Eating Out: Etiquette Do's and Don'ts

I have been invited to several holiday parties, many of them work-related and involving a sit-down meal. This may sound silly, but I'm a bit nervous since I don't really know the "proper" way to dine -- which fork to use first, where to put my napkin when I get up from the table. I don't want to embarrass myself.



Dear dianer:

I don't blame you for being slightly concerned; there is an unspoken prejudice against those who don't handle themselves well at the table. And with the holidays almost here, all of us will probably be doing more partying and dining than ever. So I've put together a table manners how-to list to help everyone make it through the holidays in the most mannerly manner. Consider it my pre-holiday gift.


Top 10 Dining Mistakes Corrected:

Misuse of silverware: Gripping your fork like a cello and your knife like a dagger are both major dining faux pas. You should also avoid resting silverware partly on the table and partly on the edge of the plate -- one slip and you have a mess. Instead, make sure that once you pick up a piece of silverware, it rests on your plate from that point on and never makes contact with the table again. Another thing to watch out for, when setting the table and while eating: The knife blade should always face in, never out. Lastly, refrain from making any gestures while holding your cutlery; no one wants their dining companion waving pointy objects around.

Misuse of your napkin: The napkin should be used to carefully dab the corners of your mouth. It is not a blotter or a flag. The napkin should be open and spread across your lap during the meal and not put back on the table until the meal is concluded, when you should place it next to your plate. If you leave the table temporarily, place your napkin on your chair, then push your chair back under the table while you're gone.

Leaving lipstick stains: It's bad form, especially at a business meal, to leave lipstick on a glass or cup. To prevent this, try powdering your lips before applying lipstick and (discreetly) blot your lips before drinking. If you don't have a tissue with you, make a quick detour to the powder room for one or use a cocktail napkin from the bar.

Not breaking bread: Buttering an entire slice of bread then cutting it with your knife is a breach of basic table manners. Instead, tear bread into bite-sized pieces and butter each piece right before you plan to eat it.

Seasoning food before tasting it: This sends the message that you don't trust the chef and may be taken as an insult by your boss or whoever chose the restaurant.

Poor posture: Food doesn't go down well when you sit slumped over. And, frankly, you're not as attractive to your dining partner when you do this, either. So sit straight up -- you'll actually feel more comfortable.

Eating too quickly: Whether you're at McDonald's or a fancy restaurant, it's bad for your digestion -- not to mention unattractive -- to gulp food. Since dining with others is a shared experience, dining partners should generally have the same number of courses and start and finish each at about the same pace.

Picking your teeth: If you must remove something trapped between your teeth, excuse yourself and visit the rest room to do so.

Talking with your mouth full: The corollary is chewing with your mouth open. If your mouth has food in it, keep it closed until you swallow. Take small bites, finish chewing, smile ... and then carry on your part of the conversation.

Putting accessories on the table: Simply stated, don't do it. This rule includes purses, briefcases, keys, gloves, hats, cell phones (which should be turned OFF) and anything else that is not part of the meal. Why? It's unsightly and unsanitary.

There are other dining mistakes you can make, of course. Just remember that good manners and courtesy can get you through most meals. One further note about dining: Sitting in a smoking section doesn't give a diner the license to light up between courses. Smoke affects your dining companions' taste buds and sense of aesthetics. If you do smoke, save the cigarettes for after the entire meal, and please, a plate is not an ashtray.

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