Much of our modern day dining etiquette is common sense and we don’t have to consciously think about: don’t tell rude jokes, cover your mouth when you cough, work from the outside of your cutlery in and most pertinent at the moment – don’t discuss politics!
Many of us will still find ourselves on the odd occasion a little out of our depth or confused as to what is the correct behaviour however.
Whether you are enjoying Christmas lunch at your mother-in-laws, taking an important client out for dinner, or being hosted at a Christmas party, here is our quick guide to some do’s and don’ts to get you through the festive season of fine dining unscathed!
1. Don’t place your napkin on the table until you have finished eating
If you pause during your meal to take a comfort break (which does happen), your napkin should be placed on your chair rather than the table. When you have finished your meal your napkin should be placed to the left of your plate.
2. Do ensure you are properly attired
If a restaurant or seasonal lunch invitation labels the dress code as ‘casual’ do not be fooled into thinking that this means you can turn up in a t-shirt and joggers! Restaurant and dining occasion dress expectations tend to fall into one of four categories: casual, business casual, jacket required and formal. Here are some simple codes to follow for each category.
Dining expectations of Casual are far higher than you may expect so don’t be caught out – think comfortable but finished. If you wear jeans ensure they are tailored, not ripped, and pair them with polished shoes not trainers or flip flops – and definitely no baseball caps!
Business Casual is something we can all probably grasp easily – professional and well-turned out. For men this means a shirt with a collar (but not necessarily a tie) and belted trousers. For women a tailored dress or skirt and jacket is perfect – open sandals should be avoided along with crop tops or anything too revealing.
Jacket Required is a signal to both men and women that the dining occasion requires them to step up a gear in terms of attire. Think ‘posh date’ and ensure that you capture elegance with matching items. Jewelry, sparkles and heels for women and for men a tie and tailored jacket and trousers.
Formal Dress demands you to wear your very best and it is paramount that you follow the rules for this one. Men must wear matching suits or tuxedos and women cocktail or long dresses. You may even have a specific instruction like white tie which requires men to wear full dress including waistcoats and women to wear a full length gown.
3. Don’t accept or decline an invitation and then change your mind at the last minute
It is the height of rudeness to ‘hedge your bets’ and accept or decline an invite then reverse your decision at short notice. A lot of effort will have been put into the occasion being a success and this should be respected. Leaving your host to cope with a gap in a table plan or have to find an extra chair and meal is unacceptable.
4. Don’t put your phone, car keys or purse on the table
This may now seem old-fashioned, particularly asking some of us to part with our phone, but it should still not be seen on a dining table. A handbag or jacket pocket is fine, and if you do need to reach for it please seek your companions forgiveness first.
5. Don’t reach across to sample your companions food
Particularly if you are at business meal or if you are dining with someone you don’t know very well. If you have agreed to share a dish in advance, pass them your bread plate with a taster on it.
6. Do order the same number of courses as your host or guest
To avoid the awkwardness of either finishing way before your companion or (even worse) way after, ensure you order the same number of courses and try and keep pace with the other person.
7. Don’t pull out someones chair for them
While it is still considered good manners to hold a door open for someone, it is the job of the waiting staff to seat you. Unless your guest is elderly or disabled and unable to seat themselves and it becomes awkward leave this to the staff.
8. Don’t announce to the Sommelier your spending limit on wine
If you have a budget in mind then rather point to a wine in your price bracket on the wine list and ask for his advice – any Sommelier worth his salt will know to stick close to that price with his recommendation. And don’t make a song and dance when tasting the wine – even if you are an expert. A simple sip and nod is fine.
9. Do bring a small gift if you are invited to someones home
A good dinner guest should never turn up empty handed – even if the host has told you not to bring anything. Although a bottle of wine is customary, these days increasingly some kind of artisan food or accompaniment for the kitchen such as relish is equally acceptable.
10. Do let the host pay
If you were the one to invite everyone to the occasion you are the host. In business, if you were invited then it is usually down to the organiser to foot the bill unless prior agreements have been made. If personal, be clear. What must never occur however is an argument over the bill. If this happens slip off and pay it quietly away from the guests. An unpleasant scene should not be allowed to spoil the occasion and the details can always be sorted out at a later date.
For more inspiration whether it is for style or dining, visit The Luxury Restaurant Guide and Membership Club.