In a column called “Managing Your Career” that appeared last
year in The Wall Street Journal, writer Hal Lancaster
observed, “Employers complain that young managers reared on
microwave meals have not been trained to dine in polite company.”
This is an unfortunate phenomenon, since many a deal has been made
over a meal.
Mealtime manners may not make or break a career, but table
companions notice how their fellow diners hold their utensils,
practice the art of conversation and even how they use their
napkins. The following are reminders of how one should and should
not act at the table.
WHICH FORK FIRST?Begin using the outermost silver, to the far left and far right
of the plate.Use the knife on the butter dish to serve a pat of butter onto
the butter plate, and use the knife on the bread-and-butter plate
to butter the bread.Use the silver above the plate for desserts.When finished with a course, place the knife and fork together
on the plate at 4 o’clock, handles to the right and knife edge
inward. After finishing soup, place the spoon to the right of the
bowl on the plate on which the soup was served.
Sometimes diners are confronted with a mind boggling array of
utensils, often two or three forks to the left of the plate, two
spoons and a knife to the right, a dessert spoon and fork above the
plate and a butter knife on the butter plate. There are some
general rules about choosing the correct fork or spoon, no matter
GLASSWARE DEMYSTIFIEDWater glasses are typically the first ones set, above the
knife. The rest are placed to the right of the water glass.A milk or soft-drink glass is brought by request and is placed
just to the right of the water glass and closer to the table
edge.Wine glasses are placed farthest to the right and closest to
the table edge.
While understanding glassware may be the most straightforward part
of mealtime manners, there is a bit to it.
Any discussion of table manners is incomplete without pointers on
the appropriate use of the napkin. During the meal, a napkin helps
save face literally and at the end, the proper napkin placement
signifies the diner has finished.
Napkins can be set in several places: to the left of or under
the forks, in the center of the plate or in a water goblet or the
coffee cup, both of which would be to the right of the plate. It is
important to select the correct napkin; taking the wrong one can
leave someone across the table without one. Everyone at the table
should put their napkins in their laps after the host has done so;
this signals the start of the meal.
During the meal, the napkin is used to clean the mouth before
taking a drink, to cover a cough or sneeze and to wipe tears away
after a particularly well-told story. Never use the napkin to
polish silverware (discreetly ask the server to bring a new piece)
or to cover an item of food. People who excuse themselves during
the meal but plan to return should place their napkins on their
At the end of the meal, diners should take the napkin with one
hand and place it on the table, but not on the dishes. Do not
refold the napkin.
LAST COURSEDo not touch anything on the table until the host picks up her
napkin or takes a sip of water.Diners should avoid discussing their diets during the meal.
People do not want to hear how unhealthy a dish is as they take a
bite.Those wearing lipstick should wipe their mouths with the napkin
before taking the first sip of any beverage.Chewing ice is always inappropriate.When ordering à la carte, avoid messy foods like ribs,
sandwiches and spaghetti. These choices can cause distractions and
end up on clothes.Any food problems should be brought to the waiter’s attention
away from the table to avoid subjecting other diners to a
scene.When a toast is given, the honoree never takes a drink. Doing
so would be equivalent to applauding his own speech.When the meal is over, any facial fixing, like reapplying
lipstick, should be done in the rest room, not at the table.
A few final dining tips:
Jana M. Kemp is a Boise, Idaho-based time-management
consultant. She publishes a quarterly newsletter called Better
Meetings for Everyone (www.janakemp.com).
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