What is a "nice" restaurant?

In a thread about the utility of Excel, @Martin_Hyde said that someone would have to be tremendously poor to not be able to afford $70/year for Excel- and that’s not even the price of dinner and drinks at a nice restaurant. To which @Bootb claimed that’s wildly incorrect, and that’s the price of dinner and drinks for three people at a nice restaurant.

To me, that seems absurd. $70 for 3 people is like a casual steak place like Saltgrass (which I in fact adore, but I’m under no illusions that it’s “nice”), with draft beer for everyone.

What say you, dopers? What’s a “nice” restaurant to you? Where do you draw that line?

For me, going to a “nice restaurant” means fine dining- $70 is where it starts for one person all in. Places like these are “nice” restaurants I’ve been to:

De Vrienden van Jacob

A place with white tablecloths where the waiter comes around with a special little tool and scrapes up the crumbs between courses. :champagne:

Are we including a tip?

Are we conflating “nice” with “fancy”?

Bc I’ve been to some nice mom and pop restaurants that were dirt cheap.

Ther may be a cost of living adjustment. Around here you can get a “nice” house for under $200k, that wouldn’t buy a garden shed in some locations.

I consider these places “nice” restaurants:



That’s kind of the question as I see it. I’ve been to some expensive places that weren’t particularly fancy, and I’ve been to some places that were fancy, but not particularly expensive. For example, Boulevardier that I mentioned upthread isn’t “fancy” in the sense of tuxedoed waitstaff, fine crystal, etc… but it is expensive and very, very good.

Anywhere where you’d feel out of place in shorts.

$70 per person is a “Fancy” restaurant more than a “Nice” one. I almost never do that more than twice a year.

A nice house for $200K hasn’t been seen in my area for probably 20-25 years.
My current house was almost a bargain at $400k and at only 1680sq’, probably not quite the normal definition of nice. I imagine that probably means 2000sq’ and up.

I live near the Shore, here some of our nicest places wouldn’t look askance at shorts. That is true at plenty of places on the Gulf Coast of Florida also and New Orleans.

I would think most beach oriented shore spots don’t expect more than shorts.

As the person being quoted–I use the term “nice restaurant” to mean “upscale.” Not “good”, there’s plenty of great places I can tell you in the Northern Virginia / Richmond corridor that are great food and will be under $15 a person if you want it to be. Most people I know when they say nice restaurant do mean upscale. Examples in a sentence, “I’m taking Mom out to a nice restaurant for Mother’s day.” This implies it’s somewhere more upscale, where you’re willing to spend a little more.

It doesn’t have to mean fine dining, lots of trendy and nice upscale restaurants do not adhere to “formal fine dining” (i.e. the waitstaff aren’t wearing black tie, there isn’t a formal course-structure to all the meals etc"), but some characteristics of “nice” restaurants usually: a wine list, with at least a few really good wines, the head chef is known–either on the restaurant’s website or menu or signage (because it’s a real head chef, not a head cook running a shift at Applebee’s), decor and cleanliness are important–it doesn’t have to be a formal setting, but it shouldn’t look like a Denny’s, they should take reservations, there should be someone offering to check your coat for you at the door, if it’s in an urban center there should be valet parking. Some things that you’ll see most of the time at a “nice” restaurant, but not necessarily always: prixe fixe menus, tasting menus, very focused menu around a specific kind of cuisine, use of only fresh ingredients, professional pastry chef on site in addition to the regular head chef.

I’d say that it’s not including tip, but it’s looking at the following:

1 appetizer for two people
Two entrees
At least one drink- wine, mixed drink, craft beer per person.

Typically that’s going to be about $20 for the appetizer, $25-35 each for the entree, $10-15 for the dessert, and $10-15 per drink.

So you’re looking at a minimum of $50 per person if everything is on the low end, and there’s one drink per person. Typically it’s more like $70 in my experience though.

Ok then, in my opinion, a nice restaurant needs to meet three criteria:

1.) Good food
2.) Clean dinning area
3.) Friendly and Compitent wait staff.

I’ve been in Waffle Houses that meet that definition, FWIW.

I take “nice” to be the absolute lowest level of “special.” If somebody says they’re going to a “nice” restaurant, I would expect that they’re going a level or two higher than what they’d normally be willing to pay.

And since it’s all subjective, my “nice” may be somebody else’s ludicrously fancy.

