By Skills

by Marsha Petrie Sue

The Holidays can be challenging if you attend dinners, family gatherings, and office banquets.  The following list provides quick reminders and new information that will put joy in your holiday meal rather than instill fear.

Frequently Asked Questions on Business Meal Table Protocol

Q: Where is the best place to sit?

A: Determine if your meal partner is right or left handed.  If right handed, sit to their left and visa versa.  Their body posture will naturally open in your direction making conversation more comfortable.

never-do1Q: How should I select what I order to eat?

A: Think knife and fork. Finger food, and sandwiches can be messy. If you are not paying for the meal, stay “price reasonable.” Order ribs at your own risk!

Q: What if I need to sneeze?

A: If you do not have time to reach a tissue or the infrequently used handkerchief then use your napkin, or in the final extremity, your hands to cover your mouth. If you can avoid it, don’t wipe your nose on your napkin, but on a tissue or handkerchief. This is obvious, but watch how many people do it!

Q: I’ve heard it is impolite for a guest to add salt and pepper to a dish. Is this true?

A: It is not wrong to add spice to a dish AFTER you taste it. It is the appearance of the presumption your host (or restaurant) does not cook well that you wish to avoid.

Q: How can I remember which bread plate is mine?

A: Wet right, dry left is the general rule.  Coffee cup, water glass, and beverage will always be on the right. Bread plate and salad will be on your left.

Q: Is it OK to eat off the “Charger” plate?

A: No. This decorative plate is to hold your other plates.  Some restaurants know to remove the Charger for the main entrée, but many leave it in place.

Q: How do I remember which utensil to use first?

A: Always start with the outer utensil. Typically, the spoon and/or fork placed at the top of your plate are for dessert. Also, watch the host of the group and follow their lead.

Q: When should I start eating?

A: If you have a host, wait for them to signal the meal’s beginning. The host may wish to make a formal statement, or a toast before attention turns to the food. Normally, the host will verbally ask the guests to begin or start by picking up a utensil, or spreading a napkin on their lap.

Q: What should I do if I spill something?

A: A minor accident at the table is bound to happen on occasion. If you are the cause, make your excuse politely and only once, then proceed to help clean up the mess.

Q: What if I take a mouthful of very hot food?

A: If you scoop up a mouthful of scalding food, make minimal fuss by swiftly taking a drink of water or some other cool beverage. If the food is spicy hot, quietly put salt on your hand, put in your mouth and explain.

Q: Is it okay to tip a dish?

A: If you are reaching for the last bit of a delectable soup with your spoon, then it is OK to tilt your dish. Just be sure to tip it away from yourself to avoid any nasty surprises in your lap.

Q: Where does the napkin go if I leave the table?

A: Set the napkin on the chair if you are going to return to the table. If you have finished the meal, fold your napkin and place it to the left of the plate.

Q: Is it OK to move my dishes when I’ve finished the meal?

A: No, let the waiter do that. Also, do not stack your dishes to make it easier for them to bus the table.

Q: How do I let the server know I have finished my meal?

A: Place your knife and fork at the 11:00 position on your plate with the knife closer to your right, then the fork, then the spoon. Turning the fork over is also acceptable.

Q: How do I get the last few peas onto my fork?

A: Try pushing peas or the last bits of other foods onto your fork with a piece of bread or the side of your knife.

How to Handle Tricky Foods

Odd-Traffic-SignsNot all types of food can be easily handled by the basic rules, so society has come up with dignified ways of dealing with potentially messy culinary delights. If you don’t know the rule for a specific dish, simply try not to order or eat it.

Artichokes: Pull off leaves and dip in sauce until you reach the heart. Scoop out the inedible portion with a spoon. Cut the heart into pieces and dip with a fork.

Asparagus: Crisp spears may be eaten with fingers or sliced with a sharp knife. If, however, guests do not know this, you may appear as having poor table manners! Soft spears should be cut and eaten with a fork.

