The holiday season has arrived. From Thanksgiving through the New Year, there will be the usual round of business/social events including cocktail receptions, luncheons and dinners. Some will be stand up events; others will be seated. Whatever the venue, one thing you can count on is that there will be food and drink involved and people will be watching you eat.
Now might be a good time to brush up on your dining etiquette for a seated meal. Whether you are eating in a restaurant, the corporate dining hall or in someone's home (like your boss's), your table manners will be an indication of your professionalism and your polish. It really does matter which fork you use, how you eat your bread and where you put your napkin.
If you follow these eight tips that cover the most common challenges, you are sure to get through the meal with confidence and ease. And who knows, there could be a raise or a promotion on the horizon when you conduct yourself with poise.
1. Managing your napkin: Your napkin comes off the table when everyone is seated. The dinner napkin is folded in half and placed in your lap with the crease facing your waist. It is used only for blotting your mouth. It is not meant to be a multi-purpose item and never serves as a handkerchief.
2. Starting to eat: Wait until the host has raised his fork before you pick up yours. If he stops with fork in mid-air to answer a question or complete a sentence, you can proceed to eat. It is a matter of who raises their utensil first, not who begins chewing first.
3. Using the correct utensil: Forks are on the left and knives and spoons are on the right. Take the utensil that is the farthest from your plate and work your way from the outside in.
4. Spooning your soup: Soup is usually one of the first courses and is always spooned away from you to the far side of the bowl and then brought back to your mouth. Sip a clear or cream soup from the side of the spoon. If the soup has meat, noodles or vegetables in it, the entire spoon (well, almost) goes into your mouth.
5. Breaking your bread: When eating bread, tear off one small piece at a time. The bread and butter knife is used to butter the bread, not to cut it.
6. Placement of used utensils: Once you have used a piece of cutlery, it never goes back on the table. Rest it on your plate. Knives are always placed at the top of the plate with the blade facing in and forks are put in the lower right hand corner of the plate when you are resting between bites. When you have finished your meal, place the knife and fork together with their handles in the lower right hand corner of the plate.
7. Cutting your food: Cut only one piece at a time. Place that piece in your mouth before cutting another. When you were a child, your mother used to cut up all your food up at one time. She was not trying to teach you manners at that point. She just wanted to eat her dinner with as few interruptions as possible.
8. Removing unwanted objects from your mouth: If you have something in your mouth that you cannot swallow, remember this. The item comes out the same way it went in. If it went in with a fork, it comes out with a fork. If it went in a spoon, it comes out with a spoon. If it went in with your fingers, it comes out with your fingers. That's the rule. If this sounds challenging, try it in the privacy of your home. You'll find that it is not as difficult as you might think.
Lydia Ramsey is an international business etiquette expert, based in Savannah, Georgia. Her newest publication, Don't Be a Turkey during the Holidays: The Complete Guide to Etiquette and Protocol during the Holiday Season, is now available for download on her business etiquette website and in the Kindle Store on Amazon. Read more tips on holiday business etiquette covering everything from holiday greeting cards to office party etiquette to how to handle tipping in tough times.© 2012 Lydia Ramsey
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