The Most Commonly Asked Work Dinner Etiquette Questions

by on November 10th, 2012

Today’s post is written by Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas

I am grateful to Anna Runyan for allowing me to talk about “Thanksgiving Unplugged“, a campaign co-founded by Thomas P. Farley, a.k.a. Mister Manners and myself to promote unplugging from your technology at the dinner table this Thanksgiving. Thomas and I are both etiquette professionals that have grown weary of hearing our clients and friends complain that everywhere they go, people are looking down texting or posting on their social media site rather than engaging with the person in front of them. It was important for us to implement a campaign that would make a true difference. It is our sincere hope that unplugging at Thanksgiving dinner will be the first step towards a more respectful use of technology, at the dinner table and beyond.

And, speaking of the dinner table, I am happy to offer a few dining etiquette tips that Classy Career Girl readers can use before, during and after the holiday meal is over. Did you know that second interviews are generally handled over a meal?  Here are 12 of the most commonly asked dinner etiquette questions.

1. How do I know if I should pay for the meal?

The person that extends the invitation always pays the bill and leaves the tip. Here are a few different scenarios:

- If you are the host of a social gathering, make sure and take care of everything from the valet to the coat check.  - As the host of a business meal,  you are responsible for making sure that every part of the business meal goes smoothly, from start to finish. Don’t ask “Where would you like to go?”.  Offer suggestions and let your guest choose from the choices you have suggested. Take into consideration the location and accessibility of your guest(s). By all means give your guest multiple options and let him or her make the final decision.

-If you are on a job interview, assume your interviewer will pay the bill and do not offer to leave a tip. Just say “thank you” and make sure to follow up with a written thank you note within 24 hours.

2. How do I know what I should order?

If your host (or interviewer) doesn’t guide your selection by giving you suggestions, order a meal that is “middle of the road”. Don’t order a tiny appetizer for a meal because you will look nervous. Avoid ordering an extremely expensive meal because you will look as if you lack good judgment. Stay away from spinach, spaghetti and lobster as they are too difficult to eat.

3. Which is my water glass?

Your water glass and all liquids will always be on your right side of your place setting and your bread plate will be on  your left side.  A sure way to undermine your professional image is to eat from your interviewers bread plate or drink from his or her water glass. When in doubt, watch what he or she does and do the same.

4. What if I have to sneeze?

Don’t use your right hand to cover your mouth. Instead, cover your mouth with your left hand and sneeze or cough into your left shoulder. This leaves your right hand ready for a handshake when you say goodbye.

5. What do I do if I have something foreign in my mouth such as a bone or gristle?

Remove any foreign object from your mouth by covering your mouth with a napkin and removing the object with your index finger and thumb. Or, you can excuse yourself from the table and take care of removing the bone or gristle in the privacy of the restroom, away from the table and your host and fellow guests.

5. What does it mean when you say “Salt and pepper are married”?

Salt and pepper are always passed together, even if someone only asks for salt. This small gesture indicates that you are familiar with the rules of the table and have had some prior form of dining etiquette training.

6. Should I leave a little bit of food on my plate?

It’s not necessary to leave a bit of food on your plate, nor is it appropriate to sop up the last of the gravy with your piece of bread. If you find it particularly hard to get the last remains of your food, leave it on your plate, wipe your mouth with your napkin and consider yourself finished.

7. Do I have to try something that doesn’t look appealing?

Yes, try a small bite of everything on your plate unless you have a food allergy. You will come across as juvenile if you eat only your steak and potatoes and turn your nose up at your peas and carrots.

8. Can I order a glass of wine?

If you are on an interview, the answer is absolutely not. If you are out with a client, the answer is still no at a lunch meal. If you are with your friends, and it during a work day, the answer is still no.

9. Where do I put my napkin when I leave the table temporarily?

When leaving the table during the meal, place your napkin on your chair and push the chair back under the table. Don’t announce where you are going, especially if it is the restroom. Simply say, “Please excuse me” before exiting your chair.

10. Should I tell someone that they have something in their teeth?

Use your best judgment. If you decide to tell your interviewer he or she has pepper in their teeth, preface it with “I know you would want to know” to soften the alert. He or she will most likely be a little uncomfortable, but very  grateful if they have an important appointment to go to next.

11. What do I do if I spill my drink?

If an accident at the table occurs, handle it and forget about it. It’s not necessary to continue to talk about it and make it the main focus of conversation.

12. What do I do if I drop my fork?

A dropped utensil stays on the floor. If you drop your knife or fork on the restaurant floor, it’s not necessary to dive under the table to retrieve it. Ask the server for another utensil and continue with your conversation.

Taking the time to present your best self at the dining table is an investment in your future business success. And, please, most importantly, “unplug” from your technology before sitting down to the dinner table! Please join Thomas P. Farley and I and take the pledge to unplug your technology at your Thanksgiving meal.

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