– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)
The gorgeous Julia Roberts got away with her gaffe in Pretty Woman when she unsuccessfully tried to saw her way through a French delicacy with fine-dining cutlery.
But we lesser mortals might just end up creating a very bad impression if we do the same.
For instance, your boss may take you for a lunch meeting at a plush restaurant. You order an exotic continental dish. The treat arrives and you attack it with fork and knife — a clash of cutlery, a clumsy push against the water goblet and there flies your chunk of meat out of your plate and… onto your boss’ shirt!
It’s a horrifying scenario. But you need not worry. Ease your fine-dining worries with these handy tips on dining etiquette.
At a formal luncheon or dinner, wait for an indication from your host before you seat yourself. The host may have a certain seating arrangement in mind.
In very formal events, there will be place holders with your name on the table to guide you.
In many cases, however, the host will either guide you to your seat personally or indicate that you may sit where you please.
Gentlemen, please remember chivalry is not yet dead! While the ladies may not give you condemning looks, they will appreciate it if you wait for them to be seated before you sit.
Now we come to the problem area — cutlery.
While many of us may not use a fork and knife at home, you are expected to adhere to some global norms at business lunches and other formal dos.
Sounds intimidating? It’s not, actually. We’ll tell you why…
~ Take it for granted that the place settings on your table will be correctly arranged by the server. This means you are provided with the adequate number of forks, knives and spoons for each course that is to follow.
~ Wondering which fork and which knife to pick up from the entire spread?
Simple rule: Work your way from the outside to the inside. This means the outermost fork and knife are meant for your first course (usually salads or starters) and so on.
The number of forks and knives also indicate the number of courses in the meal (This tip is particularly handy for those who like to save space for dessert).
~ The dessert spoon and fork (if necessary) are placed parallel to each other above the dinner plate.
~ The side plate (often referred to as the bread and butter plate) is to your left, along with the salad plate. The liquids — including water, wines and tea or coffee cups — are to your right.
~ It is customary that you maintain the place settings through the meal. If you pick up your wine glass or water goblet to have a sip, place it back in the same position.
Now we come to the ‘how to’ part:
~ Holding your cutlery
As indicated by the place settings, hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right.
Europeans prefer to hold the fork in their left hand with the tines pointing towards the diner. The knife is held in the right, with the sharp edge facing inwards.
Americans prefer to cut the food using the fork and knife. After using the knife, place it on your plate and eat with your fork, tines facing upwards.
Either way of eating is acceptable.
~ Slicing through
While cutting up a dish, use the fork to hold the food down and cut with the knife.
The pressure of your index finger on top of the knife should be enough to slice through the dish.
Avoid sawing (back and forth motion) with your knife; it will seem as if you are hacking your meal!
Always cut bite-sized pieces of food, so you are not embarrassed while trying to fit a huge chunk into your mouth.
~ Taking a breather?
When you pause during a meal, you may place the fork on the left and the knife on the right side of the plate, so that they cross over at the centre of the plate.
~ Second helping
If you need to pass your plate for a second helping, place the fork and knife parallel to each other at the right side of the plate, to make room for the food.
~ The end
The end of the meal is usually indicated by placing the fork (tines up or down) and the knife (blade facing you) parallel to each other diagonally across the plate, with the handles pointing right.
~ While it is acceptable to place the napkin on your lap as soon as you are seated, people usually prefer to follow the host’s lead.
If it is a small luncheon napkin, you can unfold it completely before placing it on your lap. In case of a large dinner napkin, fold it in half, lengthwise.
~ Use your napkin to gently blot your lips during the meal. Remember, it is not a towel to blow your nose or wipe your face!
~ If you need to get up during the meal, place your napkin on your chair to indicate you will be back.
~ At the end of the meal, place the napkin neatly on the table to your right.
Do not fold the napkin; at the same time, take care not to leave it in a crumpled heap.
10 dining mantras
i. Never speak with food in your mouth.
ii. If you are not comfortable using a fork to eat rice, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the server for a spoon.
iii. Do not ask for permission to smoke on the dinner table. It is considered rude. Preferably do not smoke at all, unless the host takes the lead or grants you permission.
iv. Avoid answering calls and messages on your cell phone during a meal, unless it is very urgent. Ideally, the cell phone should be on the silent or discreet mode.
v. If you happen to drop a fork, spoon or knife during the meal, do not pick it up. You may ask the server for a replacement.
vi. Do not rest your elbows on the table during the meal. When you are not using the cutlery, place your hands on your lap. It is acceptable to lightly rest your wrists on the table.
vii. Avoid ordering finger foods, so that your fingers don’t get messy. If you do, try to use a fork to eat these.
Also, never order the most expensive item on the menu unless your host urges you to try that dish.
viii. Do not slurp while having soup. Wait for hot food items to cool sufficiently before you have them. It is not acceptable if you blow on hot food to cool it.
ix. If you want to have bread or rolls with soup, tear a bite-sized piece, place it on the side plate, butter it with the butter knife and then pick it up with the fork. Do not hold the bread in your hand while buttering it.
x. If you want something you cannot reach, politely ask the person nearest to it to pass it to you. Never reach across your neighbour’s plate to get something.
Burp! Had a nice, sumptuous meal? Hold on, you still have work to do.
Remember to thank your host for a wonderful meal.
Your host would definitely appreciate a thank-you card or note or some flowers that you could send across the next day.