When most of us think about how we're perceived professionally, we conjure up images of ourselves giving boardroom presentations or skillfully negotiating contracts with clients. Yet one of the strongest indicators of being truly professional is how you conduct yourself at the dining table.
Your behavior gives potential clients, employers, and partners a sense of how you will handle their business and the relationship. While there are many fine points to dining, the following are a few simple pointers that will establish you as a professional at the dining table and beyond:
KEEP THE TABLE CLEAR. Never place cell phones, keys, purses, hats, gloves, eyeglasses, folders, or anything that is not part of the meal on the table. If items must be in reach, tuck them in a pocket or neatly beneath or behind your chair.
NAPKIN. Your napkin should remain on your lap during the meal. If you need to leave the table temporarily, place your napkin in your chair and push your chair back under the table – this signals to the wait staff that you will be returning to the table. When you return to your seat, return the napkin to your lap. At the end of the meal, loosely place the napkin to the left of the plate. Do not refold it – this signals to the wait staff that you have finished your meal.
SILVERWARE. Work silverware from the outside in. Once you pick up a piece of silverware, it should never touch the table again. If you are not using the utensil, put it down on the plate. Use a knife and fork to cut only one piece of food at a time. When you finish a course, place the knife and fork in the “finished” position. Picturing your plate as the face of a clock, the tip of the knife and fork are at 10:00 and the handles are at 4:00. The blade of the knife faces the fork, not the edge of the plate.
THINK B.M.W. It's not unusual for a confused diner to be unsure which bread plate and which water glass is theirs and by mistake, “borrow” their neighbors. To avoid making this embarrassing faux pas, remember B.M.W.: Bread, Meal, Water. Your bread plate is always on your left, your meal is in the middle of the place setting, and your water is always on your right.
BUTTERING YOUR BREAD. How you butter your bread is one of the biggest indicators of good vs. bad table manners. Always put butter on your bread plate rather than directly on your roll. Break, don’t cut the bread, and then butter one bite-sized piece at a time. Never butter a whole slice of bread at once, or slice a roll in half and butter it.
In your business career you will find yourself in many situations – conventions, meetings, workshops, breakfasts, luncheons, dinners and parties, where you will be called on to demonstrate your polish. Simply adhering to these basic points will take you a long way. But, whenever you are in doubt about “the right fork,” in either a social or business situation, consult your own sense of right and wrong. Know the basics of dining courtesy by heart, follow your head for the rest, and the world will be your oyster.