The holidays have arrived. There is no doubt about it. Signs of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza are everywhere. In navigating the season, it’s hard to know what to focus on first. Is it planning for the office party, selecting gifts for clients and colleagues, decorating your workplace or sending those holiday cards?
Given that the holidays are all about parties, luncheons and dinners, I suggest as a next step brushing up on your table manners. Nowhere are manners more important than over meals. Table manners prevent us from being sloppy, offensive and boorish. They are part of communicating respect for others. They are not always hard and fast rules; rather they are guidelines to help us in our social and business relationships.
Here are a few reminders of what to do and not do at the holiday dinner and to help you brush up on your table manners:
Do reply to the invitation as soon as you receive it. A quick check of your calendar tells you if you are free or not. It’s not acceptable to wait around to see if a better invitation comes along.
Do what you say you will do. If you accept the invitation, show up. If you decline, you may not attend at the last minute. It’s that simple.
Do let your host know in advance of any food issues. If for cultural or health reasons you have limitations, your host should know ahead of time. However, don’t make this an issue for the person who was kind enough to invite you. He or she need not be responsible for preparing a special meal for you.
Do sit where you find your place card. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t particularly fond of where you are seated. Sit where you are told. Your host had reasons for the seating arrangement.
Do keep all personal belongings off the table. Your purse, even if it is small, does not belong on the table. Other items to keep out of sight are your keys and your cell phone. If you can’t bear to be absent from your phone during the meal, maybe you should have stayed at home.
Do remain seated during the meal. It is rude to act like a jack-in-the-box. If you must excuse yourself, do so between courses. Exceptions are coughing or sneezing fits. By all means, go before you ruin everyone’s meal.
Do wait to begin eating until everyone has been served, and your host has begun to eat. You don’t actually have to wait until the host has started to chew. Just keep in mind that this is not a race to the finish and there are no prizes for first place.
Do pace your eating so that you finish with everyone else. The slow eater is as annoying as the one racing to the finish.
Do make sure that you understand the basics of the place setting. It’s not as difficult as it seems. The basic rule is: Utensils are placed in the order of use; that is, from the outside in. A second rule, with only a few exceptions, is: Forks go to the left of the plate, and knives and spoons go to the right. The exception is: The dessert fork and spoon are placed at the top of the place setting.
As always, good manners are most noticed by their absence.
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com. Find out how her presentations and workshops can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits. Kindness and courtesy can have an impact on your bottom line.
If you want more tips on table manners, order your copy of my Little Book of Table Manners – 85 Tips for Dining for Success.