You’ve spent the whole conference trying to get close to that potential business source, and you’re finally going to sit together at a banquet table. Or maybe a meal at a fancy restaurant is part of the interview process at the new firm you’re trying to join. Are you attending a formal-dress event thrown by your firm? Don’t blow it when you finally get to lunch or dinner. Proper table etiquette is part of good manners and can enhance or detract from your professional image.
The Most Common Mistake
Here’s the rule: solids on the left, liquids on the right. If you drink from the glass on your left, the person on your left may no longer have a usable glass because the glass to their left was properly used by the diner to their left. You may have started a chain reaction that leaves people swapping goblets across the table to try to correct the problem. All of your drinking glasses, water and wine, are on your right.
Your bread plate is on your left. If there is a circulating bread basket, take a piece from the basket when it comes to you if you like, and place it on the bread plate on your left. Going the other way creates the same domino effect as with the water glass mis-pick. Tear rather than slice a roll to add butter. When the butter comes your way, use your knife (you might find a butter knife resting on your bread plate) or the butter knife provided to put a pat on your bread plate. Do not use your knife or the communal knife to spread butter directly from the communal butter dish.
Extra or Not Enough Flatware?
The classic rule is to use flatware by working your way in from the outside. But what are those extra utensils at the top of the plate? If you see an extra spoon and fork at the top instead of the sides, use those for the dessert course.
Once you have used a piece of flatware, it does not go back on the table. This can sometimes be difficult because banquets don’t always provide enough pieces. For example, if you only have one knife and used it for your salad, ask the server to please bring another knife when the server removes the plate for the first course. If the server is bringing the main course at the same time, you may be able to hang on to your knife. This is not an ideal choice, but it does avoid your meal going cold while you wait for your knife — or worse, everyone who still has an unused knife letting their meal go cold because they don’t want to start when you cannot.
A Minty Bonus
That pretty mint sprig on your dessert plate actually has a purpose. Rub the back of your spoon or fork across the mint leaf a few times. When you use your utensil to take a dollop of your crème brulee or ice cream or cream pie, you will taste the mint as part of the dessert as the chef intended. This hack is so little known, you might score points by sharing it with your table mates.
Do Mom Proud
Most of us didn’t have childhoods with meals accompanied by an array of silverware or a plate for every purpose. Today, short-cut eating is common, and considerations of table etiquette seem irrelevant to the microwave burrito you eat at your desk. Whether Mom taught you these rules, or you are learning them along the way, you can emphasize your professionalism in social settings with the etiquette appropriate to the occasion.
Updated from a post published in May 2017.
Subscribe to Attorney at Work
Get really good ideas every day: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch and Weekly Wrap (it’s free). Follow us on Twitter @attnyatwork.