Restaurant Etiquette: 5 Dress Codes for Dining Out (Pictures)

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You have a work dinner with clients. It’s your in-laws 40th wedding anniversary. Your cousin’s engagement party. You’ve planned a whole trip around this one restaurant in Italy you saw on Instagram (guilty). In one or all of these situations, telllllllllllll me you haven’t 1. Spent 5 hours on Pinterest trying to draw up some outfit options 2. Texted all of your friends asking them what they’re wearing tonight. 3. Almost bailed because you just couldn’t figure it out.

Before you panic, there are many things you can do to help you figure out your #OOTD or #OOTN. One recommendation is to contact the restaurant directly and ask them if they have a specific dress code. Another thing you can do, which I almost always do, is pay yourself a visit to the restaurant’s Instagram place page. You’ll most likely find hundreds of guest photos, from which you’ll be able to pick up a vibe. One thing I truly believe is that you’re better off being overdressed rather than being underdressed. Make sure your clothing is always clean and pressed and never underestimate the power of this beauty. Presenting yourself in your best manner will give you a boost of confidence and it will also pay respect to whoever is hosting you. At the end of the day, always adapt your personality and comfort to your dress code and do what feels right to you. How you look is one thing, but how you feel is that good good stuff.

To make it even simpler, here’s a guideline of restaurant etiquette, with the 5 dress codes for dining out explained.

1. Casual – Smart Casual

Think comfortable but with a notch above. You’re out in public and not on your couch watching Netflix (goals). There’s not really a set in stone pair of rules, just make sure you look polished. Some people will say no to jeans, but honestly we don’t live in the 18th century anymore and I firmly believe that jeans can look great today. Just make sure they’re dark or white jeans without a bunch of holes in them. You’ll nail it if you’re clever about it.

Casual recommendations for women: 

Summer dresses, casual dresses, rompers, feminine skirts, fitted dark or white jeans, cute trousers, flirty tops in nice materials such as silk, satin or cashmere, dressy sandals or sneakers, wedges, low heels.

Casual recommendations for men:

Dress shirts, tennis/polo shirts, fitted T-shirts, turtlenecks, cashmere shirts, fitted dark or white jeans, chinos, suit pants, dressy sneakers, chelsea boots, loafers. 

2. Business Casual

This is quite similar to Casual and Smart Casual, but it’s just more work-appropriate. You’ll want to look professional and put together. The formality of your outfit will correlate with the type of company you work at.  

Business casual recommendations for women:

Suits, tailored dresses, A line & pencil skirts, dress pants, trousers, dress shirts, formal tops in nice materials such as silk, satin or cashmere.
Avoid: any skirts or dresses that fall above the knees, too much cleavage or too much skin in general, spaghetti straps or heels that are too high.

Business casual recommendations for men:

Dress shirts, cashmere shirts, turtlenecks, sport coats, blazers, dress pants, trousers, loafers, leather shoes, chelsea boots, sneakers if they’re really nice (some people may totally disagree but I love sneakers and totally think they have their place in the business casual world if they’re clean, classy and worn cleverly. 

3. Casual Elegant – Cocktail Attire 

Dressed up, but not uptight; festive and fun, but not formal and boring. Basically, you’ll be more dressed up than Casual but more fun than Business Casual. You can allow yourself to be a bit more extra here and show some of your personality. Ladies, wear some jewelry, define your lips with bold lipstick colors and show some knee why don’t you. Gentlemen, do a fun tie or funky socks with some cool cufflinks and maybe a fun colored suit!

Casual Elegant – Cocktail Attire recommendations for women:

Cocktail dresses (above the knee is totally suitable), dressy rompers, feminine skirts and trousers, flirty tops in nice materials such as silk, satin or cashmere, jewelry, accessories.

Casual Elegant – Cocktail Attire recommendations for men:

Fun colored suits, blazers, sports jackets, turtlenecks, dress pants, trousers, dressy sneakers, chelsea boots, leather shoes, funky socks, fun ties, cufflinks.

4. Semi Formal 

Right between Formal and Casual is where you’ll find the Semi-Formal dress code. You’ll need to dress up but not as much as wearing a ball gown or a tuxedo.

Semi Formal recommendations for women:

Ladies, your best bets are the classic little black dress, a dressy cocktail dress or perhaps an elegant blouse (silk, satin, cashmere) paired with a dressy skirt or slacks. 

Semi Formal recommendations for men: 

Gentlemen, you can never go wrong with a suit and tie but dress pants combined with a dress shirt and a nice jacket with leather shoes will do the trick too.

5. Formal + Less Often Black Tie & White Tie

You’ll also hear the term “Jacket Required” in the formal dress code. This is mostly required for high end dining. Black Tie and White Tie dress codes will rarely be requested in a restaurant and rather will be reserved for high end events such as galas, ceremonies, and official dinners.

Formal recommendations for women:

You’ll be required to wear a cocktail dress or a long gown.

Formal recommendations for men: 

A dark suit and tie with sleek dressy leather shoes are a must here. Depending on the formality of the event, you can also wear a tuxedo. 

Black tie: This is a notch above formal, and you’ll be required to wear a tuxedo and formal cocktail dress or long gown.

White tie: Also known as Full Evening Dress or Dress Suit) The ultimate attire. White tie, vest, and shirt, and women to wear long formal gowns.

There it is friends. As I mentioned earlier, the most important thing here is that you feel like yourself. The polished, sleek and bad ass version of yourself, of course.

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