America's First Fine Dining Restaurant Might've Changed How We Set Tables

When it comes to fine dining, etiquette guidelines are paramount. From elbows on the table and where you put your napkin to when you can start eating, there are lots of little things to consider. And the rules aren't just for the guests — there are plenty of dos and don'ts that hosts must follow as they're setting the table. Be sure to offer the right glasses, for example, and consider your decor so you create the right vibe. Even components as seemingly simple as silverware and table linens are important.

What's interesting is that our modern practices likely stem from early American fine dining. The New York City restaurant Delmonico's, which has taken several forms since opening in 1837, was ritzy from the start, with a pricey menu and luxe wine list. One of its innovations was a crisp white cloth over the table: "Delmonico's was the first dining establishment to have tablecloths," the restaurant has boasted. Today, the tablecloth takes many forms, and we have Delmonico's to thank for it — and that's not the only thing this iconic establishment claims to have introduced to the culinary world.

How Delmonico's basically invented the modern restaurant

Over nearly two centuries, New York City institution Delmonico's has shaped American restaurant culture, particularly fine dining. While essentially inventing tablecloths would be a claim to fame for any classic American restaurant, Delmonico's claims several other innovations, too.

Although it can be difficult to trace the origins of some now-classic dishes, the Delmonico steak, as the name suggests, was certainly first served there. Chicken a la King, Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, and Lobster Newburg may all have been invented at Delmonico's, too.

But the establishment didn't just create some modern menu classics — it literally created the menu in America. When Delmonico's opened, many of what would now be called restaurants were closer to taverns or inn kitchens that primarily served overnight guests. You paid one price, the cook made one dish, and you ate as much as you needed. Unlike any of these establishments, Delmonico's not only cooked multiple dishes a night but printed out menus for each guest — a groundbreaking development. 

Sadly, Delmonico's closed temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic and, for unrelated reasons, has yet to reopen. America's first fine dining restaurant didn't just change how we set the table (even if some rules don't make sense), it also changed how we eat altogether — and hopefully, when it reopens, it'll continue to do so.