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Table Manners for Success

Posted By: Randy GageDecember 1, 2010

Okay since we’re doing the Miss Manners thing this week, let’s look at another area that could be sabotaging your success:  table manners.

It’s quite common in many parts of the world to consummate a deal at a meal.  And you will likely be meeting many potential employers, business partners, or clients at Chamber of Commerce, networking clubs, or similar luncheons.

So are your table manners promoting you, or holding you back?

I knew nothing about etiquette growing up.  My family certainly didn’t travel is high-class social circles.  When I went to a luncheon, I nervously waited to see what bread plate and water glass the people next to me used, so I’d know which one was mine.  I didn’t know which utensil to use with what.  And as soon as my plate was set down, I started wolfing down my food without waiting for the rest of the party to be served.  Eventually I came to realize that I needed to learn something about etiquette.

And you can learn that easily today, as simple as clicking on the Internet.  And when you learn some social graces, you’re more confident, self-assured and attractive to others.

You’ll also find that most good etiquette is common sense.  The utensils are set to be used in the order food is served.  Good manners aren’t about “catching” someone, but making functions run smoothly and comfortably for everyone.

There are all kind of poems and memory joggers to remember what are good manners.  “Like a ship sailing out to see, I spoon my soup away from me.”  Want to know which bread plate is yours?  Remember BMW.  Bread is on your left, main plate in front of you and water to your right.

Wait until the whole table is served before you start eating.  If you’re the person that hasn’t been served yet, graciously insist that everyone should begin without you while their food is hot.

Chew with your mouth closed and never speak with food in your mouth.  Relax and have fun, you suave, sophisticated socialite you!

-RG

P.S. I’m back home in Sydney.  Bambini’s get my table ready!

35 comments on “Table Manners for Success”

  1. Excellent point Randy! I have sat at a table with people I would NEVER even want to see again, much less do business with, because of their atrocious table manners. If you can't be gracious at the dinner table, chances are you can't be gracious anywhere else.

      1. If you're using the spoon away from you then you generally are using it close to the side of the bowl where the soup is generally cooler. 🙂

  2. I would also put the way you hold your cutlery on the list. I've seen people hold their spoon with a fist down hold rather than resting it between the fingers. It looks primitive. Then the I'd add placing your serviette/napkin in your lap rather than leaving it on the table and holding a wine glass by the stem rather than the bowl so that the glassware clinks nicely when you toast someone.

    I like the BMW Randy - I'll never forget that one!

    1. I like the BMW as well, and just want to remind you that if there is a "complete" set of utensils on the table, start from the outside and work in. Shrimp/oyster fork, salad fork, entree fork. Spoons are the same way and the one across the top of the setting is for your coffee.

  3. This reminds me of one of the many great scenes from "Pretty Woman" where Julia Roberts is all dolled up at a fancy restaurant and when trying to use a snail opener flips the snail across the room. I hate when that happens 🙂

    Same goes with eating oysters. There's a specific fork for this. It's also important to know the proper etiquette and use of chop sticks when eating Asian foods. So much to know in so little time, LOL

    Thanks Randy!

  4. There is something that has been puzzling me ever since we came to Australia....why do people eat with their fork prongs down when it is curved especially to hold the food like a little hand with prongs for fingers....especially to hold the peas rather than juggling them or squishing them on the "back" of the fork? In France where I was born, we eat with the prongs upward to hold the food, at least thats what I remember 40 years ago... I guess it all depends on where you are eating and who you are with... just find out what is the polite way to eat in front of overseas clients/prospects.

    1. I've often wondered what the rules are for lefties, because my daughter is left handed and I don't know whether I should allow her to use the opposite hands for implements, or should be encouraging her to do the right handed thing when eating. I'd be grateful for any advice!

      1. She must feel comfortable with her utensils. I'm left-handed and I wouldn't let anyone try to change my "eating habits". It must come naturally and then it will appear perfect--and will BE perfect in the "eyes of the beholder".

    2. Yeah, us Aussies are strange like that. I was born in Australia but raised by European parents and I was taught to scoop food onto a fork like you mentioned rather than squish it on the back like the rest of the locals here. I think that might be an English influence.

  5. Enjoy down under! A mother's work is never done. All these things you speak of, if one's mother doesnt' train them in table manners, and maybe can't, then people have to learn it as grown-ups. Soup away has to do with drawing the soup on the spoon from the back of the bowl towards you, hope that makes sense the way I said it.

  6. What about a food designed to be eaten by hand? For some, it's a squeamishness in being that intimate with your food. For others, it's hygiene... There are conventions of good manners when eating with the fingers. The most basic: it is polite to dirty only the first two segments of your fingers. But if you are eating rice and very soupy curries,you can get your whole hand into the action. Try not to get carried away,though. Having curry juices running down toward the elbow would be considered a bit low class!

  7. I wish I had the time to write an essay here. Manners are not something to be taken lightly when dealing with people of substance or those that are high class. Why? Because they are very discerning regarding your manners as well as mannersims and overall politeness. If there is any hint or indication that you are ignorant you have a snowball's chance in hell of being accepted by them and having any further association with them in any regard whatsoever.

