By Special Contributor John Leite
Too often I’ve sat down to what I expected would be a pleasant meal with a colleague or a client and have been de-railed by the scourge of modern society – poor table manners. OK, maybe I’m being dramatic but it happens to be a pet-peeve of mine and that of my wife. Sure, you may have on a fantastic blazer and you’re rocking your favorite pair of winged-tips, but if you’re chewing with your mouth open you might as well be wearing overalls and a straw hat.
I grew up in Portugal and my maternal grandmother was educated in (I assure you this is true) finishing school. I was forced to sit through many long lectures on Victorian dinner protocol so I’m not going to go on and on about fork selection, or how I had to eat meals with books under my arms to learn to keep my elbows in. I’m certainly not going to tell you about what would happen if one of the books fell. Instead, we’ll go through a simple primer that’s a diluted version of my traumatic childhood … I mean my classic gentleman coaching.
- Silence is golden: This is a pretty simple rule to remember. Eating should be a silent activity. Record yourself while eating. Do you hear lips smacking? Loud chewing? The occasional “ahhhh”? Those noises only happen if you’re chewing with your mouth open. The rest of the world and I want you to know that’s disgusting. That also includes talking while your mouth is full. Don’t. Concentrate on keeping your lips together. My friend Jeff once told me “But John, I have a condition and can’t breathe through my nose.” Not an excuse, eat slower. (Hint: the same applies to drinking: no slurping)
- Check yourself: How is your posture? Are you slouching? Sitting up straight while shoulders are back, not only will save you years of back problems, but projects confidence and control. The world has evolved past elbows on the table. In fact, leaning forward slightly from time to time will allow your guest to feel like you’re interested in hearing what they have to say. But a good rule of thumb is that if your elbow is supporting your body weight, it’s likely too much. (Hint: Check the table cloth, if wrinkled or plates are being dragged you’re applying too much elbow weight)
- What the fork? All utensils play a role like players in football. A good restaurant will do most of the work for you. Start from the outside and work your way in. Plates get switched with each course so that’s easy. The same is true for water and wine glasses (red and white). Your bread plate is typically to your left. Serrated knives are for meat, flat knives for fish. Napkin goes on your lap, not around your neck.
- Bon Appetit!