I recently attended a diplomatic dinner; the black-tie kind event that includes a lengthy course menu with the choicest seasonal delicacies and fine wines. Most first-timers to such an elaborate layout were understandably nervous to avoid any dining faux pas.
Below is a compilation of table etiquette rules to aid you become the well-behaved person that everyone admires.
· The rule of thumb in party wear? When in doubt, it is better to dress down (slightly) 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.
· If a specific time is given, arrive at the time stated, or shortly thereafter, never early.
· Do not walk with a cocktail plate and drink in your hands, you should hold one or the other, and your right hand should be free to shake hands and meet and greet people. Also, don't take more than one or two pieces of hors d’oeuvres at a time it is not etiquette.
· In a restaurant, the guest of honor should sit in the best seat at the table. Usually, that is one with the back of the chair to the wall. Once the guest of honour's seat is determined, the host should sit to her left. Other people are then offered seats around the table. Generally, the oldest or most important man sits on the right of the hostess and the second most important man sits left of the hostess.
· 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.
· The first toast given during dinner is normally offered at the beginning of the meal. Traditionally, the first toast is offered by the host as a welcome to guests. Toasts offered by others start during the dessert course. When toasted, the "toastee" does not stand, nor do they drink to themselves.
All the recipient needs to do is sit and smile appreciatively. Once the toast is finished, the toastee simply acknowledges the toast with a "thank you." They may then stand and raise their glass to propose a toast to the host or anyone else they might want to want to honour. It is acceptable to hold your glass and make a toast without tapping glasses with guests.
· When dinner is announced, wait until the hostess moves toward the door, then rise. Women should not serve themselves.
· To help navigate table turf, memorise two simple rules: Your glasses are on the right; your bread plate is on the left. If you forget, think BMW, for “bread, meal, water”, the left-to-right order of items when you’re seated at your place.
· Use the right utensils starting from the outside and working your way in toward the plate as the meal progresses. Usually, the big fork is for the entrée; 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.
· When passing food, always remember to pass to the right (if the item is not being passed to a specific person). One diner either holds the dish as the next diner takes some food, or he hands it to the person, who then serves herself. Any heavy or awkward dishes are put on the table with each pass. Always pass the salt and pepper together.
· If the loaf is not cut, cut a few pieces, offer them to the person to your left, and then pass the basket to your right. Do not touch the loaf with your fingers, instead use the clothe in the bread basket as a buffer to steady the bread as you slice it. Place the bread and butter on your butter plate then break off a bite-sized piece of bread, put a little butter on it, and eat it.
· Place the napkin in your lap immediately upon seating. If there is a host or hostess, wait for him or her to take their napkin off the table and place it on his or her lap. (An exception to this rule is buffet-style meals, where you should unfold your napkin when you start eating.).
Unfold your napkin in one smooth motion without "snapping" or "shaking" it open. The size determines how you unfold a napkin in your lap. Large napkins are unfolded halfway, smaller ones unfolded completely and cover the lap fully. Refrain from tucking a napkin into your collar, between the buttons of your shirt, or in your belt.