Tag Archives: etiquette

How to throw a great party

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

The season screams ‘PARTY!’ and we obey. Whether you are a party animal or not, it’s difficult to resist the mood of the month. While it’s definitely convenient to chill out at a do someone else has organised, you don’t need to be a pro to organise a party yourself.

With most resorts and retreats being overbooked in the festive season, it is a good idea to cosy up at your own pad with a group of close pals. All it takes is a little preparation for you and your guests to have a gala time.

Here’s the lowdown on the things you need to keep in mind.

Pick your guests carefully

“As a host, you definitely do not want to be caught in the ravages of a cold war or heated arguments,” warns Sai Jadhav, a media professional. “Choose your guests in a way that there are no clashes, expressed or otherwise, at your party.”

If your guests are to leave with pleasant memories, you need to invite people who will get along reasonably well. Keep a check on the number of guests as well; your party has to be manageable and within your budget.

Choose your theme

With a group of close friends or family, a theme may not be necessary. But, if you have invited a diverse group of people, you might want to have a theme party. A theme usually requires people to dress in a certain manner and serves as a good icebreaker among strangers. However, you will need to back it with suitable ambience.

“Wacky themes can be fun, but do not go over the top. Be considerate about your guests’ profile as well as the ambience and weather. For example, if you fancy a Hawaiian theme, remember people may not be comfortable wearing bermudas and sarongs in the middle of the winter,” cautions Binu David, a senior executive with a top Mumbai hotel.

Stock your bar

“Alcohol should cater to the tastes of the guests, not that of the host,” says Binu. “You may be a whisky lover, but your guests might prefer other drinks. Buy a good mix. Also stock soft drinks and juices for people who do not wish to have alcohol.”

You may not have the time or inclination to mix and serve the drinks during a party, so arrange for someone to handle the bar. If it is a small gathering, you could request one of your friends in advance to help you. For a bigger party, professional bartenders are available for a fee.

Decide on the menu

“My worst memories are of parties where I’ve danced to my heart’s content, chatted a lot with friends, then come back home hungry to hunt for food in the refrigerator. Why? Because the food available was only Chinese, which I shy away from,” recalls Sai. “When you organise a party, have at least two types of cuisines, preferably one Indian, so that everyone has something to eat.”

Gone are the days when a party at home would mean that the guests would expect the hostess to display her culinary skills. If you are not a good cook, simply order food from a good restaurant or caterer. As a host, you ought to spend quality time with your guests rather than supervise the kitchen. Of course, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian preferences should be taken into account.


Whether you want to have a dance party or not, it is always a good idea to have some music playing. If it is simply a huddle of friends, you could have some soft instrumental music playing in the background to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere.

If you need to arrange for dance numbers, make sure you know the preferences of most, if not all, of your guests. Have enough space cleared to be used as the dance floor.

Arrange for your guests’ comfort

“Simple gestures, such as ample, comfortable seating arrangement, regular supply of water, drinks and nibbles go a long way in telling your guests you care,” says Binu.

Hygiene is important. The restrooms should be cleaned and replenished with toilet rolls, soaps and paper towels before the party begins. Have a first-aid box and simple medicines such as paracetamol handy, in case any of your guests need it.

Manners matter

No matter how well you know your guests, when you are the host, you have certain responsibilities. “The worst thing a host can do is to get drunk,” remarks Binu. It is indeed a faux pas for a host to get high when s/he is expected to take care of the others.

It also creates a bad impression if you are not ready in time. It can be embarrassing if your guests start arriving while you are still laying the table cloth with your hair still in curlers. Start preparing well in advance so that you can enjoy the party along with your guests.

Greet each guest personally and introduce people who do not know each other. Think up some fun games you could have if the party gets a little dull.

At the end of the day, having a party is all about having fun, and letting your guests know you care. A little effort is all it takes to make sure both your guests and you have a wonderful time.

Planning to party? Brush up your manners

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

“Where’s the party tonight?”

It’s a good question, particularly since the party season is now in full swing.

Some of us may be absolute party animals, while others prefer to be occasional guests. Irrespective of what our party quotient is, however, our etiquette quotient needs to be up to the mark.

