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A Taste of the Annual Business Etiquette Dinner

The skills you need to know to succeed in any dining environment

With more than 100 Salem State students and alumni in attendance, Career Services’ annual Business Etiquette Dinner, taught by Mannersmith Consulting founder Jodi RR Smith, was filled with many lessons from the standard American business etiquette of eating to keep in mind when dining with friends, on a first date, or at an interview luncheon. 

The Symmetry of Dining

Smith regards the dining table as something that cannot be disrupted by irregularities of disproportion. This rule plays through almost all aspects of the meal. 

  • If the host or inviting party/interviewer orders an extra drink besides water, you should order an extra drink to match. 

  • If they order an appetizer, you should do the same. 

  • If there is a cocktail and hor devours section prior to the meal, drinks and snacks should not be brought back to the table to mess up the symmetry. 

  • The number of dishes and utensils can be quite daunting. The simple acronym of BMW helps get rid of the confusion:

    • Bread plate on the top left

    • Meal portion front and center of your seat

    • Water and coffee cups on the right-hand side. 

  • Utensils closest to you are likely to be used earlier in the meal than as opposed to the ones furthest away.

Best Practices for Eating in the Company of Others

Although you want to mirror the moves of the host or inviting party, it is okay to get your own dish that satisfies you. On an important occasion, just make sure not to get something hard to eat or digest like french onion soup or spaghetti. Also, when eating keep in mind:

  • Your dining napkin should be folded from corner to corner with the long side corners facing up towards your torso. When you have to wipe your face, use the inside right corner to do so. 

  • If you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, turn your napkin up to your face and use it to shield your mouth. 

  • Use your fork with your left hand and keep your index finger over the top and the bottom in your palm. The knife should stay in your right hand. 

  • Pass bread baskets to the left and do not take one if you are the first one to pick it up. 

  • Once a utensil has touched food, it does not return to the tablecloth. 

  • The universal sign that you are still enjoying a meal is the fork remains on the left-hand side and the knife on the right. To signal you are finished, place them parallel on the right together.

  • Always pass the salt and pepper together.

  • If you have something to spit out, hard items should be left on the side of your plate whereas soft ones should be left in your napkin.

  • Always leave a little bit of food to signal that the amount provided was enough. 

General Etiquette 

General etiquette techniques will help to make the whole occasion run more smoothly and seem less awkward. These are the basics you should follow:

  • Always have a general topic to discuss at the ready whether it be something you read in the news or a TV show you just started watching.

  • The inviting party should always pay

  • Do not wait to let your dietary restrictions be known when you sit down at the table if you have a chance to discuss it beforehand. 

  • If you need to leave for the bathroom, avoid doing it when there is food on the table. If you must go say “excuse me” rather than “I am going to the restroom”.

  • Avoid any negative talk if at all possible.

The Biggest Takeaways 

If there is anything to remember but two things they are these crowning principles:

  1. Follow the leader: Mirror all the actions they [host] do and things they order as closely as possible.

  2. Aim to get through the meal without grossing anyone out. 

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