Dining Tips -For all situations

Or how to eat and not look like a slob.

It is great that you got to the position you now hold. But do you know your paté from your pinot, or crudités from your crustaceans? Knowing dining etiquette will save you from getting lost amongst your cutlery and allow you to save face at any restaurant.

The following is a series of short tips that should save you from losing face when dining.


Remember Pretty Woman :The first thing to remember as you are looking at all the cutlery in front of you is to work from the outside in. So if you are trying to work out which knife and fork to use, the ones furthest out are the first you pick up. In the event that the table is fully laden and you haven’t ordered an entrée, the waiting staff will normally take away the cutlery that is no longer required.

Navigating your cutlery: The fork sits on the left of the plate and are used in the left hand. Knives and spoons sit on the right of the plate and are used in the right hand.

Bread and butter sit on the left: This refers to your bread and butter plate. Have you ever been at a function where the bread rolls are already set out and you didn’t know which one was yours? The easiest way is to remember that the roll is on your left and you will hold it in your left hand as you apply the butter with your knife which is in your right hand.

Never cut a roll: Always, always break your roll: the knife is only for applying the butter. Generally, there is a pat of butter in a bowl in front of you on the table. Take your bread and butter knife, which sits on your bread and butter plate, and take as much butter as you think you will need to butter your entire piece of bread. Put this butter onto the side of your plate and, as you break off a piece of bread, use the butter which is already on your plate so that you don’t continually have to lean over into the central pat of butter.

Solids to your left and liquids to your right: Solids, like bread, go on the left. Liquids— your wine glass, water glass and coffee—all sit, hopefully not all at once, in front of your right hand.

Try a little of everything: If you have been invited out to a corporate function and the food seems foreign to you, at least try a little of everything on your plate. It could be that your host is from a foreign country and has decided to favour you by offering you the specialities of their country. I remember once at a favourite Japanese restaurant where the owners had come to know us quite well, they gave us a dish that was highly sought after and a delicacy in Japan. It was not to my liking (let’s just leave it at that!) but we at least tried a little so that we did not insult our hosts.

A napkin is for your lap; it’s not a table decoration: Within a few seconds of sitting down, or once everyone is seated, place your napkin on your lap so that if at any time during the meal you spill or dribble anything, it will land in your napkin. At the same time, if anything is on your fingers you can discreetly clean them under the table rather than have everyone witness the mess you are in.

Keep your belongings off the table: The table is a place for food and drinks. It is not the place to sit your mobile phone, your keys or your handbag. They should be left in your pocket or under your seat.

Never pick your teeth at the table: If you have something in your teeth don’t grab a business card, your knife or any other implement on the table to try to ply it out. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to remove whatever object may be jammed there. In the event there are tooth picks on the table, as in some Asian restaurants, it is polite to take a tooth pick and remove yourself to the bathroom rather than picking your teeth at the table as others may be doing. This is a western culture. At an Asian restaurant it is quite common and acceptable. Know your audience.

Don’t talk with your mouth full: This is an oldie but a goodie. No matter who you are with or how important the information is you wish to get across, if you need to speak quickly, indicate with your hands that you are about to speak, finish what you are eating and then speak.

Keep your mouth shut: Even today I see people who insist on eating with their mouth open. I don’t know whether they are trying to savour the food more or they have never been taught the basic art of eating with their mouth closed.

Remember what a knife and fork are for: I have witnessed a patron spearing a large piece of veal with a fork and waving it in the air. Positively feudal it appeared to me. Cut your food into bite-sized pieces and put it straight into your mouth.

Whatever hits the floor stays there: If you drop a knife, fork or anything else onto the floor whilst in a restaurant, leave it there and allow a waiter to pick it up for you and bring you a fresh implement.

Knives and forks are not an extension of a conversation; When you have something to say, place your knife and fork down on your plate with the tines of the fork down so that the waiters will know you are still eating. Never use them as part of your conversation; they are not a dagger to wield around.

Forks are not only for the left hand: Occasionally you will be served a meal such as spaghetti or, as I mentioned before, a chilli, curry or risotto. It is quite acceptable to eat it with your fork in your right hand and use it in a shovel-type motion. You will generally find if you are in a restaurant that the waiter will move your cutlery around to indicate this style. Occasionally with spaghetti you will also receive a soup spoon which you use to assist with twisting your spaghetti onto your fork. It takes a little practice but saves your spaghetti from flicking all over your face.

Finessing the fork: A fork is not a shovel. There are times when you can use it upright, for example when eating a chilli or a curry or a risotto, but normally when using a fork push your food or spear it onto the fork and place it in your mouth with the tines facing down. If you are eating soft vegetables, press them onto the back of the fork before placing it in your mouth.

Left-handed options: The only time it is okay to swap your knife and fork around is if you are left-handed and you have not managed to navigate your meal with your fork in your left hand and knife in your right.  As long as you still use your knife and fork in the manner that they are customarily used, this is quite acceptable at the table.