Even the most innocuous slip-ups on the party circuit tend to be talked about, and laughed about. Here are a few tips you need to keep in mind if you plan to let your hair down.

The do’s


Always know what the party is all about. If you are not very close to the host(ess), (s)he may avoid telling you it is a birthday or an anniversary, simply to save you the bother of getting a gift. However, it can be embarrassing to enter a hall with a huge birthday cake and a pile of gifts brought by more well-informed guests.


Do carry some gift to any party – be it a formal sit-down dinner, a buffet or a luncheon. It could be some flowers or chocolates, or wine for more formal occasions. If you travel often, you could buy trinkets from various places that could be presented as thoughtful gifts. Remember, a gift is not meant to proclaim your status or identity – it is simply a gesture to say ‘Thanks, I had a lovely time!’

Food preferences

If you have certain preferences for food due to medical or other reasons, please inform the hosts in advance when you accept the invitation.


If you are talking to a group of friends or acquaintances, make sure everyone in the group knows each other. If not, go ahead and give an interesting introduction. For example, “Hey Mark, meet Neena. Neena was my classmate in college and she’s a fabulous painter! Neena, Mark’s my colleague and he’s an avid trekker.” Always introduce the junior (in terms of age/ status/ fame) to the senior.

If you do not understand how to pronounce a person’s name, it is perfectly fine to ask them. Saying “I’m not sure if I got your name right. Is it …?” is better than mispronouncing someone’s name all evening.

On the other hand, if you have a name that is slightly long and could be difficult for others to pronounce, you could save them from awkwardness by offering alternatives.

Party enthusiast PN Thailambal, an academic specialist with a reputed educational institution in Mumbai, says, “People often fumble with my name since it is rather unusual. So, during introductions, I tell them they can call me Thai. It makes conversations a lot easier.”

Dress code

If it’s a theme party, do stick to the dress code. You could ask the host for help in understanding the theme better, if need be.


At a sit down dinner, wait for the hostess to indicate where you should sit. It is likely she has arranged the seating so that there is a good mix of people at each table.

Talking of seating, Thailambal recalls, “Once, at a party, there was this middle-aged lady in a saree trying to park on a bar stool. It was quite a sight – it was too high for her to comfortably climb onto. While the onlookers tried hard to turn away with bemused smiles, I must say it was rather embarrassing for the lady.”

Do not venture onto an uncomfortable seat that does not go with your physique and dress.


If you are getting up for another helping of dessert, coffee or wine, do ask the people around you if you could get something for them as well.

It would be wise to stick to few glasses/ pegs of alcohol, instead of going overboard and getting sick. Not only do you make the situation uncomfortable for your hosts, you also risk being talked for a long time because of behaviour you probably don’t even remember.


Accept compliments graciously with a simple ‘Thank you!’. You can return the compliment if you find a genuine reason for it.


If you need to leave early for some reason, inform the hosts and leave as unobtrusively as possible so that you do not disturb the mood of the party.

Do call/ SMS/ email the hosts later to tell them you had a wonderful time. Thank them for their hospitality.

The don’ts


While little gifts are always appreciated, make sure they are not personal in nature. Avoid items of clothing, deodorants, etc, especially if you do not know the hosts well.

Of course, this rule does not apply for birthday parties.

For a house-warming party, you could ask the hostess (if you know her well) casually while you accept the invitation, “I’d love to get something for you that you really need. Would you prefer something for the kitchen or the hall?” The hostess would appreciate your gesture rather than end up with five table lamps and seven wall clocks.


Never heap your plate at a buffet. You can always go in for a second helping if need be. Take small bites of food; do not stuff your mouth with it.

You would do well to have some fruit or a light sandwich before a party so that you are not ravenous before the meal.

Also, if you are not comfortable with a fork, chopsticks or tongs, ask the servers for alternatives.

Anita D’souza, assistant manager – training, with a leading company, says, “I can recall quite a few instances where pieces of food have flown off plates and landed on someone else. If one is not used to the given cutlery, it is perfectly fine to ask for a spoon or even eat neatly with your fingers rather than embarrass yourself and those around you.”


