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Mind Your Manners: What You Should And Shouldn’t Do At The (Dinner) Table.

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

While it may be chic (and polite) to belch after a good meal in certain cultures, the truth of the matter is, we live in North America, and those practices don’t apply here. From Miss Manners, to Ann Lander, we are a culture seeking the right answer in a sea of proper practices and social graces.

So, what we can and cannot or should I say, should and should not do is mandated by how we were raised, who our friends are, and where we live. Moreover, it often becomes a sign of the time, with certain traditions prevailing throughout and despite the “generation gap”, and others “changing with the times”.

Below a few secrets for savvy socialites.

1. To Have And To Fold: While most of us are inclined to crunch up our napkin amidst our fist (throughout the meal, like Linus holding on to his security blanket for dear life), experts suggest getting a grip or our (firm) grip and letting (it) go. Napkins belong on your lap and should be placed there shortly after you sit down. If you need to get up (for any reason), place your napkin neatly on your chair (folded or unfolded) and push your chair in. Once you’ve completely completed your meal, fold your napkin and place it to the left of your dish, signaling the wait staff that it’s okay to clear your plate.

2. Breaking Bad Habits: While breaking bread with friends and family is highly advised, the only way to butter anyone up is by not breaking the bread with your hands. Cut a small piece of bread and place it on your bread dish. Experts also advise cutting a small chunk of butter and placing it beside your bread (on the bread plate). Butter your bread sparingly one bite at a time.

3. Setting A Good Example: Knowing the ABC’s of how to set a table can mean thinking BMW (bread, meal, water), when referring to cups and plates. The bread (plate) belongs on your left, the main meal in the middle, and the water (glass) on the right. For formal place settings (including flatware and cutlery) work from the outside in. If you’re omitting the first course, you should also omit the first fork…and should apply this rule across the board. Used utensils should never touch the table.

4. Spit It Out: According to the experts, it’s NEVER (unless you’re choking) okay to spit anything out of your mouth (including olive pits, etc), even if it’s done graciously and discretely onto your fork. Instead remove and foreign matter with your thumb and index finger and place alongside your dish.

5. Serving “Formal” Foods: Try to avoid serving “finger” foods at social soirees meant to impress. Spaghetti, crab, lobster, shrimp, ribs, Buffalo wings, etc., are perfectly fine when dining with friends and family, but may not be appropo when trying to impress your boss. Veggies such as broccoli, asparagus etc, should be cut with a knife and eaten in small bits, and meats such as ribs should be should also be eaten with utensils (in formal situations).

6. Sweet Ideas: A little sugar never hurt anyone but experts recommend placing empty packets under the rim of your coffee cup or tea saucer. Request a (tea bag) receptacle for used tea bags (if you can’t place it in a pot)….and refrain from giving anyone the finger, even if it is only your pinkie.

7. Wine And Dine: When toasting, you should hold your wine glass by the stem. Business interviews should all be conducted sans alcohol, though business meals and deals may be “casual” enough to order a drink….but only if your host does. Refrain from picking up your glass if you’re the one being toasted.

8. Grin and Bear It: If your smile or the smile of someone you’re with reveals more than it should such as food caught between your teeth, excuse yourself before making any attempts to remove it. Taking a powder and lip-service (unless you’re applying sheer gloss) should generally not be conducted in public (at the table). Coughing into your napkin is fine, as long as you don’t use your napkin as a tissue.

9. Get Tipped Off: Experts suggest tipping a minimum of 15 percent whether you enjoyed the meal or not. Twenty percent is “standard” if you thought the food and service were pleasant and if you plan on returning….and, they note, you must tip, even if it’s a buffet.

10. More Appetizing Etiquette:

· Sample soup from the side of the spoon.

· One piece at a time when cutting and eating food.

· Fish, poultry, and meats should be slices from the edge, not the middle.

· Sit up straight. Refrain from hunching over your plate.

· Be polite about dismissing wait staff. Simple suggest that you will notify “them” if you need any assistance.

· Wait for EVERYONE (at your table) to be served before eating. If you’re the last to be served, feel free to offer permission for other’s to start without you.

· Avoid doggie bags unless you’re dining with friends or family.

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