Can these terms denoting something expensive, elegant and/or fashionable be used just about interchangeably, or are there any subtle differences to them?


Alone in a tony restaurant...source

In a high toned restaurant...source

People have to be taught how to behave or dress in a fancy restaurant.source

The novel's claustrophobic premise is the gathering of two couples for dinner in a high end restaurant.source

We had a leisurely dinner in an exclusive restaurant...source

One could assume they were in an upscale restaurant...source

Dinner at a select restaurant...source>/

1 Answer 1


The first four examples and upscale have a roughly identical meaning, which is expensive and of high quality, being typically patronized by the wealthy and notable. (Admittedly I had to look up tony, because it's not common in AmE.)

The remaining, exclusive means something slightly different.

Exclusive implies that it is difficult to get a reservation due to a degree of discrimination on the part of the management. Usually this is due to the extreme popularity of the restaurant, leading to a situation where the remaining tables can only be gotten by people who are of some sort of elite status (celebrities, wealthy, etc.). This is a ploy by the management to make their restaurant seem more desirable by dint of their famous clientele.

  • "Tony" is pointed up as an Americanism in various of my bilingual dictionaries out here, and reportedly originates from "high-toned".
    – Elian
    Mar 2, 2014 at 15:15
  • I'm sure it is real. I've just never seen it used outside that New Yorker article. We (in my social circle that does patronize this type of establishment) usually say high-end or upscale. Fancy is usually used by people who don't patronize that type of place as often.
    – David M
    Mar 2, 2014 at 15:18
  • I also thought that "exclusive" denoted the expensive prices found in that sort of restaurants rather than the clientele.
    – Elian
    Mar 2, 2014 at 15:23
  • @NourishedGourmet That is another take on it, that the prices are selecting the clientele. But, that would imply that anyone who has enough cash can waltz in and get a table. That is rarely the case.
    – David M
    Mar 2, 2014 at 15:27
  • None of those examples are much used in Britain - certainly not "tony" or "high-toned". We might speak of a "smart restaurant", a "good-quality restaurant", an "up-market" restaurant, or (informally) a "posh restaurant". The word "fancy" has quite a different meaning in Britain - as does "smart".
    – WS2
    Mar 31, 2020 at 7:38

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