As a child, my mother exposed my siblings and I to cultural and professional dining etiquette. With her background in catering, she got an early start teaching us the proper way to place the napkin on our lap, how to butter bread, how to maneuver the chop sticks between our fingers and which place setting applied to what. It was her endearing way of letting us know that she wasn’t going to tolerate us acting up in the restaurants until we got our manners intact.
Years later, with Home Etiquette 101 engraved in my DNA, I went to the “Don’t Fork Up” etiquette luncheon March 18 with confidence and anticipation. For the most part, my manners stood up to the challenge – at least until Deidra Fajack, director of Alumni Programs, commented on the importance of interaction versus food in the dining experience. This was an element of table manners that my mother did not teach me, or may not have seemed important at that time.
As graduation approaches, many of us will delve into our career aspirations with our hard earned degrees. Competition is stiff, especially in this ever-changing global environment. Employers are going above and beyond to really get to know you, which may include interviewing you outside the office element.
In spite of the cold rain, Fajack along with Carol Beirne, assistant director of Alumni programs, conducted an interactive, receptive, and warm demonstration in business dining etiquette.
In my table of three Fajack and Beirne helped us practice the appropriate way to pass food and condiments. With our fresh salads placed in front of us, we delved into our plates once everyone was served, which is both considerate and necessary in a business dining element. However, if you have a host you may want to wait until he or she starts to eat first. If your host is a talker and doesn’t start eating immediately, its OK to eat up. This tip may also be helpful on a date with a certain somebody that you’re trying to impress.
Fajack and Beirne also acknowledged the differences between American and European styles of dining. In American style dining, we hold our forks upright in one hand, while cutting our food with the other. We rest our utensils down and may take an eating break in between conversation. In European dinning, forks are held downward. Generally, utensils remain in hand while engaging in conversation, arms gently resting on the table.
Other things to consider include: It’s proper to place your napkin on your lap, folded in half with its crease toward you, as soon as everyone is seated and a soup bowl may be tipped only when there is a handle. Always follow the lead of your host at dinner, do not eat until he or she does first. It’s not a good first impression and shows lack of consideration for the host.
Lastly, when passing food or condiments, offer to the left, take for yourself and then pass to the right.
If you have any doubts about if and when you should ask for the A1 Steak sauce, who should pay for the meal, the appropriate time to excuse yourself for the restroom or if it’s appropriate to drink alcohol, Fajack and Beirne recommend two books for inspiration, “Business Etiquette in Brief” and “101 Ways for Accelerating Business Relationships,” both by Ann Marie Sabath. For students who wish to study abroad or attend international business dinners, these books are highly recommended.
In retrospect, I’ve developed a new found passion for dining etiquette and the little things that matter when solidifying business relationships. Whether it’s professionally or casually, dining etiquette is an extension of your personality and how others perceive you.