Etiquette matters. And your manners, or lack thereof, when invited for an important interview or business meeting at a restaurant, could dictate the outcome for you. Here are a few cardinal rules to observe.
1. When in doubt, dress down (slightly) rather than up. Or, better yet, do some checking. Ask your hosts, or another guest to clarify the type of clothing and degree of formality for the upcoming occasion. Dress-code suggestions do get confusing.
2. Never be early. If a specific time is given, arrive at the stated time, or shortly thereafter, never early.
3. If it is a cocktail event where you are supposed to mingle, do not walk around holding a cocktail plate and drink in your hands. Hold one or the other. Your right hand should be free to shake hands and meet and greet people. Also, don’t take more than two pieces of same type hors d’oeuvres ( little snack foods) at a time. It is not proper.
4. At a small table of only two to four people, wait until everyone else has been served before starting to eat. At a formal or business meal, you should either wait until everyone is served to start or begin when the host asks you to.
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5. Use the right utensils starting from the outside, working your way in towards the plate as the meal progresses. Usually, the big fork is for the main course and the big spoon for the soup. Any utensils placed horizontally above your plate are meant for dessert. When in doubt, the host and hostess should be your guides. Use whatever they are using.
6. When passing food around a table, always remember to pass to the person on the right (if the item is not being passed to a specific person). One diner either holds the dish as the next one takes some food, or he hands it to the person, who then serves him/herself. Any heavy or awkward dishes are put on the table with each pass. Always pass the salt and pepper together.
7. The more formal the meal and setting is, the less inclined you should be to eat with your hands. There is, however, a lengthy list of acceptable finger foods: bread, crisp bacon, pizza, hors d’oeuvres, corn on the cob, asparagus (provided it is not dripping with sauce), fried chicken (though perhaps not the breast), French fries (unless you are eating the rest of the meal with a knife and fork), and tacos (except for any filling that falls out, which you should retrieve with a fork). Of course, if your host is using a fork, you should do the same.
8. Hold the soup spoon by resting the end of the handle on your middle finger, with your thumb on top. Dip the spoon sideways at the near edge of the bowl, then skim away from you. Sip from the side of the spoon. To retrieve the last spoonful of soup, slightly tip the bowl away from you.
9. Done eating? There are a few rules to observe. Once a fork, knife or spoon has been used, it never goes back on the table. When you’re taking a break, rest your fork and knife entirely on the plate. When you’re finished, place them diagonally on the plate, side by side, with the handles at four o’clock. The knife blade should face the centre of the plate, not out towards another guest (an ancient sign of aggression).
10. Place the napkin on your lap immediately after sitting. If there is a host or hostess, wait for him or her to take their napkin off the table and place it in his or her lap. (An exception to this rule is buffet-style meals, where you should unfold your napkin when you start eating).
11. Blot or pat, but don’t wipe mouth with napkin. Use your napkin frequently during the meal and always blot your lips before taking a sip of your beverage.
12. Temporarily leaving the table? Put your napkin on your chair soiled side up but hidden.