Dining Etiquette: Table Manners

Your table manners will be under great scrutiny at a business meal. Developing proper table manners requires the right information, practice, and common sense. Impeccable table manners send a message of self-confidence and good judgment. Good table manners are the mark of a sophisticated and savvy business person, one who can ably represent the company, get the next job or promotion, and close the deal.

When To Start Eating

 Wait for the host to take the first bite before beginning to eat. Never start eating before a signal from the host. This custom began a long time ago, before refrigeration was available. When the host and hostess took the first bite, it meant that the meal was safe. The custom continues because it is just plain good manners.

At a business meal where there is not a host, wait until each person is served before you start eating. If some guests have their food and they are waiting for yours to arrive, be courteous; acknowledge the gesture and tell them to please start so their food does not get cold. This would be appreciated and would show your good manners and consideration.

Talking To The Servers

The manner in which you treat your serving staff will be noticed by others. Your people skills will be reflected at the dinner table and will make an impression on your dining partners. Use the word “please” when making a request or asking a question. Make your questions and requests clear and brief. Avoid barking orders at your waiter or waitress. The establishment’s staff should always be treated cordially in the name of good manners, regardless of the situation.

It is polite to say “thank you”to the servers only when they bring something special that you requested and after they have removed any used items. A simple smile and eye contact—not required, but appropriate—is sufficient to acknowledge their service. You don’t want to disrupt the flow of the meal and conversation every time something is brought to the table.

Passing Food

Food is passed from left to right. It is helpful to remember that everything of importance is to the right. For example, the guest of honor sits to the right of the host and food is passed on the right. Also pass the salt, pepper, butter and sauces to the right.

Salt And Pepper

If asked for the salt or pepper, pass both together, even if a person asks for only one of them. Pick them both upand place them on the table within reach of the person next to you. They are never passed hand to hand. This avoids the search for one of the shakers around the table.

Never intercept a pass. Snagging a roll out of the breadbasket or taking a shake of salt when it is enroute to someone else is a no-no. No one else other than the original requester should sprinkle their food when they have the shakers in their possession.

Seasoning Food

Taste your food before seasoning it. The kitchen staff has prepared the food with care and it is an insult to the chef to add salt, pepper, ketchup or any seasoning before tasting it.

If dinner is pre-set, do try a little of everything on your plate.  Never criticize or state a dislike for a food that is served to you. This is insulting to your host. Simply eat foods you do like, and make an attempt to taste a little of unfamiliar foods. If you are asked if you like something, and you don’t, say something gracious like, “It’s different,” or “I’m not accustomed to this flavor.”

Cutting And Eating Food

It is proper etiquette to cut only enough food for the next mouthful – one or two pieces maximum. (Cutting food into small pieces is done for small children until they learn to use the utensils to cut their own food). Always chew with your mouth closed.

Talking And Utensils

It is inappropriate manners to keep your utensils in your hand(s), talk and move them as you speak. You will be surprised how often people do this without noticing. If someone asks you a question while you are still eating, after you swallow your food, place your utensils on the plate in the resting position, then start to talk, not before.

Applying Makeup At The Table

 It is impolite to inspect and freshen makeup at the dinner table. Personal tasks like reapplying lipstick, powdering your nose, and brushing your hair should take place in the restroom. Some etiquette consultants—to my amusement—suggest that you may reapply lipstick at the dinner table. In this case, the “no gender” rule applies: How would it look if a man took out his small shaver and shaved after the meal was finished? Any grooming activities should be conducted in the restroom or in the privacy of your office.

Cell Phones

Turn off your cell phone or switch it to silent or vibrate mode before sitting down eat, and leave it in your pocket or purse. It is impolite to answer a phone during dinner. If you must make or take a call, excuse yourself from the table and step outside of the restaurant.

Text Messaging

Text messaging during a business meal is inappropriate. Regardless of how many people, executives, congressman, politicians do text messaging at formal occasions, it is disrespectful to send a text message during a business meeting.