I have been to lunches and dinners where people inadvertently take the wrong glass, use the wrong utensil with the meal, or display improper dining etiquette, such as starting to eat before everyone is served or talking with their mouth full.
What kind of impression does this make to your guests or table partners? If this was a formal business dinner meeting, these minor indiscretions could cost you and your company a valuable business connection. Here are some rules to make a positive impression at a lunch or dinner party positive:
Rule #1: Start from the outside and work your way in.
At the place setting, you will see forks on the left and knives and spoons on the right. Starting from the far left is the salad fork, then the main entrée fork, and the desert fork. On the far right, are the soup spoon, teaspoon, and the dinner knife. The first meal is usually the salad so you will use the fork on the far left. If the main entrée is the salad, then use the entrée fork (second in the middle).
Rule #2: Don't steal your neighbor's glass!
Your glass is always on your right. If you are in more formal gathering, you can have up to four glasses. They are usually arranged in a diagonal or roughly square pattern. The top left glass is for red wine. It will usually have a fairly large bowl. Directly below that you will find the white wine glass, which will be smaller. At the top right, you will find a champagne glass. Your water glass is on the bottom right. At more informal events, the water glass will be already filled so the guesswork is eliminated – remember it is always on your right!
Rule #3: Put your napkin in the right place
When you sit down, open your napkin and place in your lap. If you have to excuse yourself, and you are not finished with your meal, place the napkin in your seat. This says to the waitstaff that you will be returning. When you are finished place your napkin partly folded, never crumpled, at the left of your plate. Even a paper napkin should never be crushed and tossed into your plate.
Rule #4: Eat when everyone is served.
Don't start eating until everyone at your table is served. Then when your host, hostess, or senior person picks up their fork, then you may eat. I attended a luncheon and the person at my table was having problems with her lunch because she had dietary restrictions and her meal was the last to be served and took the longest. I did not eat until she was served.
Rule#5: Never eat with your mouth full.
This is out of courtesy and respect for your table partners so that food does not come out of your mouth. Who wants to see your food? If someone asks you a question, while you have food in your mouth, politely continue to eat it, when you take the last swallow, take your napkin to wipe your mouth, place it back in your lap, and then speak.
Rule #6: Don't forget the tip!
I was at a lunch meeting and people were wondering how much to tip the waitress. The rule of thumb is that a tip is typically 15 – 20% of the bill. If the service was extraordinary, tip 25%. Sometimes the tip is included for larger groups. In more formal settings, the following guide can be used to tip the staff:
Wine steward – 15% of wine bill
Valet - $2.00 - $5.00
Bartender – 15%-20% of bar bill
Coat check - $1.00 per coat
Of course, these rules change slightly if you are in foreign countries or will be dining with international guests, so don't forget to do your homework of their countries customs. Making a good impression is essential in business. I didn't mention the obvious rules like arrive at least 10 minutes early – never be late and never leave before your guests. If you practice good etiquette, not only will your guests remember you in a positive manner as a representative of your company, but the staff at the restaurant will remember you as well (good or bad!).