Conversations at a party should be light and casual. Avoid personal questions about relationships, money, salary, etc. Questions about handicaps and injuries are a big no-no. Even if the scars are from a much talked about accident, the person may not want to stir unpleasant memories by telling you an oft-repeated tale.

Never ask about the price or designer label of a dress or accessory. At the same time, do not brag about your own labels even if you are complimented about it.


Never leave a party without informing the hosts. They may have certain plans for which your presence may be important.

If you are the host/ hostess…

  • Ensure you are at the door to greet and welcome everyone. It lends a personal touch to the party and you can make a mental note of who’s arrived and who has not.
  • Right from the time the first guest walks in, make sure there is some food to nibble on and some drinks to sip. Some people may be walking in after a long working day and would really appreciate something to snack on as they wait for your elaborate main course.
  • Provide for enough serviettes, paper napkins and toothpicks. They should be kept at an accessible place, visible to everyone.
  • If it is a buffet or a cocktail party, clear the used plates and glasses regularly so that you always have ample supply of cutlery. It’ll avoid clutter at the tables and ensure you have less washing to do at the end of the day.
  • The entrance area and the restrooms should be lighted well. If any of your guests require special seating or other arrangements, do arrange for it beforehand. The guests would appreciate your sensitivity.
  • Any children’s party should have ample lighting, clear, open space and toys. Keep a first aid box handy.


So there, all set to party?

Test your social etiquette

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

The origin of the word etiquette is the French etiquet or estiquette, which refers to a notice attached to something.

A few hundred years ago, in Western Europe, it was a custom to attach the code of dress and behaviour to every party invitation, especially to those coming from the royal or aristocratic families. This was to ensure that people conducted themselves well and there were no faux pas to embarrass the hosts.

Luckily, we no longer live in that uptight era. However, basic social etiquette is still important. Let’s see how familiar you are with contemporary etiquette norms.

1. Which of the following behaviour, do you think, is appropriate when it comes to doors?

a. Chivalry is long passé – simply hold the door open for yourself to pass through. The others can take care of themselves.
b. In a business context, always open doors for clients, superiors or guests and let them pass through first.
c. While exiting from rooms with self-shutting doors, you need not hold the door open till the person behind you takes over.

2. Which of these options is not correct with respect to a handshake?

a. Keep the thumb up and let the webs of the thumbs touch before wrapping your fingers around the other person’s hand.
b. Maintain eye contact with the person when you are shaking hands.
c. When you are being introduced to a new person, the handshake should go on throughout the introduction. Ideally, this would mean there are about 6-7 pumps before you stop.

3. When someone compliments you on your attire, you should……

a. Talk about the designer of the outfit and how you prefer that particular label for your work clothes.
b. Simply smile and thank the person for the compliment.
c. Furtively glance at the person to find how can you return the compliment.

4. Given a choice among the following, which option would you pick to initiate small talk at a party?

a. How pleasant the weather was at the weekend getaway you had been to recently.
b. How the education system needs improvement and the expenses involved in educating a child.
c. How the politicians are messing up the administration of the country and corruption is gnawing at the exchequer.

5. At a party, you prefer to avoid or abstain from alcohol. Your host offers you a cocktail. How do you react?

a. “I don’t drink alcohol.”
b. “Sorry, but I have just recovered from colitis. My doctor has advised me to avoid alcohol for two weeks. I would love to have that cocktail, but you know……”
c. “Thank you, but could I have a soft drink instead?”


1. b
While chivalry in the old sense of the term may be passe, courtesy is not. It is important to hold self-shutting doors open if there is someone coming behind you  from a standpoint of safety and avoidance of injury. And of course, it always great to be courteous towards seniors and ladies – it may not be expected, but is always apprecciated.

2. c
Eye contact during a handshake reflects on a person’s confidence and trustworthiness. It is important to remember that a handshake should start and stop crisply. Ideally, there should be about two to three pumps. Do not continue to hold hands through the length of the introduction.

3. b
When a person compliments you, it is not necessary to return the compliment. You can simply thank the person and graciously accept the compliment. Etiquette demands that no matter how expensive your clothes and accessories are, you should not brag about designer labels or their cost.