  8. Thanks for these wonderful post on etiquettes and manners. What I could learn was that we shouldnt go hungry to a business luncheon. Eat well before the party and then do the dance for miss manners at the table. good idea 🙂

  9. What a really great post. It is so true that knowing proper table manners make a person feel more confident in business and social settings. There is no worse feeling than looking at an elaborate table and not knowing what to do. So many truly important things to know how to be successful they never teach in public schools. Hmm, I wonder why?

  10. Hi Randy,

    I stick to table manners when I'm out.

    When home, it's another story. I fall into the habit of wolfing down my food like an animal.

    Time for some meditation mastication 😉

    I too have no idea about the spooning of soup direction. I suppose it seems more civilized to spoon away. Appears less like you're shoveling it in.

    Have a powerful day!

    RB

  11. Although we should take into account, as Randy mentions, cultural and local differences, some of which have been mentioned here (the American custom of resting your left hand in your lap when not in use, for instance, always looks funny to us in Europe), there are a couple of things which I consider universal signs of poor table manners. One is to put the knife in your mouth, you have your fork for that, and the other is for men to eat with their head covered. I used to think this was also an "American thing", as some men seem to have their baseball caps "glued" to their heads, but now I see it more and more often in the EU in general and in Spain in particular. Beware, unless you're having a pic-nic under a torching sun or at the beach, a man should always eat with his head uncovered.
    Funny thing to end. In Spain you should eat your asparagus with your fingers (thumb and index), using fork and knife is a sign of poor social graces...
    Bon appétit!!

  12. Hello everyone and of course Mr. Gage,

    speaking of table manners I was always wondering why people in the US - I only saw it there, as I grew up in five different countries and visted over 70 - cut their beef, pork of what ever kind of meat they order at a restaurant, put the knife aside AND one hand under the table as they start to enjoy the meal?
    Saw it in several cities across the states and in different kind of restaurants - from truckstop to five star hotels- so it actually wasn't a certain area where I saw it...

    Of course I spent quite some time at several business meetings and there were both parts of people who knew table manners and others who needed - let it call me - some assistance, but I never wanted to ask someone so he or she felt uncomfortable about this question.

    But as a result I can say, those who knew table manners (and again of course each country sometimes has its own special manners and it's really helpfull if you know them before you have the meeting at a restaurant) had the better results for a deal.

    Best whises
    Jens

  13. Thanks for the etiquette advice. As we advance rank in our respective companies, our social circles change. On another note, Randy, I'd like you to do a blog series on what to do with your business profits. Do we spend it? Do we save it? Do we reinvest it? Do we order more product? Do we beef up our marketing budget? What proportion of our business profits is spent on what?

    1. I have done some money management stuff in the past and will likely do more in the future. But the short answer for now is that gold and silver are the only real payment in the world. Everything else is just a promissory note.

      -RG

      1. On that note Randy, I remember seeing an article you wrote a while back that stated in effect to build your income to $30K monthly or so, then live on roughly half of that and invest the rest in real estate. Obviously not quoting you verbatim, but just want your feedback if that's advice you would still go by. Thanks.

  14. In Kansas we eat steak with our hands. Corn too, of all kinds. ....Spinach also on rare occasions, but only the cooked kind of course.

  15. Always remember, when it comes to table manners, you can pass the salt and pepper, and you can pass the butter, but never, ever pass the gas! (Talk about a faux pas!)

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  • 35 comments on “Table Manners for Success”

    1. Excellent point Randy! I have sat at a table with people I would NEVER even want to see again, much less do business with, because of their atrocious table manners. If you can't be gracious at the dinner table, chances are you can't be gracious anywhere else.

        1. If you're using the spoon away from you then you generally are using it close to the side of the bowl where the soup is generally cooler. 🙂

    2. I would also put the way you hold your cutlery on the list. I've seen people hold their spoon with a fist down hold rather than resting it between the fingers. It looks primitive. Then the I'd add placing your serviette/napkin in your lap rather than leaving it on the table and holding a wine glass by the stem rather than the bowl so that the glassware clinks nicely when you toast someone.

      I like the BMW Randy - I'll never forget that one!

      1. I like the BMW as well, and just want to remind you that if there is a "complete" set of utensils on the table, start from the outside and work in. Shrimp/oyster fork, salad fork, entree fork. Spoons are the same way and the one across the top of the setting is for your coffee.

    3. This reminds me of one of the many great scenes from "Pretty Woman" where Julia Roberts is all dolled up at a fancy restaurant and when trying to use a snail opener flips the snail across the room. I hate when that happens 🙂

      Same goes with eating oysters. There's a specific fork for this. It's also important to know the proper etiquette and use of chop sticks when eating Asian foods. So much to know in so little time, LOL

      Thanks Randy!

    4. There is something that has been puzzling me ever since we came to Australia....why do people eat with their fork prongs down when it is curved especially to hold the food like a little hand with prongs for fingers....especially to hold the peas rather than juggling them or squishing them on the "back" of the fork? In France where I was born, we eat with the prongs upward to hold the food, at least thats what I remember 40 years ago... I guess it all depends on where you are eating and who you are with... just find out what is the polite way to eat in front of overseas clients/prospects.

