“Are you client-ready?” The words were spoken eloquently and slowly, like the narrator’s voice on a motivational cassette tape, with particular emphasis on the ‘c’ and ‘l.’ Lisa Taylor Richey of the American Academy of Etiquette, who led Career Development Services’ Etiquette Dinner last Tuesday in the Diamond Club, repeated herself. “Are you client-ready?”
A shiver of intimidation ran up my spine on the repeated question. Prior to that evening, I thought I was. But by the tone in Richey’s voice, I got the feeling I wasn’t. As she unleashed her arsenal of meticulous etiquette tips on the 116 in attendance, I realized I was only partly ready – I would not be ready to take a client out for lunch.
The first rules of being professional is to arrive in a timely fashion.
“If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late,” Richey said.
How ironic that the Etiquette Dinner began 10 minutes past its designated start time. Richey said fewer family meals contribute to poor etiquette.
“People eat in the van and on the run,” Richey said. “It’s a lost art.”
She said the two most common mistakes in dining are the handshake and holding the fork. The handshake must not embrace the fingers.
“There must be web-to-web contact,” said Richey, referring to the area of skin between the thumb and index finger. The fork must be held like a pen, balanced with the index finger and thumb resting on top.
Now that I had the Spider-Man handshake and proper fork grip under my belt, I was ready to chow down. I mean, masticate.
I can never remember which bread plate or water glass is mine. Richey unveiled a formula to clear up the confusion. Just remember BMW. The company’s moniker designates the order of the bread, meal and water glass placed in front of you from left to right.
My confidence of napkin placement was stripped from me. When you undo the fancy napkin swan the restaurant staff has fastidiously folded for you, unfold under the table and place it on your lap with the fold toward you. When using it, blot your mouth; do not wipe it. Bring the napkin up to your face; don’t bend down to it. And if you must excuse yourself from the table, place the napkin on your seat.
“Nothing touches the tablecloth,” Richey said. “It needs to be clean.”
This last instruction was said with such sterile importance that I feared the pristinely white tablecloth for the remainder of the dinner. During the salad course, I got a few little driblets of dressing on it, which I slyly blotted up while Richey’s back was turned. I think she saw me anyway.
There are many ways to cut your food, but only one way will make you look like royalty. Hold the knife in your “power hand,” the dominant one. When cutting, cut behind the fork. Wrists must always be above the table, not only when cutting. The only time your wrists are permitted to be sub-table is when you are folding your napkin.
Shortly into the dinner, after receiving the cutting lesson, I felt bewildered. The casual dining world I once knew was long gone. I heard Richey, who was making her way to each table, say over her microphone, “OK, I’m getting a lot of questions about lettuce.” Where was I?
A note on salads: cherry tomatoes are a one-bite food. Chomp them in half and you might find tomato juice on your shirt.
In addition to those malicious cherry tomatoes, bread lies on the table like a predator, waiting to cut you down into the slovenly pig that you really are. I’ve always been a fan of smothering butter on bread and taking chunk-sized bites. Richey proved me uncouth. Tear off bite-size pieces of the bread and butter each individual morsel. You think this is too tedious? No one said dining properly was easy.
Another dining gem passed on was whether or not to begin eating if people are still waiting on meals. Richey said if four or more have received their orders – bon appetit. When someone asks you to pass the salt, you must pass the pepper as well. Oh, you only wanted salt? Too bad, you’re getting the pepper whether you like it or not!
Richey’s journey through fine dining was a first-class experience. Heed her instructions at your own free will, but if you choose to walk away, have the courtesy to leave your napkin on your seat.
Jesse North can be reached at email@example.com.