4. a
Boring though it may sound, the safest topics that make for small talk and serve as icebreakers in social get-togethers are the weather, popular sports or the pleasant party setting. Even if you are passionate about issues such as improving the education scenario or uprooting corruption, do not bring them up. For all you know, the person you may be talking to might be an educationist or a local politician himself/ herself! Topics such as religion, politics, family and personal appearance and grooming are an absolute no-no.

5. c
It is perfectly fine to refrain from alcoholic drinks. However, do not make it sound as if drinking alcohol is a crime. Whether you drink or not is a personal choice and you are not bound to give long-winded excuses as a reply. Simply thank the host for offering the drink and state your preference. S/he would be glad to get you the drink of your choice.

Wine etiquette, simplified

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.
– Old saying

Some of the greatest pleasures of life lie in simplicity. The humble grapes that are fermented into wine only go on to prove this point.

Whoever invented wine – intentionally or by accident – may have never thought the drink would go on to perennially grace fine-dining tables across the world.

Let us explore what is it that has had many a connoisseur appreciating, adulating and finally commending this drink as nonpareil.

New world, new tastes

At one point in time, wines were synonymous with the vineyards of France. While Bordeaux and Burgundy still remain eternal favourites, Italian, South African and Californian wines have also made inroads into the connoisseurs’ taste buds.

Some of the latest wines in the market are from our own country. Areas near Nashik and Bangalore have come up very well as the new wine districts of the world.

Know your wine

Let’s tease your taste buds now by learning how to know your wine better. A wine is distinguished by:

~ Name of the shipper/producer (For example, Cockburn Smithes, Sula Vineyards, Davenport Vineyards, etc)

~ Area or region where it is produced (Alsace, Bordeaux, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hunter Valley, Canberra region, etc)

~ The year of production

~ The kind of grape from which it is manufactured, determining the texture and smoothness. White grapes include chardonnay, marsanne, riesling, etc while examples of red or black grapes are barbera, cabernet franc, pinotage, etc

~ The aroma or bouquet (a distinctive and characteristic fragrance) of the wine

Certain years – when the crops were exceptionally good, resulting in excellent wines – are called vintage years.

Each wine-producing region has its own list of vintage years. It is well known that the more aged the wine, the steeper the price. This is because as the wine matures, it acquires a flavour and texture that is simply fantastic. Vintage wines are especially very expensive.

In general, wines have between 11 to 14 per cent alcohol. It may not sound very intoxicating, but trust me, you can get very drunk on wine!

Wine bottles are generally stored in cellars or in cool, dark places at a tilted angle such that when the bottle is full, the wine touches the cork. Nowadays one can also find wines in regular sealed bottles.

Red wine

Red wine is made of black grapes. It is usually served at room temperature, ie, 14 to 18 degree centigrade (remember, room temperature is with reference to France, where wine originated.)

In India, you can keep it in the fridge. It is an ideal accompaniment for red meat.

Red wine glasses are smaller than white wine glasses and have a broader rim.

If stored correctly, most red wines last for two to three years after opening. Ideally, they should be stored in a rack where the temperature can be maintained 17 degree centigrade or below.

Bottles should be stored horizontally or titled at an angle. They should not be exposed to sunlight or to extreme changes in temperature.

Some red wines that can be stored for three to 10 years include vintage port (red wine mixed with brandy), red Bordeaux (red wine manufactured in the Bordeaux), some cabernet sauvignon (cabernet is a type of grape variety) or merlot-based wines (merlot is a grape variety), etc.

Apart from the taste, red wine is purportedly good for the heart and makes your skin glow, so long as it is consumed in moderate quantities (not more than two glasses per day).

White wine

White wine may be produced from white grapes or even from black grapes whose skin is peeled off. It is served chilled at about 8 to 10 degree centigrade.

White wine glasses have a narrow rim. The wine goes well with white meat (sea food or chicken). Generally, white wines are drier than red wines (ie, they do not leave a sweet aftertaste).

Most white wines are best drunk within a year after opening. Storage conditions should be similar to that of red wines. The rarities that can be stored for longer periods – three to years — include the better chardonnays, vintage champagnes and the fully sweet white wines.


Celebrations and champagne go together, for what reflects a spirited environment better than the bubbly, effervescent champagne?

Champagne is made from a mixture of black and white grapes. After fermentation, it is infused with carbon while bottling.

