlist, decor, craft cocktails, and more, says Christine Langelier, director of operations at Atlas Restaurant Group. You can even print out customized menus and placing them on the table once you decide what you’re serving, says Levey.

Dim the lights

Set a restaurant-like ambiance with mood lighting, too, says Dwight Zahringer, whose company Pure Cabo offers concierge services for tourists in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “Forget glaring off-white light from the ceiling, and light candles or relocate lamps for softer spot lighting,” he says. “It really changes the feel of your dining room.”

Don’t forget the bread and butter

If you’re aiming for an authentic restaurant experience, nothing beats kicking off the meal with bread and butter, whether you support your local baker or market or try your hand at making your own, says Boyle. You can also whip up your own butter in a mason jar and add herbs, spices, or salts to make dinner even more special.

Eat multiple courses

How many times do you actually sit down for an appetizer, entree, and dessert at home? “A true three-course meal will instantly mirror a nice night at a restaurant where we tend to treat ourselves to multiple courses,” says Zahringer.

Add a wine tasting

You’ve probably already thought to include a nice bottle of wine with your dinner, but why not consider taking your at-home restaurant to the next level by adding a beer or wine tasting? Pair different wine types with each meal course, or make it a game by inviting friends or family to guess what varietal they’re being served, says Zahringer.