Recently I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon talking to some high school students from around Birmingham, Alabama on dining etiquette. The informal chat was in preparation for an upcoming visit to a fancy-smancy restaurant with fru fru food they would soon enjoy. I had a blast talking to them, sharing the bit of wisdom I know about etiquette and hearing their collective, adolescent gasps and “whaaaaaaaaaaaattttttttttttttttt?” when I said things like no asking for hot sauce when at an upscale establishment.
I love food, and I love the opportunity for a woman from Birmingham’s #35211 West End (Google it) to be able to experience and explore different cultures and cuisines from all around the world right here at home…until I make it around the world. Part of that, I am well aware, is being adaptable in all kinds of environments, especially those which are known for prices and presentations representing the finer things in life. What I wanted the students to know after talking with them is that they, regardless from where they’ve come, deserve to be in those kinds of atmospheres. They belong at the table. There’s no table too important for them not to be at. There are no people too influential for them not to be with. Heck, I believe they don’t just belong at the table. I see the head as their final destination. The same is so with us all. So many times gatherings are not about food. It’s about decisions, power moves, money transfers, career advancement, fund raising, connections and purpose being fulfilled right over an appetizer of escargot, a beautiful bowl of summer vegetable gazpacho, a perfectly prepared medium rare Cowboy steak, flanked with crab oscar asparagus or nestled atop sautéed swiss chard, truffle smashed potatoes, and a molten chocolate cake with your sip of choice.
Practicing proper etiquette is not being fake or being a sell out. It’s not conforming or complying. It’s just taking small steps to enhance who we are to be prepared for where we’re going. We can’t complain about not being invited to the party if we don’t care to know what to do when we get there. So how do you do it?
Here are a few tips to help…
- No talking with food in mouth.
- Wait on host or head of table to start eating before you do.
- Use napkins appropriately and place them over the chair (and not on the table) if you have to exit the table for a moment.
- Use BMW when determining what’s what to eat regarding your place setting (Bread, Meal, Water).
- Use appropriate forks and knives.
- Slice, don’t bite. Then wipe.
- Don’t slurp or loudly stir.
- Put eating utensils down after enjoying each fork of food.
- Avoid asking for hot sauce, requesting too many condiments, making too many special requests, ordering ribs, big, hot fried chicken bone-in breasts, spaghetti hot wings and other messy foods.
- Repeatedly thank the chef, wait staff or hosts.
- Do not clean your plate. (Save that ritual for home.)
- No leftovers should be taken from upscale social functions.
- Avoid: religion, politics, sports team talk, inappropriate jokes or other hot button topics of conversation.
- Share the conversation (Don’t be a talking hog).
- Plan to talk. Know what the topic of the event is and have conversation ready to share.
- Know the organization or product you’re representing or supporting.
- Take a deep breath and breathe, especially if feeling out of your comfort zone.
- Don’t shy away for conversing.
- No recruiting for your next new job or personal business while on company business.
- No name dropping when you really don’t know the name of the person you’re dropping.
- Don’t forget to engage with the guests and attendees.
- Don’t get stuck in one spot if it’s a floating event where mingling is happening all around.
Want more etiquette tips or a full-on group presentation around the table? Just ask. I’ll be happy to oblige.