It is also known as sparkling wine. But remember, only the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France is called champagne. The rest are simply called sparkling wines.

While the manufacturing technique is similar, champagne is known to be more complex-flavoured (the flavours and the aroma are subtle) and less fruity than other sparkling wines.

In general, champagnes are also aged longer than sparkling wines. Some examples of sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne include Mousseux (France), Cava (Spain), Sekt (Germany) and Spumante (Italy).

Champagne is served in flutes or saucers. The shape of the flute ensures that it does not go flat soon. Saucers serve only a small amount of the drink, so that it can be had before the effervescence vanishes.

Champagnes are popularly used to make exciting cocktails. Some cocktails that you may find include Champagne Flamingo (with campari and vodka), Champagne Cocktail (with angostura bitters), Black Velvet (with Guinness), Mimosa (with orange juice), etc.

Fortified wines

Fortified wines are wines mixed with brandy in varied proportions. It results in higher alcohol content and a stronger flavour. Generally, fortified wines have between 17 to 21 per cent alcohol.

The most popular fortified wines include port, sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Málaga and Montilla-Moriles.

Most of them are named after the place where they are produced. Because of the addition of brandy, these wines are stabilised and are less likely to get spoiled once they are opened.

They are commonly used as pre-meal appetisers or post-aperitifs, taken at the end of meals.

Most fortified wines and some cocktails such as martinis can be served as appetisers or post aperitifs.

Wine shopping

The best mantra for wine buyers is: Read up on grape varieties so that you know what kind of wine you want to buy.

The next important thing while buying wine is the name of the shipper or the producer. In the Indian market, there are only two major players – Chateau Indage and Grovers. They have red, white and champagne.

The price range begins from INR 600 onwards.

Check the label for details on how long the wine has been stored. Ideally, it should be a minimum of six months.

If you want to go for international producers, Italian, Californian and Australian wines are hot right now. While offering good quality, these are not as expensive as the French wines.

Once you have settled on the grape variety and shipper, you need to check on the vintage years. Apart from this, most wine bottles available now include the ‘tasting’ notes as a part of the label.

This includes the flavour, the bouquet, what to accompany, after-taste, alcohol content etc.


Dating mantras for Valentine’s Day

– Rukmini Iyer, Director, Exult! Solutions
(Published at Rediff.com)

From meeting your prospective-would-be with flowers and gifts to lounging over coffee with someone you’re attracted to, the dimensions of dating have undergone a radical change over the years. Now, dating does not necessarily indicate commitment or a serious relationship.

How different is dating today?

“It’s not really about boyfriends or girlfriends,” says Radhika Pingale, a college student from Pune. “I would say it is about spending quality time with a person you find interesting and probably care about a little more than others. Yes, at times your attraction towards that person is rather high — you might want to eventually look at a relationship. But one shouldn’t assume that going on a date with a person means the person would be ready for a commitment.”

While dating in India has traditionally been associated with two people seeing each other with the possibility of marriage as a backdrop, the scope seems to have broadened now. It is more about meeting to explore a relationship and knowing more about each other. It can boost an existing relationship, or initiate one.

How do you approach a person for a date?

This is something that gives a lot of us the jitters. How do you go about approaching someone that you like, without ending up with a black eye or being rejected?

“Honesty is the key, I would suggest,” says Romit Jhaveri, a chemical engineer. “If you like someone and want to ask him/her out, I think you must let the person know why. Once the person is comfortable with your intentions, s/he would be more comfortable going out with you.”

It is not advisable to ask a stranger out. A certain degree of acquaintance and friendship is necessary. A casual “How about catching up for coffee this evening?” is likely to get a better response than a nervous “Uhh… actually, I was wondering if, you know, we could meet up for dinner? I mean, if you don’t mind, of course, just to get to know each other better?”

You must sound confident. If you are jittery, the other person is likely to doubt your intentions. Be friendly, casual, but sincere, to make the person comfortable. Do not pull the person into a relationship without his/her consent.

A few things to be remembered when you ask someone out the first time:

– Be there in person. Avoid asking your partner out over the phone or any other medium. It is easier to clarify misunderstandings, if any, when you are face-to-face.