There’s other aspects, too. My dad considers any chain steakhouse to be a ‘nice’ restaurant, whereas I tend to look sideways at them as ripoffs. But to him, a generic steakhouse dinner is a special treat and is always, always, always the destination of choice for a birthday or special occasion.

And I’m sure there are folks who consider a generic chain steakhouse to be genuinely “fancy,” with upscale places being so far outside the realm of affordability that they don’t even register on the scale.

I don’t take issue with that definition, just offering up my own and the way I normally see it used. “Nice” tends to be synonymous with “places you’d think of for an anniversary, Mother’s day or etc.” For some people that might mean Bob Evans or Cracker Barrel, but that wouldn’t be my personal experience.

FWIW, there are some definitions that the restaurant industry uses for different levels of service (which tends to have a correlation with price).

  • A “quick service restaurant” (QSR) is what typically gets called “fast food” by consumers. Hallmarks are typically being counter service (i.e., you order and pick up your food at a counter, rather than having “table service”), relatively low price points, and often having a drive-thru. Examples: McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway etc.
  • A “fast casual restaurant” is typically a step up from QSR – food may be of a bit higher quality, and is often a bit pricier than a QSR. Most are counter service, but some may bring your food out to your table when it’s ready. Examples: Panera, Chipotle, Panda Express, etc.
  • A “casual dining” restaurant (CDR) nearly always has table service (i.e., a wait staff), and many of them have a bar, or otherwise offer a range of alcoholic beverages. Some are only a bit more expensive than fast casual, while others (particularly CDR steak places) are pricier still. There are a lot of big chains, but many little mom-and pop sit-down restaurants and diners would fall into this category (as would your typical Wisconsin “supper club”). Examples: Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, etc.
  • A “family restaurant” is a subset of CDRs – they usually are on the lower end of the casual dining price spectrum, often have a focus on breakfast foods, and are less likely to offer alcoholic drinks. Examples: Denny’s, IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, etc.
  • A “white tablecloth” restaurant is kind of what the name describes – they are more upscale than CDRs, and typically have higher-quality food, better service, and commensurately higher prices. There are some chains that fall into this category (like Capital Grill, Seasons 52, etc.), but most white tablecloth restaurants are independents.

Anyway, a “nice” restaurant (or even a “fancy” restaurant) is a little relative, depending on the area, and a particular person’s POV. When I worked on the Applebee’s account, one of my art directors was from a little town in Nebraska; he noted that, to his family, Applebee’s was the place you went for a nice dinner, because it was, in fact, the nicest restaurant in the region.

For my wife and me, our go-to places for a “nice” restaurant are places like Seasons 52, and Mon Ami Gabi (a French bistro, which is part of the Lettuce Entertain You group). Here in suburban Chicago, I’d expect a dinner at such a place (including wine or cocktails, appetizers, dessert, etc.) to be more like $100 or so a person.

To me “nice” implies the sort of place where you sit down and have waitstaff, and with the. food not being typical fast food fare. Outback, TGI Friday’s, Joe’s Crab Shack, etc. would be at the lower end of “nice.” The sort of places the OP mentions I would describe as upscale or fancy, rather than merely nice.

The “highest-end” restaurants that I’ve ever been to have been a couple of steakhouses in Montana, where the most expensive entrees were around $30 (and would leave you with a week’s worth of leftovers).

I would wager that many of the same people who can’t afford Excel licenses (or consider that they can’t), also consider themselves unable to afford a $70 restaurant meal.

But Montana is a low cost of living state and a cattle state I thought, so that makes sense.

Out of interest, what does a nice lobster dinner cost there and add in 2 glasses of wine.

I does definitely vary depending on a person’s POV. A few months ago my relatives came to visit me in California. I took them to a few local places that would probably fall into the higher end of the “casual dining” category. My parents, from Wisconsin, though the bill of around $100 for all four of us was an extremely expensive meal. My sister, who lives in NYC, and I didn’t see anything unusual about paying that much for four entrees and a couple of beers.

ETA: And those weren’t restaurants that I would consider “nice”. For me “nice” would probably be the “white tablecloth” category.

To me, a “nice” restaurant is one that:

  1. Won’t rush my party out to turn the table;
  2. Creates a unique ambience;
  3. Serves food I can’t easily prepare better at home;
  4. Offers wines that are hard to get;
  5. Usually costs more due to points 1-4.

I don’t do them often, but I love them when I do.