Tools of the Trade
- Use utensils from the outside in (in a formal place setting a butter knife–paddle shaped or a short handled knife— will be included).
Tips That Will Make You a Pro
- Unless you are the host, do not ask to be seated at the table until the host arrives
- Before taking your seat, ask if there is a seating plan*
- Once seated, immediately place your napkin on your lap
- When ordering be mindful of cost—when in doubt follow your host’s lead
- Try to choose dishes that are not overly messy or difficult to eat
- Remember potables (drinks) are on the right and edibles are on the left
- Never season your food before tasting it**
- When taking butter or other condiments for your bread plate, take enough to use for more than one serving. Then rest your butter knife across the top of the bread plate until more is needed (NEVER LICK YOUR SPOON OR KNIFE AND CERTAINLY NEVER USE IT AGAIN IN A COMMUNAL DISH—think of George’s sin of double dipping on Seinfeld!)
- The time to start eating has several seemingly contradictory rules. You can
- Wait for everyone to be served unless the host instructs the guests otherwise
- Wait until two or more diners are served hot dishes (an old Emily Post rule)
- Wait until the host lifts his/her fork to dine or tells you to start
- When eating soup, always tip the soup plate away from you and not towards the body and impending disaster. The same holds true for your soup spoon. Fill your spoon by dipping it away from the body (it’s a big no-no to raise a soup plate to your lips to finish the last drop or wipe it spanking clean with a piece of bread)
- It’s not necessary to finish every bit of food on your plate (it is also not a compliment but bad form to wipe your plate clean at any time)
- When eating food that requires help onto a fork, use a small piece of bread to place the bite onto the utensil (except in rare instances, avoid using your fingers as a utensil). For pasta, if you are given an oval soup spoon, use it to help corral your food onto your fork.
When you are done eating, place your fork and knife side by side on your plate. This signals to most waiters that you have finished.
* Hosts usually plan a business breakfast, lunch or dinner with specific objectives in mind and seat their guests accordingly.
**A good friend who was the managing partner of an international law firm relayed the following story:
A group of litigation partners took a promising young associate out to lunch—all was going along swimmingly until the hosts noticed that the their guest added salt to each course without tasting his food, first. No one at the table said a word, but all of the partners noticed. When the meal concluded, the partners agreed that something as small as seasoning your food before sampling it was indicative of a more serious trait—that of someone who makes decisions without having the all the facts. Enough said.
Pamela Hillings, one of the authors of Manners in a Minute, is still teaching business etiquette in Southern California. Pamela can be reached on LinkedIn.