Top 10 Hacks to Transform Your Regular Meals Into a Restaurant-Style Experience

Sarah Pritzker
Top 10 Hacks to Transform Your Regular Meals Into a Restaurant-Style Experience
COVID-19 got you down? Seriously, even if your physical health hasn’t been adversely affected by this pandemic, the social distancing, measured activities, and other restrictions have taken a significant toll on people’s morale. Even the simple pleasure of going out for dinner has been taken away from us, and that’s actually been harder for some people than many other restrictions.

After all, many folks go out for dinner when they need to unwind, take a break, or feel pampered. Withholding that outlet denies people their ability to recharge when they most need it (like in the middle of a worldwide plague that is turning your world upside down??).

Pandemic or not, sometimes you just can’t get out to a restaurant. Maybe you can’t find a babysitter. Maybe money is a little tight right now. Or maybe you can’t get your partner to move their sorry behinds. Whatever the reason, that glorious night out at a five-star restaurant just isn’t happening. If you’re like most people, you opt for the obvious alternative: grab a bag of chips and chomp down while sitting in sweats on the couch or even conveniently order from a top meal delivery service. Next best thing, right? Well, there is another option. 

Believe it or not, you can have a restaurant-like experience while dining at home. No, you won’t have the hot waiter to flirt with (silver lining: no tipping!) and you might not be able to order from a list of extravagant options (silver lining: no decision overload!). But you can have an elegant, exotic, and exciting meal right in the comfort of your own home. And it’s easier than you’d think. 

Here are 10 easy hacks that will transform your home, your dinner plates, and your entire meal experience from drab to fab:

Transformation Hack #1: Clean up!

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. You’ll never walk into a restaurant that’s a mess (or at least not twice!), so why would you want your date night to be marked by dirty socks, cluttered papers, or personal effects strewn about? I’m not advising you to spend three hours scrubbing down the house. But take a few minutes to tidy up the area where you’ll be eating. Clear off counters, wipe down the table, put away unnecessary nicknacks. Create an atmosphere where you’d want to sit down and spend a few enjoyable hours with someone you love.

Transformation Hack #2: Dress (the house) for success

Along with basic cleanliness and presentation, another aspect of restaurant dining is the ambiance. The tables are set nicely, the chairs are comfortable, the walls are decorated. While I don’t suggest you refurbish your home for the sake of eating in, there are a few simple hacks you can implement to transform your space and create an elegant ambience, such as:

  • use a pretty tablecloth or runner
  • hang something attractive on the wall (bought or handmade)
  • put flowers (fresh or fake) on the table

It’s amazing what a few small details can do for an experience.

You can also rearrange the furniture slightly to create a more comfortable, or intimate seating area just for the two of you. And don’t forget to set the table. Table settings can also set an entirely different tone. If you have placemats, use them to add color or personality to the presentation. Use real dishes, glassware, and silverware. If there are multiple courses, have the silverware arranged accordingly, staggered slightly to impress. Prepare a place setting for you and your date before the meal starts, so you can arrive at your restaurant table ready to dine. 

Transformation Hack #3: Have menus

Part of the fun of going to a restaurant is having a list of options to choose from. If you want that aspect of dining out, then sit down with your dining partner, and pick out the dishes you’ll want for your dinners in. This is also helpful because you will be able to buy the ingredients and have everything you need beforehand, instead of scrambling around and trying to figure out what you can substitute for chimichurri at a pinch.

Once you’ve decided what’s on the menu, write it out. You can do this on a chalkboard, print it on fancy cardstock, or use whatever theme or idea fits with your desired restaurant-style. 

Transformation Hack #4: Add music

Adding music really enhances the entire dining experience (it’s actually been proven). It’s more enjoyable to dine to background music. You will also feel more pampered when there’s a nice tune playing around you. 

So prepare for your at-home restaurant by creating an enjoyable playlist to play in the background. This can be fast and loud, slow and romantic, just choose whatever type of music you want to set the tone. If this is a special occasion, you can include songs that have sentimental meaning to you and your dining partner.

Transformation Hack #5: Light up the night

Candles absolutely transform both the space they occupy and the entire experience you’re having. Candlelight is more intimate, more romantic, and more intriguing. To enhance your at-home dining experience, light some candles. They can be tall tapers, or small tea lights set in a bowl of water, complemented with rose petals. Whatever you want. Just light up your night.

If you have a fireplace, by all means get that going too. FYI you can turn on a fireplace video from YouTube, crackles and all, to create a more romantic, rustic atmosphere.

Alternatively, if you prefer a well-lit meal, then skip the candles and light up the night with some bright lights turned up high.

Transformation Hack #6: Have a bread basket

One of the quiet little pleasures of eating out is having a breadbasket and dips to dip into throughout the meal. Make your own or buy a fresh loaf, slice it up, and serve warm bread for an easy and delicious meal enhancer.

Transformation Hack #7: Start with a drink

There’s something luxurious about sitting back with a flavorful drink in your hand while you dine. Whether it’s margaritas or chardonnay, craft beer, or whatever your favorite is, kicking off the meal with a drink definitely adds more appeal to a meal and the entire evening. And having a bottle of wine or a homemade cocktail at the table is a nice way to keep the meal relaxed and next level.

Transformation Hack #8: Presentation is everything

Would you believe food presentation is an entire art unto itself? Seriously, people take courses, companies hire experts, and chefs hone their skills so that the food you eat looks as sexy as Candice Swanepoel. Why? Because presentation is everything. Like first impressions, the way your food looks takes care of 90% of the experience. In fact, researchers have found that the way food looks actually affects the way we experience its taste and flavor. So the first thing you can do to create a restaurant-esque experience with your everyday meals is dress up your plate. Here are a few options:

  • Choose attractive plates to serve on. Ditch the plastic. It might be easier on the clean up, but it makes for a boring experience. Serve on fun and interesting dishes to get the restaurant feel going.
  • Use height to make an impressive-looking plate.
  • Don’t overcrowd the plate. You can always go back to the kitchen for seconds (after all, you’re at home, so you’re not paying for a whole extra dish!), and an overcrowded plate is not visually-appealing. 
  • Think about colors and contrast. Add some fresh greens or brightly-colored fruits to really give your plate a color punch.
  • Garnish away!

Transformation Hack #9: Get saucy!

Liquids play a major role in plate presentation, so learn from the experts. Put moist ingredients on the bottom of the plate. Then serve the drier food on top of it. Think a slice of meat angled nicely on top of a scoop of mashed potatoes. It’s also nice to use some sauce or other liquid for a color pop on the base of the plate. Use a squeeze bottle to make pretty designs on, under, and around your food.

Transformation Hack #10: Just desserts

Lastly, everyone knows that the way to end off a good restaurant experience is with a decadent dessert. Whether it’s chocolate souffle, sorbet and fruit, or a light meringue, desserts are those sweet nothings that complete a good time out. So don’t skimp on this luxurious extra when dining in with your partner. Buy something delectable from the bakery or whip something up yourself. But ending the evening with a sweet treat will leave a sweet taste in your mouth and your heart.

Dining In Is So In, Dining Out Is So Out

Eating at home doesn’t have to be drab, boring, or tasteless. With a little ingenuity, you can transform those regular, everyday meals into the “let’s get out” experience you’ve been longing for instead.  

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Sarah Pritzker
Sarah Pritzker is a content writer with years of experience and a keen interest in the vast world of online consumer products. She enjoys helping readers make sense of the options on the market in a variety of fields.