A Modern Man’s Go-to Guide to Dining Etiquette

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Most men get it right when it comes to daily common courtesies such as holding the door for a woman and an elder or walking on the curbside of the street with a woman or child or giving up a seat to allow a woman or elder a place to sit (on the bus…at an event). Yet, dining etiquette can be a big stumper.

Trying to figure out which fork is for what and when can be tricky. There are even finer points to remember, but who has the time to learn? Perhaps, this primer can be a go-to guide for the next first date, dinner with the boss, and that dinner party you have been invited to attend.

Go-to Rule #1 Dining etiquette is about comfort and confidence.

Etiquette is not a universal language nor is it common sense. It is, however, a matter of courtesy. Treating others as you would hope to be treated. Regarding others as you would hope to be regarded. It is about comfort and confidence. It is about you making others feel comfortable and confident in your presence because you are comfortable in your own skin thereby exuding confidence.

Go-to Rule #2 The table. What happens at the table, stays at the table.

Put your phone on silent and tuck it inside your jacket pocket. If you are expecting a pressing call, place it on silent and vibrate and set it on the table to gaze at it, but tell your host or your guests that you will be interrupting in order to take the call, and apologize. As soon as you are finished, put your phone into a pocket. Remove it from the table.

The finer points:

  • Place your napkin in your lap upon sitting. Only place it back on the table if you are finished with your meal. And don’t travel to the restroom with it, leave it in your chair.
  • Discreetly inspect silverware and glasses without making a loud fuss. If there is a problem, tell your server in his/her ear when they come to the table to take your order. They will most likely appreciate the way you brought the problem to their attention and treat you well during your meal.
  • If you are a guest, follow the cues of your host. Your host leads everything, including ordering and eating. 
  • If you are the host, then give your table permission to enjoy anything on the table and order ahead of you. 
  • Study the environment. A cursory glance around the room will tell you if the place is lively or quiet. It is fine to be quiet in a lively, noisy room but to be boisterous in a quiet room will likely disturb other diners. 

Your table-setting:

  • Your cutlery is lined up in the order of course. The outward forks and spoons are generally for the first courses served. 
  • If you are uncomfortable with the water poured for you, then ask your server for sparkling or bottled water. 

Go-to Rule #3 Dating and dining etiquette.

These rules are simple enough.

  • Never order for your date without their permission or request. Always ask if you can make a suggestion, but never take over. 
  • If your date wants wine, ask the waiter for a suggestion and ask what is the house wine. Let your date choose their own or allow you to choose for the table. 
  • A good server will never assume who is paying and ask who is ready to order. You should nod to your date, and ask the server to come back if your date is not ready. 
  • If your date is going to the restroom, then stand when s/he stands. 
  • Offer dessert.
  • Do not let your date pay the tip.  

Go-to Rule #4 A few basics.

  • Never talk or chew with your mouth open. Hold up a finger, if chewing when someone directs a question to you. 
  • Lean forward to speak to the party or parties at your table. Your voice will hit the middle of the table and your words will reach your party without the need for amplification. 
  • If you are a guest, offer to take care of the tip. The Bankrate Tipping Guide is excellent for advice. If you have no idea what the tab is or the bill includes the gratuity, then leave a $10 or $20 bill on the table. This gesture is to make your host look good. 
  • Do not drink at lunch with your boss. A cocktail or wine at dinner is fine but lunch is too early in the day even if your boss is drinking. 
  • Business lunches are trust-building experiences, so chat it up (avoid TMI) a bit before launching into deals. 

The Final Go-to Rule

Be yourself. Awkward is not a bad thing. Unknowledgeable about all of the rules or remembering the rules is not a bad thing. Be good-natured about your shortcomings and others will be comfortable with you. It is like Mother Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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