contributed by Anne Bowers Fleischer [doctoral student in economics / sly sophisticate / dry wit]
EDITOR’S NOTE: We here at P&C are pleased to say that we encounter a vast array of people from an equally broad range of industries, but no matter what their focus or level in the corporate food chain happens to be, the same complaint consistently surfaces when pressed on the quality of young hires: “Where are their table manners” We can’t take them anywhere!” Apparently a steady diet of utensil-free fast food and home delivery gulped in the shadow of the TV have prevented a generation from learning how to share a meal without stamping out the appetites of one’s dinner companions. If you don’t think this is a big deal, think again. When it’s time to woo a potential client over a five-course meal or negotiate a piece of a landmark urban development deal, the boss won’t be inviting her star employee if she knows he’ll transform into a Neanderthal as soon as the appetizers are served. So even if you don’t think you’re one of the civilized dining-challenged, do yourself a favor. Read this article, and ensure your career track won’t be derailed by something you should have learned in junior high.
As I set out to write this note on eating etiquette, I came across two articles that set out the basics. "Ack!" I thought. (Well, I didn’t use the work “ack,” but you get the idea). Butter knives and salad forks can be dry stuff. But then I remembered that PLiNTH & CHiNTZ readers are likely to be beyond your average never-had-a-table-set-with-silverware crowd. So, instead, I shall move on to some less-discussed aspects of eating etiquette – specifically, two areas that can sink any business lunch or corporate dinner: Bodily Offenses and Utensil Assault. So how do I know this” Personal experience.
I was at a conference a few months ago where a group of us gathered at a nice restaurant to discuss a little work and relax. During the meal, it became obvious that one of our group had appalling table manners (see the Bodily Offenses section below for an idea). You might think we overlooked it due to his exemplary business reputation, but in separate, casual conversations with everyone who attended the meal (except the offender, of course), the only thing that was talked about was his atrocious behavior. And it wasn’t just a recounting. A colleague actually questioned whether she’d be able to work with the offender again, on the chance that it might involve a meal. She was serious.
Eating In Oblivion
No one wants to think you’ve been excluded for something that has nothing to do with your merits as a designer, but bad habits can be present you in a most negative light without your even knowing it. And that’s how most people are – we don’t know that we do anything wrong. Thus it’s imperative to take this list and ask a trusted friend or partner to observe you over several meals (ideally with different groups of people) to see if you do any of these things. I say “over several meals” because you’re likely to be conscious of your eating if you know that you’re being observed, so if it occurs over several times, then you’re more likely to be relaxed and behaving as you really do.
So, see how many times your observer answers "no" to the questions below. And to prove that they work, I field-tested them over a weekend. I’ll tell you my results at the end of the survey.
Do you chew with your mouth open” Do you talk with food in your mouth” Do you make odd noises while you eat or drink” Do you take really large bites of food or stuff gravy-sopped bread into your mouth”
All of these things will be remembered. None of them should occur. Case in point: my companion at the conference dinner was blissfully unaware of his list of offenses while eating even though the rest of us turned away, hastily attempting to make conversation with each other whenever we saw him scoop up and shovel in his next ridiculously large, Heimlich maneuver-inducing bite. Though we could not escape the cacophony of noises – gulps, slurps, smacks, and burps – with a turn of our heads, we could avoid the visual and physical assault. Not only was the sight of his mouthful of “see-food” a catalyst for nausea, but dodging the dangerous bits of organic shrapnel flying from his face and onto us and our plates made the phrase “sharing a meal” take on a whole new meaning.
How do you hold your knife, fork and spoon” When you cut your meat, do you hold the fork like a spike that you have impaled into the unsuspecting breast of chicken” Do you eat your salad like you’re holding a paintbrush”
The proper way to operate these tools is to use a modified "pencil" grip for the spoon and fork. Think of your index finger lying across the back of the fork and across the top of the knife handle for how to hold utensils when cutting something. And unless you really are from Europe – and not because you visited there over the summer – you have to put the fork back in your right hand after you cut something on your plate. (Even with that cheesy fake Italian accent, you’re not fooling anyone.)
Do you leave your knife and fork askew at odd angles while you’re eating and when you’re finished”
When you’re finished with your meal, the knife and fork are placed diagonally at between four and five o’clock on the plate. If you are not finished, the fork rests at four and the knife rests across the top of your plate. The two do not rest with their edges touching the table, face down. Why” It’s messy and awkward at the table and unwieldy for your server when he or she must clear the table.
Do you use your silverware to emphasize what you are talking about” Do you hold a spoonful of food for an extended period of time while finishing up a point”
When you are talking about something excitedly, put those utensils down, lest you send a piece of food flying toward your companions! And when you are finishing a thought, do the same thing. Otherwise people tend to watch the food and not you.
Do you use your fingers to push the last bits of food onto your fork” Do you pick at crumbs of food left on the plate after you’ve finished eating”
Better to leave a few choice peas than to look like you are starving. I notice this a lot when people have pastries in the morning. They absent-mindedly pick up those last bits of donut glaze. Please resist.
Results & Confessions
So, how did you do” I have to admit, I thought I was the young Miss Manners, but apparently I tend to gesture with full fork and occasionally pose as a European with my fork and knife. How embarrassing, but how true! I caught myself yesterday, fork in hand, but at least I remembered to put it down until I finished my sentence.
If you answered "Yes" to a few, like me, then there’s nothing you can’t fix. However, if you answered "No" to most of the questions, then you’re going to be a great meal companion. I’m available for dinner two weeks from Thursday, so do give me a call.