– Ensure you have privacy. Do not ask a person out in front of a group of friends. There’s a great likelihood of at least one of you turning red in the face with embarrassment.

– Let the conversation be natural. Do not rehearse your lines – nevermind if your fave movie star does it in his/her movies. It’ll only make you nervous and you’ll end up feeling like a clown.

– Begin with small talk. The other person may be taken aback if you jump to the topic of meeting up somewhere out of the blue. Steer the conversation towards catching up on a date.

What can you do on a date?

A date with an acquaintance is bound to be very different from a date with your steady partner. In the latter case, the comfort level is already established and you are likely to know the person’s likes and dislikes.
When dating an acquaintance, what to do depends on the nature of the relationship.

A couple of hours at a coffee shop is the safest bet if the person is relatively unknown. Else, you can try a casual lunch or dinner (not the candle-lit ones). Of course, in this case go to a restaurant that serves a variety of cuisines, not just your favourite one. Preferably, ask for suggestions from your date before freezing on the rendezvous, so that his/her tastes are taken into account.

There are a few unconventional ideas as well, in case both of you are not the flowers-and-chocolates kind.

If you know each others’ likes and hobbies well, you could try trekking, maybe even with a group of friends. Else, some quality time spent together in community work – at an orphanage, a photography expedition around the city, a bowling parlour or a pottery workshop – can make for an interesting date.

In such cases, ensure both of you are into it and that one person is not bored at the end of the day. Such activities not only help you bond better, but also help you discover a lot of facets to each others’ personalities.

How to prepare for a date

Make an effort to let your partner have a pleasant time. You need not go over the top, but do keep a few simple things in mind:

– Dress well. You need not buy a new dress for every date or don designer wear. Simply wearing well-pressed and well-maintained clothes suitable for the ambience goes a long way to show that you value the occasion.

– Do not over-accessorise. Dress up the way you would when you go for any social occasion. Being well-groomed does not mean being overdressed. You need to be comfortable with what you wear.

– Use a deodorant. Body odour is an absolute turn-off. If you are using a perfume, use it minimally. Some people are allergic to perfume; you need to be sensitive to that.

– Be on time. Excuses such as ‘stuck in traffic’, ‘the boss called for a meeting’ and ‘there were guests at home’ do not create a good impression.

– If you are not very familiar or close to your date, do not embarrass him/her with a gift. If you insist on buying a gift, let it be something that lends a casual touch to the occasion – such as a simple bouquet or a small pack of chocolates. Avoid red roses and heart-shaped items if you think the other person is unaware of your romantic interest in him/her.

Dating etiquette

“It’s so embarrassing to be with a person who is ill-mannered or awkward in social situations,” says Pingale – something that many would echo. “Once I was out for a movie with this guy who I thought was rather cute. But when we met another friend of mine at the movie hall and I introduced them to each other, this guy did not even shake hands! He just said ‘hi’ shyly and looked away.”

While social etiquette is applicable to dating as well, do not go over the top – you run the risk of appearing over-courteous and artificial.

Some pointers:

– If it is late in the night when you decide to get back home, offer to drop the lady home if she does not have her own vehicle. Do not expect her to invite you in for a coffee. The drop home gesture is meant purely for security.

– Chivalry is not yet outdated, though the men may not be expected to open the doors all the time or let the lady in first everywhere. Be practical. You need to be relaxed on a date; do not be too formal.

– If you plan to go on a date that requires some preparation like booking of tickets, making reservations in a restaurant, etc, the person initiating the date should take care of these before the date. Do not disappoint your partner by being disorganised.

– Respect each other’s views and do not expect your date to agree with or appreciate whatever you do. Also, be assertive – you need not agree with everything that your partner says simply to please him/her. It can be irritating when the other person realises you are faking it.

– Brush up on dining etiquette and other aspects of formal social behaviour if you are not well versed with it. Avoid embarrassing your date.

– If you do not want to be seen with your date by certain people, choose a meeting place accordingly. It is extremely ill-mannered to request your date to walk at a distance because you can see your uncle across the street!

Dining etiquette, demystified

– 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.

How to…

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.

Napkin guidelines

~ 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.

Thank you!

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.