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Good table manners can pay off

Formal table settings

Credits: Carlos Caetano / Shutterstock

At a recent business luncheon a guest blew his nose in his napkin. Another used her fingers to push food onto her fork. Are these appropriate dining behaviors?

Lunch or dinner meetings are common. Prospective employers and colleagues want to know how you can handle yourself in social situations, and whether you can carry on a good conversation. Business deals can be sealed or lost over a meal.

Test Your Table Manners

Answer Yes or No.

  1. I like sampling exotic food.
  2. If the menu is fixed and I’m served food I dislike, I ask for a replacement.
  3. I place my wrists on the table in between bites.
  4. If I have a hot meal, I start eating before it gets cold.
  5. Between bites, my utensils rest on the edge of my plate.
  6. If my napkin falls to the floor, I pick it up.
  7. I put my napkin on my lap after everyone is seated.
  8. When eating soup, I take the soup spoon away from me.
  9. When eating rolls and other dinner breads, I break the roll in half, butter it then munch.
  10. I use silverware from the inside out.
  11. I share personal information.
  12. I arrive early so I can select the best table.
  13. If I get something stuck in my teeth I remove it with a toothpick.
  14. I can eat and answer questions at the same time.

Scoring: One point for each “yes” to statements 3, 5, 7, and 8; and “no” to the other statements. 11 or higher suggest excellent dining etiquette; 6 to 10 suggest satisfactory manners; 5 or less indicate you could benefit from reading the tips.

Dining Etiquette Tips

1. Inappropriate. Don’t be adventurous during a business meeting. Choose food carefully. Avoid foods that may drip, splatter or require twirling. Don’t order spaghetti, ribs or gassy foods like beans or broccoli. Avoid big sandwiches or cheesy food. Don’t drink alcoholic beverages or eat the garnish

2. Inappropriate. Be polite and never state a dislike for food that is served. Eat what you like and try unfamiliar food unless you have an allergy.

3. Appropriate. Rest wrists but not elbows on the table.

4. Inappropriate. Don’t begin your meal until all meals are served and your host takes the first bite. If water is on the table, sip it after everyone is seated.

5. Appropriate. Used utensils must never touch the surface of the table or tablecloth. Utensils should rest on the edge of your plate. Place your knife on the back and your fork on the side. When you are finished, place your silverware parallel to each other in the ten and four o’clock position with the knife blade facing you.

6. Inappropriate. Don’t retrieve your napkin. Unobtrusively, ask the wait staff for a fresh napkin.

7. Appropriate. At formal restaurants, the waiter may do this for you. Napkins are meant to catch food from falling on your lap or dust crumbs from your lips. If you must leave the table during the meal, put your napkin next to your plate. When you are finished, also place your napkin next to your plate (not on it).

8. Appropriate. Taking the soup spoon away rather than towards you enables the soup to drip back into the bowl instead of on you. When sipping broth, do so from the side of the spoon. When resting, place the soup spoon in the bowl. When you have finished, place the soup spoon on the right of the service plate.

9. Inappropriate. Break off a bite-sized piece of the roll, butter and enjoy it.

10. Inappropriate. When you face a full setting of cutlery, work from the outside in. Use the flatware furthest from your plate first. Exceptions: The salad fork is usually closest to the plate, and a desert spoon is placed above the plate.

11. Inappropriate. Avoid discussing personal or controversial topics. Focus on business-related or current events. Maintain good eye contact and sit straight. Don’t discuss business until the host does. Remember, you’re being interviewed throughout the meal.

12. Inappropriate. Don’t sit anywhere. Wait for a cue from your host.

13. Inappropriate. Toothpicks should be used in private. If food gets stuck in your teeth try to remove it with your tongue. If this doesn’t work, excuse your self and go to the restroom.

14. Inappropriate. Never speak with food in your mouth. Take small bites so you can quickly finish and swallow the bite before speaking. You may not have enough time to eat everything if you’re asked many questions, but remember, you’re meeting to discuss business.

Dr. Carole Kanchier, registered psychologist, coach, speaker, and author of the groundbreaking, award-winner, Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life, helps individuals manage their careers.


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