Baked Potato: Slice across the top, slab on butter, or other toppings and eat flesh from inside the skin. You may also slice the potato into many pieces if you intend to eat the skin.

Corn on the Cob: May be served with corn-holders. If not, grasp the ends and eat in even rows as if on an old manual typewriter. Use a knife to put butter on the cob. Do not roll in the butter.

Garnish: Garnish, especially in restaurants is common. You will often see such foods as parsley, orange slices, or candied apples. It is okay to eat the garnish. Garnishes should always be edible, but if you are unsure, you may wish to politely ask your host before indulging. Flowers are especially popular and are edible.

Bacon: May be eaten with fingers especially if crisp. If bacon is soft, it is generally better to use a fork.

Cornish Game Hens and other Fowl: It is okay to use fingers on small birds.  Eat the stuffing with a fork. Use a spoon to scoop stuffing onto your plate.

Chicken and Turkey: At informal occasions such as picnics, if the bone is in, eat chicken with your hands; no- bone chicken should normally be eaten with a fork (if provided). For formal occasions, forks and knives are generally required. However, small pieces such as wings can safely be consumed with your hands.

Ribs: Usually not served on formal occasions, this entree is normally eaten with the hands. However, make sure there is a napkin handy before digging in. You may ask for a finger bowl also.

Paté: You may not be sure this is meat, but it is. Usually it is spread on bread or crackers with a knife and then eaten with the fingers.

Whole Fish: If it doesn’t wink at you, begin by cutting off the head. Next, slice along the center of the back and lift one side of the fish from the bones. Then remove the spine and other bones and place aside or on another plate. Eat the flesh in small bites to avoid consuming a bone. If you do get a bone in your mouth – do not try to swallow it! Remove it with your fingers and place it on the plate.

Oysters and Clams: In shell, hold in one hand and pry open with the other. Reach in and pull out the oyster, then place in mouth. Swallow. Served on the half-shell oysters and clams may be eaten with a seafood fork.

Crab: First remove legs and suck the meat out of them. Next, break open the backs and remove the meat with a small fork. Soft-shell crabs are entirely edible and may be eaten with a knife and fork.

Lobster: When it is served whole, start by twisting off the claws. You will likely be given a nutcracker to get through the tough shell. A fork or a pick may be used to remove the meat from the shell. Next, start in on the tail, removing it from the body with your hands then removing the meat with a fork. The legs can be removed and the meat can be pulled or sucked from the shell. Now, break the body in half lengthwise. Use a fork to obtain the remaining meat. The liver and any eggs may also be eaten. Or … ask your server to take it all out for you!

Shrimp: Large shrimp are usually eaten with the fingers. Hold the shrimp by the tail. Smaller shrimp may be eaten with a fork.

Caviar: Usually spread on toast with a small knife, may be topped with lemon juice and garnish. Usually, you are presented a dish from which you remove the amount you wish to take. It is well to remember that this is an expensive and relatively rare item so it is considered bad form to take more than a fair share or to be seen returning too often to the platter.

Snails: Grasp the shell and remove snail using an oyster fork. Set the shell down and put the tasty tidbit on your plate or in your mouth!

Bread rolls and butter:  Place the amount of butter you think you will need on your bread and butter plate and do not use it directly off the table serving butter plate. Break off a bite-size piece of bread and butter the individual piece before placing in your mouth.  Do not butter the entire roll and bite it.

Here’s to a happy holiday and gracious eating!

Email Marsha for your copy of the Ten Commandments of Cooperation. – please visit or email at [email protected]

marsha_petrie_sueMarsha Petrie Sue, MBA, is the Muhammad Ali of communicators. She can dance and look pretty, and she uses the entire ring, but she knows how and when to land a knockout punch.  Get the smelling salts! Her presentations are charm school with live ammunition. Leading Change, Leadership Development, Managing Conflict and Presentation Skills.

She is an Executive Coach, Professional Speaker and Author

For booking information please contact [email protected]


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