Whether it’s a friend’s wedding, a fancy fundraiser, or business conference, you are bound to find yourself in a formal dining situation at some point – maybe even more often than you would expect. These environments might make you a little uneasy if you aren’t sure what to do. At one point, my go-to strategy in such a situation was to simply pretend I was Julie Andrews (minus the British accent) and just cross my fingers that I didn’t spill anything. While that mindset probably didn’t hurt, I’ve since picked up a few tips for what to do in a formal dining setting. Here are a few etiquette rules to get you through your next event:
Which glass is mine?
There are glasses and forks and bread plates galore at your table, and all of them are within reaching distance. Which one is yours? Easy: bread is on the left; drinks are on the right. And if you need a way to remember, make a b and d with your hands! Piece of cake!
Pass to the Right
When passing the bread, butter, salad dressing, whatever, around the table, there is a proper way to do so. First, offer to the person on your immediate left, and then pass it to the right. Always pass counterclockwise. I wish I could tell you some fascinating story about how this rule came to be, but I’ve got nothing for you. If you do know, please email me! I love trivia.
So Many Forks, So Little Time
The waiter now brings your salad. Finally! You’re starving and can’t wait to dive in. Which one of the 832 forks on the table do you use? Work your way from the outside in. Your salad fork is the one on the outside left. Each time you’re done with the course, your waiter will take your plate and fork. When you run out of forks, that probably means dinner is over, the magic is done, and it’s time to go home.
I’m Done Eating OR I’ll Be Right Back
When you finish your course, don’t push your plate forward. Signal to your server that you are through with your meal by arranging your knife and fork on your plate like so.
Also, place your napkin on the table on the left side of your plate when you are done with your meal. If you leave the table temporarily, leave your napkin on your chair.
Follow Someone Else’s Lead
Ever heard the phrase, “fake it ’til you make it?” This might be a good time to practice that motto. If you’re not sure what to do, pay attention to what others are doing and follow suit. (Now, obviously this doesn’t really work out so well if the person you are emulating doesn’t really know the proper etiquette…but at least you’re not alone!)
There are a hundred more tips that etiquette coaches would probably want me to share, but I think highlighting the basics is key. Next time we will dive a little bit deeper into dining etiquette and talk about what to do when you have a lunch or dinner interview. Stay tuned!