Job interviews, lunch with a client, dinner with the boss, networking events and the like can stir primal fears for those of us not reared by Emily Post. What if you drink someone else's water or use the wrong fork? We are often observed in these settings and stress out about doing things in the right way. Knowing a few basic rules of thumb can help you feel more relaxed and enjoy the company instead of worrying about how to pass the salt & pepper. Here are some tips to get you through the basic business meal without feeling like “country come to town.”
1—Etiquette is all about other people. The whole point is not to make others feel uncomfortable. Be gracious and open, not uptight. Dress appropriately and if you are in doubt as to what is appropriate, call and ask someone. Please, no grooming at the table! A swipe of lipstick is usually okay, but beyond that, excuse yourself and freshen up in private.
2—Wait until everyone at your table is served before you begin eating. If your plate is the one still missing, encourage others to begin without you so their food doesn’t get cold.
3—Which is my water? Remember BMW—Bread on the left, Meal in the Middle, Water (or any drink) on the Right.
4—Bread & Butter: Put the butter on your bread & butter plate, then break (don’t cut) the bread one bite at a time and butter each bite individually.
5—Passing: Generally, pass items to your left. Unless something is right in front of you, ask that it be passed to you. Always pass the salt & pepper together.
6—Sweetener wrappers: Place neatly next to your glass or under your saucer.
7—Cut food one or two bites at a time. The idea here is not to create a bigger mess than necessary on your plate.
8—Turn your cell phone off! If it rings audibly, reject the call, apologize and turn off the ringer. If you answer the call, you are telling everyone you are with that you and your caller are more important than they are—serious breach of etiquette!
9—As to alcohol: Follow the lead of your host (although never in a job interview!) and don’t exceed your personal limits.
10—All done? Imagine your plate is a clock. Lay your knife & fork across your plate at the 4:00 position, with the knife & fork (tines up) pointing to 10:00. Fold your napkin and place it to the left of your plate.
If you would like more information on etiquette in the workplace, I recommend Etiquette For Dummies or Emily Post's The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success, Second Edition.