      1. I've often wondered what the rules are for lefties, because my daughter is left handed and I don't know whether I should allow her to use the opposite hands for implements, or should be encouraging her to do the right handed thing when eating. I'd be grateful for any advice!

        1. She must feel comfortable with her utensils. I'm left-handed and I wouldn't let anyone try to change my "eating habits". It must come naturally and then it will appear perfect--and will BE perfect in the "eyes of the beholder".

      2. Yeah, us Aussies are strange like that. I was born in Australia but raised by European parents and I was taught to scoop food onto a fork like you mentioned rather than squish it on the back like the rest of the locals here. I think that might be an English influence.

    5. Enjoy down under! A mother's work is never done. All these things you speak of, if one's mother doesnt' train them in table manners, and maybe can't, then people have to learn it as grown-ups. Soup away has to do with drawing the soup on the spoon from the back of the bowl towards you, hope that makes sense the way I said it.

    6. What about a food designed to be eaten by hand? For some, it's a squeamishness in being that intimate with your food. For others, it's hygiene... There are conventions of good manners when eating with the fingers. The most basic: it is polite to dirty only the first two segments of your fingers. But if you are eating rice and very soupy curries,you can get your whole hand into the action. Try not to get carried away,though. Having curry juices running down toward the elbow would be considered a bit low class!

    7. I wish I had the time to write an essay here. Manners are not something to be taken lightly when dealing with people of substance or those that are high class. Why? Because they are very discerning regarding your manners as well as mannersims and overall politeness. If there is any hint or indication that you are ignorant you have a snowball's chance in hell of being accepted by them and having any further association with them in any regard whatsoever.

    8. Thanks for these wonderful post on etiquettes and manners. What I could learn was that we shouldnt go hungry to a business luncheon. Eat well before the party and then do the dance for miss manners at the table. good idea 🙂

    9. What a really great post. It is so true that knowing proper table manners make a person feel more confident in business and social settings. There is no worse feeling than looking at an elaborate table and not knowing what to do. So many truly important things to know how to be successful they never teach in public schools. Hmm, I wonder why?

    10. Hi Randy,

      I stick to table manners when I'm out.

      When home, it's another story. I fall into the habit of wolfing down my food like an animal.

      Time for some meditation mastication 😉

      I too have no idea about the spooning of soup direction. I suppose it seems more civilized to spoon away. Appears less like you're shoveling it in.

      Have a powerful day!

      RB

    11. Although we should take into account, as Randy mentions, cultural and local differences, some of which have been mentioned here (the American custom of resting your left hand in your lap when not in use, for instance, always looks funny to us in Europe), there are a couple of things which I consider universal signs of poor table manners. One is to put the knife in your mouth, you have your fork for that, and the other is for men to eat with their head covered. I used to think this was also an "American thing", as some men seem to have their baseball caps "glued" to their heads, but now I see it more and more often in the EU in general and in Spain in particular. Beware, unless you're having a pic-nic under a torching sun or at the beach, a man should always eat with his head uncovered.
      Funny thing to end. In Spain you should eat your asparagus with your fingers (thumb and index), using fork and knife is a sign of poor social graces...
      Bon appétit!!

    12. Hello everyone and of course Mr. Gage,

      speaking of table manners I was always wondering why people in the US - I only saw it there, as I grew up in five different countries and visted over 70 - cut their beef, pork of what ever kind of meat they order at a restaurant, put the knife aside AND one hand under the table as they start to enjoy the meal?
      Saw it in several cities across the states and in different kind of restaurants - from truckstop to five star hotels- so it actually wasn't a certain area where I saw it...

      Of course I spent quite some time at several business meetings and there were both parts of people who knew table manners and others who needed - let it call me - some assistance, but I never wanted to ask someone so he or she felt uncomfortable about this question.

      But as a result I can say, those who knew table manners (and again of course each country sometimes has its own special manners and it's really helpfull if you know them before you have the meeting at a restaurant) had the better results for a deal.

      Best whises
      Jens

    13. Thanks for the etiquette advice. As we advance rank in our respective companies, our social circles change. On another note, Randy, I'd like you to do a blog series on what to do with your business profits. Do we spend it? Do we save it? Do we reinvest it? Do we order more product? Do we beef up our marketing budget? What proportion of our business profits is spent on what?

      1. I have done some money management stuff in the past and will likely do more in the future. But the short answer for now is that gold and silver are the only real payment in the world. Everything else is just a promissory note.

        -RG

        1. On that note Randy, I remember seeing an article you wrote a while back that stated in effect to build your income to $30K monthly or so, then live on roughly half of that and invest the rest in real estate. Obviously not quoting you verbatim, but just want your feedback if that's advice you would still go by. Thanks.

    14. In Kansas we eat steak with our hands. Corn too, of all kinds. ....Spinach also on rare occasions, but only the cooked kind of course.

    15. Always remember, when it comes to table manners, you can pass the salt and pepper, and you can pass the butter, but never, ever pass the gas! (Talk about a faux pas!)

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