by Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs
published in ASAP
We’ve all been there. We’re seated at a large round table, squished, side by side with twelve or more people. Cutlery, glasses, napkins, bread plates, coffee cups, etc. are placed on the table sandwiched together. It can be confusing to distinguish which water glass or dinner roll is yours, right? Beyond that, you recognize the importance of politely conversing with each person seated next to you, but the one on the right won’t stop talking to allow you to share a conversation with the person to your left. What to do?
Dining in a business setting can sometimes be tricky. The key is to know what to do before the uncomfortable moment presents itself. A successful business meal requires advanced skills and thoughtful planning. What’s more, navigating a meal with poise and polish in today’s fiercely competitive business arenas will distinguish you from the crowd. Using proper dining etiquette at business and social events can help you project confidence, authority, and excellent interpersonal skills.
“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
If you have that awareness, you have good manners,
no matter what fork you use.”
~ Emily Post
The following dining etiquette tips apply in North America and most of Europe. If you’re traveling elsewhere or expecting international guests, take the time to understand the country’s culture, customs, and protocol so you’re prepared.
A simple and effective way to remember which bread plate, dinner plate, and water glass are yours is to employ the BMW tool when seated at the table. “B” stands for bread and butter plate, which will be on your left, above your dinner plate, “M” is your main dinner plate, which is in the middle, and “W” stands for your water glass, which is to the right of your dinner plate, typically placed above your knife and spoon.
Converse with Poise and Charm
Dining etiquette goes beyond the fork and knife. When seated at a table with a person on your left and right, you should ensure you’re conversing with both guests and making them feel comfortable. Avoid personal topics such as health, money, religion, or politics. Conversations about the weather, a hobby, or other non-threatening subjects are safe choices. Be sensitively aware of your conversation, watch for body language cues, and listen well so you can enjoy and build upon the conversation with your dinner partner.
Always place your cloth napkin on your lap with the fold facing your waist. Use the corners of the napkin to blot your mouth. When leaving the table temporarily, place the napkin on your chair; this is a silent signal to the wait staff that you will return. When leaving the table at the end of the meal or event, place your napkin to the left (where your dinner and salad fork were originally placed). This is the silent code that you are finished with your meal.
Bread and Butter
Bread can be served in two ways: individually served on a bread plate, which is on your left side above your dinner plate, or in a breadbasket. If bread is served on the bread plate, break the bread into a small piece close to the bread plate, butter one piece at a time, and eat one piece at a time. Take a pad of butter from the shared butter dish, place it on your bread plate, and pass the butter dish to the right. If there’s a bread basket, the person closest to the breadbasket takes the basket and offers it first to the person on their left before taking a piece, then passes the basket to the right.
At a place setting where soup will be served, the soup spoon will be placed on the far right, and is usually recognizable by its wide, round bowl. When eating soup, think of your soup bowl as a face of a clock. Dip your spoon from the 12 o’clock position away from you, using the rim of the bowl to prevent any dripping, bringing the soup spoon up to you. Sip the soup (never slurp!) from the edge of the soup spoon. Between bites and when finished, you can leave the soup spoon in the bowl if there is no underplate. If there’s an underplate, place the spoon on the right side of the underplate between bites and when finished. To eat every drop of the delicious soup, tilt the bowl away from you slightly to scoop with your spoon.
There are three types of toasts that are traditionally part of a dining experience. There’s the welcoming toast, which the host or hostess will propose as soon as guests are seated at the table. Then the meal proceeds and when dessert is served, the host will make a toast to the guest of honor or occasion. If toasting to a person, the host may stand or ask all to stand to recognize the guest of honor. Each person, except the honoree, raises their glass, and the host makes remarks. You then drink to that person or the occasion for which you are celebrating. The honoree shouldn’t drink from her / his glass after the toast.
If a toast was given in your honor, you may stand and thank the host for planning the lovely evening and toast to the host and everyone else. This is called the reciprocal toast, and everyone drinks to that toast. In North America, you can toast with any beverage including a water glass. In other countries, this may be considered rude. Be sure to check cultural customs when traveling internationally. As the gold standard, be brief when delivering a toast
- Don’t share bites of food with your dinner companion and don’t ask for a bite of their meal.
- If you have an assigned place card at the table, don’t switch with another place card. Sit at your assigned seat.
- Avoid taking medicine, applying lipstick, using a toothpick, or picking your teeth at the table.
- Don’t speak when your mouth is full.
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Keep elbows off the table.
- Don’t rush your meal. It should be paced with others at your table.
- Put your cutlery down on your plate before you take a drink.
- Don’t use your napkin as a tissue.
Contact Polished today to enhance your dining etiquette and interpersonal skills for professional and personal success.