A Refresher Course in Business

By Monster.Com – 08/04/1998 – 12:00am


“Eat to the left, drink to the right.”

Parents are full of pithy sayings like this to help their kids remember their manners at the table. Those of us of a certain age can remember when the evening dinner was a family affair, with both Mom and Dad presiding and watching every move.

“Elbows off the table.” “Don’t drink or talk with your mouth full.” “You may not be excused until everyone has finished eating.”

That was then. This is now. A generation raised on microwave dinners in front of the TV with no parent in attendance is likely to be gracing the corporate dining table, and they may have no clue which fork to use and when.

“How many times have you sat at a dinner where no one goes for the bread because they don’t know
which plate it goes on?” asks Patty Streiner, an account executive with Miller’s Office Products in Cincinnati.

The situation is so acute that Sue Fox, a former Apple marketer opened the doors of Workshoppe. For
$150, you and other etiquette-impaired business people will dine at a fancy restaurant. Every aspect of a formal dinner is demonstrated and corrected, down through the use and abuse of finger bowls. Individuals can
sign up for these dinners, but companies like Sun and AT&T send their people as well.

Dinner is one thing, but how about etiquette on electronic gadgets that weren’t around when Mom, Dad and Emily Post defined the rules for us. Take email, for instance. A casual tone suits most non-business situations, but you need to watch yourself in more formal encounters. Also, it’s crucial that you be concise and to the point. Many people receive dozens of messages a day and don’t have time to sift through the bull to get to the bulk. Here’s one more essential bit of information:

Writing in all capitals is the digital equivalent of shouting, so mind your Caps Lock key.

Tougher still is voice mail. Miss Manners calls it “the modern equivalent of the butler. Anyone who possesses one should make it behave in a dignified manner.” Be brief. Be concise. Be specific. Don’t mumble.

If all this is hard to remember, think what it must be like for restaurateur, Jerry Della Femina, who has scheduled three lunches at fancy restaurants in one day. He starts at the Four Seasons, eating only an appetizer, downs his main course at 21, and finishes off with coffee and dessert at a third location.
He believes the etiquette of the situation demands that you leave one table claiming only an appointment, not that you are lunching with yet another person. Which silverware he uses could tell a tale.

Since it has been a while since the time when business lunches were popular, maybe it’s time to brush up on a little lunch-table etiquette:

Decide quickly on what you are going to order, and don’t make the group wait for you.
Avoid ordering hard-to-eat dishes, like corn-on-the-cob or triple-decker sandwiches.
Remember, drink to the right and eat to the left, so you don’t grab the client’s bread.
Napkins go in the lap, nowhere else.
Knives and forks go back on the plate as soon as you have taken a bite and remain there until the next bite.
Don’t lick your fingers or brush crumbs off the table with your hands.
Stick to a pre-determined limit on the amount of alcohol you will drink.
Don’t argue about whether to pay the check — it is always paid by the host whoever arranged the appointment.

Bon appétit.

First published in Passages, Johnson Smith Knisely

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