Don’t grasp it like a club: Learn how to hold your knife and fork properly: between your thumb and forefinger with the rest of your fingers tucked against your hand. Some people make the mistake of grasping their utensils as if they are a weapon to be wielded around the dinner table. Not since the barbarians have we closed our fists over our knife or fork.

Wait to be seated: In the event you have been invited out to a formal dinner party, wait until the host indicates where they would like you to sit so that you don’t upset the plans for the table.

It’s nice to say thank you: After you have been invited to a cocktail party or any dining event it is always nice to send a hand-written ‘thank you’ to the host within 24 hours. It is these little touches that set you apart from the rest.

Taste your food before you season it: It is the height of rudeness, upon receiving your meal, to cover it in salt and pepper before you even know what it tastes like. You are insulting both the host and the chef by not bothering to taste your food first to see it has been flavoured accordingly.

How it goes in is how it comes out: In the event you need to remove something from your mouth, use the same implement to remove it as was used to put it in your mouth. In the instance of hand-held items such as small pieces of fruit, olives or nuts, you may remove the item with your fingers into a napkin. In the event of a dish where the item has gone in by a spoon, put it back onto the spoon before you put it in the napkin or on the side of your plate. The only exception is fish bones which will have entered your mouth via a fork but you may need your fingers to remove them.

Who pays the bill?: It is generally courteous, if you have invited someone out for lunch, and have never done so before, to pay the bill. When you are hosting the function, you may wish to make arrangements with the restaurant before the meal is served, to pay with your credit card, so the bill is not brought to the table.

Cocktail food: Always hold items of food in your left hand so that you have your right hand free to shake hands with those you may meet at a cocktail party.

Never double dip: In the event there are crudités or vegetables being served with dips and sauces, only ever dip the item you are eating once. To double dip is strictly forbidden.

Those pits: Olive pits don’t get spat into the nearest pot plant or dropped back into the olive bowl. Keep them in your napkin or the bowl provided for the olive pits.

Slurp your soup—sometimes: The soup spoon is more rounded in shape than a dessert spoon. To eat your soup, rather than bringing your spoon straight towards you and risking the dribbles going across your lap, spoon into your bowl away from you, touching the bottom of your spoon on the outer edge of your bowl to remove any last dribbles. In the event your soup is served in a bowl with handles, drink most of it with a soup spoon and you may pick up the bowl by the handles and drink the last bits. Many Asian restaurants will give you a bowl without handles but with very steep sides; once again, especially in the Japanese culture, the soup can be drunk directly from the bowl and in this instance slurping is not only considered acceptable but is the norm.

Elbows off: At no time should your elbows be on the table. The only exception would be when having coffee with a friend and involved in a close conversation or in the evening if there are just the two of you at the table and you want to lean in and speak more privately.

Leave the cleaning up to the staff: You are not at home, so there is no need to start stacking the plates once everyone has finished. If you are in a restaurant, that is the job of the waiting staff.

Finessing in the finger bowl: Whenever you are at a seafood restaurant and you are eating crab or shelling prawns you will find a finger bowl placed on the table. It is there for everyone to dip their fingers in once they have finished eating and then clean them on their napkin.

Don’t confuse the waiters: If you are still eating your meal and are in the middle of a conversation, lay your knife and fork across each other on your plate with the tines down and the waiters will know you are still eating. If you have finished, place your knife and fork together either on the side of your plate or down the centre with the tines of your fork facing up and the sharp edge of the knife facing inwards: the waiters will know you have finished your meal.

Wait for the waiter: Waiters are trained to serve your meals and clear up afterwards but it helps if you have an idea of what to expect. Your meal will be served to you from the left and cleared away from the right. Serving platters will also be offered to you from the left. So basically, food comes in on the left and leaves on the right.

A fishy situation: If you are served an entire fish, you may find you are given a fish knife and fork. This cutlery looks different. It is wider, the fork has flatter tines and the knife is a different shape to a regular knife. Both the fork and knife are designed this way to make it easier to remove the bones from the fish rather than having to turn the fish over. In some Asian countries it is considered bad luck to turn a fish over.

Pick the pace up: I was at a luncheon once and one of the guests took so long to eat their entree I had to leave before the main meal arrived. Keep up the pace with everyone else, don’t get caught in a conversation so that everyone else is waiting for you to finish before they can move on.

Don’t blow out at the buffet: Yes, all the food may look fantastic but there is no need to pile your plate so high it looks as if you are eating for three.

Keep your fork out of my food :It is completely inappropriate to lean over and spear your fork into someone else’s meal without asking. Firstly, it is a sign of ownership and you could quite easily offend someone and secondly, it is highly offensive to just help yourself to someone else’s food.

I hope you have enjoyed these tips. If you think they could help a friend or your staff please pass them on and if I can help you get your staff or even yourself ready for that new job or promotion, please call.

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