So you think you can eat? Politely? If you’ve been spending too much alone time shoving food down your pie hole or hanging with friends whose careers don’t require adult behavior, your manners’ hard drive may be corrupted. It’s time to pull the napkin out of your collar and get serious again about good table manners.
Manners at the Table
Good table manners begin with your host. They’ve got your back; treat them well, and they’ll return the favor. Don’t forget that your server is a human being, so remember to put them at ease. Let them know if you’re upset with your food, any problems you’re having, or if you need some attention. This helps them to know how to address your needs. Even if you feel like you’re in a rush, a little bit of extra eye contact or a smile can make your server’s job much easier. What you should NOT do? Forget that your food is warm, don’t point out someone else’s error, don’t yell, or blow your nose loudly on your napkin. These are things you shouldn’t do in a restaurant and will never get a positive reaction from your server.
Eating With Your Hands
The key to getting any place nice for lunch is table etiquette. This means checking out what they put on the table with your chopsticks and always putting them away in your napkin. Staying at an Asian restaurant, use chopsticks—sticky rice and fish stick. “At a Japanese restaurant, chopsticks are essential for eating,” says Vikram Sunderam, president of the American Academy of Asian Studies. He also says it’s important to place your chopsticks on the table in an upright position. By properly positioning them, you allow the waiter to know how you’d like your food, he explains. In Japanese restaurants, if you keep them perpendicular to the table, your waiter might think you don’t want any fish. Saying "Thank You" Handshakes are for losers!
Eating With Fingers
Most Americans spend our days wearing flip flops and plaid shirts. This makes perfect sense for a certain generation. But if you’re over 50, I can almost guarantee you have some friends who swear you should never chew with your hands, but if you want to impress those contacts, do it! Remember your grandparents’ house: The kitchen is a place for work and conversation. Don’t kill your chances to land that executive gig if you drop something on your tie. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs to eat with your hands, but you should have some respect for the hotel’s decor and the fact that your table-mate isn’t Phil Mickelson. I love these fluffy dish towels at the Intercontinental in New York City, and you can find similar ones for $9 on Amazon.
Using Utensils Properly
First of all, always use utensils. This should be common knowledge. When not using utensils, simply pick up your food with your fingers and dip it into the sauce. Most of us have been on the receiving end of a dip in the hot sauce while grabbing food on our way to the table, and trust me: we’re going to take care of your plate the same way. Be courteous and extend your left hand with the knife pointing outward. The goal is to be an open hand, not a handbook. Another good approach is to get into the habit of pointing to your left with a piece of food so that when it’s not in the stomach (and you’re not scooping it up), you can actually point out your left with your whole hand. Be Polite You’ve been warned; if you’re eating alone, it’s okay to grab a bite and leave.
Talking With Your Mouth Full
While standing or walking around at a high table, try not to talk with your mouth full. Start off with a courteous request to speak up so everyone in earshot will know you’re about to start choking. By now you may be able to safely say, “Excuse me. I would like to talk with you about our conversation tomorrow.” Or, if the room is too loud for you to easily communicate, keep some things private and send a pass-along note, either by phone or text. (Texting for formal dining. Isn’t that nice?) Gossiping about Your Partner As a duchess, you may have a secret stash of fake tanner (and other scary things) that you secretly apply to your face after a long day in the office.
Speaking With Your Mouth Full
No one likes a drooler. Whether you’re masticating a hot dog or eating roast beef, leave it alone. You can still talk and show your guests respect while you’re doing so. If you need more time to chew, raise your hand and politely ask for some room. Otherwise, better them than you, and put a cloth napkin or just your lips to clean. Muffling Your Food There are ways to muffle your chewing without droning on about the best lasagna recipe of all time and insulting everyone’s eyesight. Personally, I like to chew crunchily, but anyone else’s habits may differ, so ask if the other diners are OK with you do so.
There are two schools of thought on this one. One, if you like the smell of food when you eat it, you should be able to smell it all day long. You can breathe through your nose but you shouldn’t be able to smell it coming out. The other argument: you shouldn’t be able to smell it all day long. According to Jennifer Peebles, communications and public relations director for the Institute of Culinary Education, foodies don’t necessarily have a sweet tooth. “They just like to smell it and be in it.” While it’s hard to say that an old salty dog who still doesn’t like the scent of mustard can’t smell it, it’s probably more of a conditioned preference than a scenting pleasure. If it gets to the point where you’re finding the smell appealing at all hours, you may be dealing with a food allergy.
When dining out at a restaurant, a silly faux pas is breaking out with silverware and spilling drinks all over your lap and then braying with laughter over your clumsiness. When dining out at a five-star restaurant, these actions will be easily noticed and you will be swiftly shown the door. One case in point: I recently had a couple who walked in late and took a seat in a booth right next to me at an upscale suburban brunch restaurant. Soon after sitting down they ordered breakfast items. I noticed that the husband was struggling to open the silverware drawer. At first I thought he was getting something out, but then I saw that he was trying to bite his mouthful of food. I had to wait for him to finish so I could continue watching the television show I had paused to watch him eat.
Drinking Alcohol Correctly
Yes, going out to dinner with people that aren’t your family doesn’t always mean having a 12 step program to get over your undying love of single malts (I’m looking at you George Clooney). Yes, it’s okay to drink as you wish but it’s also important to keep those wine glasses in your hand and down your throats when they’re full. For an added warning sign, you should have a headache or some other symptom of alcohol poisoning. Always have a decent screwdriver of Red Bull in the event that you’re unable to talk after having too much to drink. Reading More than One Page at a Time The number one killer in America (and in my home town of Hanford, CA) is not drink, drugs, smoking, or obesity.
First of all, wait for the host or hostess to make your rounds, and ask before sitting down if you can fill your plate. Ask the waiter for the menu. Enjoy. Repeat after me: “I want to please the people who were kind enough to set this great table, and I want to do the same for others.” If someone else is the first to arrive, and you have not eaten, serve yourself. It makes you look good and will set a good example for others. When dining with someone who is hungry, do not eat their food. If they thank you, say thank you. And then turn to your own plate. #3: Eating Manners on Vacation #3.1: Please Ask Before the Ordering Many business travelers (and even some who are not) travel with cocktail hour in the afternoon and evening.