How to impress with your dining skills

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How often have you been invited to a networking lunch with an inspiring speaker and the opportunity to connect with new people and make a great impression around the table?    

As a guest the event organiser may seat you randomly with various people or colleagues with common business interests.

In those few moments of entering the room and taking your seat at the table everything you say and do will influence your professional image and the relationships you have painstakely developed - have fun and be yourself …. but remember first impressions are created in the first five seconds.

The table is a great place to learn about social confidence and intelligence. Here are a few etiquette tips to give you that polished image at the next lunch or business dinner.

Before Arriving

Eat a little of something before you arrive – remember networking and business meals are more about the business of building relationships and less about the meal.

Arriving at the Table

When you approach the table look for place cards. If there are no place cards or a host at the table remain standing and wait for two or three people to arrive before you sit down. If you arrive at the table and other guests are mingling, approach each new person and introduce yourself.

Sitting and Rising

The correct way to sit down or rise from a chair at the table is from the right side of the chair

(determined from the back of the chair) approach the chair from the right and enter from the left side. Why? History accords the place of honour to the right side because most people are right – handed.

At the Table

Personal items don't belong on the dining table no matter how casual the meal. No cell phones, eyeglasses, keys, purse, handbags or medication.

Remember with the table setting, start on the outside and work your way towards the centre.

Hold a tumbler near the bottom, white wine and champagne glasses by the stem and the red wine glass above the stem and around the bottom of the glass.

And when eating lean forward slightly and bring your food to your mouth rather than bring your head down to your food and drink.

Pace yourself so you don’t finish eating before others. 

Avoid personal grooming at the table. Do not touch up lipstick, hair or use a toothpick.  Go to the bathroom.

The Napkin

When there is a host wait until she picks up a napkin then pick up your napkin and unfold on your lap (not in mid air!) A large napkin is folded in half with the fold facing the waistline. If you leave the table during the meal, place your napkin loosely folded on the seat of your chair. When you are ready to leave the table and finished your meal, pick up the napkin by the centre, gather it loosely and place it to the left of the plate or if the plate has been removed place the napkin on the table in front of you.

The Cutlery

“The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork” – Oscar Wilde

How do you hold your knife and fork?  The handles stay in the palms of your hands. Your index finger rests on the handles (no pencil holding action). When you wish to talk, drink or blot your lips use the “rest position” - the knife and fork are crossed on the plate with the fork over the knife - tines pointed down.

Buttering your Bread

How you butter your bread is one of the biggest indicators of good or 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 following these 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; follow your head for the rest and the world will be your oyster.


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