Dining Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts
Like most gentlemanly pursuits with their origins in a past era, fine dining has its own set of conventions some men have never entirely managed to adopt. Dining etiquette extends to more than just which fork goes where – sitting at a table and sharing a meal is a social, personal experience, and everything a man does in that context is a reflection on his character. No matter how well your evening has gone, a serious enough faux pas may be the only thing your dining partners remember about you, so avoiding these mistakes, and acting refined and urbane, is crucial to how you’re perceived.
Do– Maintain good posture.
The way you carry yourself at the table projects an immediate image of your personality, just as significant as what you say and do. Keep your back straight, make eye contact and don’t spend the entire meal hunching forward toward your food. Keeping your forearms against the table is acceptable, but propping your elbows on top of it is not. When using a knife and fork, keep your arms close to your sides instead of pointing straight out from your body.
Don’t– Reach across the table
You can safely ask for someone else to pass anything that you’re considering reaching for. Reaching over anybody’s food, even if it’s only your own, is considered crass.
Do– Know your utensils
You don’t have to memorize the silverware for every possible dining experience, as it’s usually enough to know that you work your way in toward the plate from the outermost utensils. Unfold your napkin on your lap once you’re seated, then treat it almost like it’s decorative; using the napkin sparingly and as it’s intended is OK, but shaking it out like laundry or using it like a silverware dishtowel is not. Also, if you need to remove yourself from the table, leave your napkin on the seat as putting it on your plate indicates you’re finished.
Don’t– Answer your phone at the table
It’s even reasonable to suggest turning your phone off entirely, but if you absolutely have to receive pressing calls, at least turn off your ringtone and then excuse yourself to return those calls discreetly.
Do– Order manageable food
Ordering food that involves constant use of your hands is typically a mistake. Avoid high-maintenance food like spaghetti, and if you’re dining in a more casual setting, beware anything notoriously messy (wings or unusually greasy food, for example).
Don’t– Leave work on the table
If this is a business dinner, any paperwork you have to discuss can be safely left under your chair until the meal is over. Having work out during the meal clutters the table, and is only advisable if you’re specifically asked for it.
Don’t– Haggle over the check
In dinner party scenarios or business dinners, the host is expected to deal with the bill. If you’re in a situation wherein you feel obligated to pay, an easy alternative is for you to excuse yourself from the table and settle the check before it’s presented. This prevents any payment discussions before they start and also shows you’re magnanimous. Otherwise, if you’re in a mixed-group setting with no clear host, expect to divide the check evenly, regardless of what you’ve ordered.
Do– Follow your host’s lead
As a general catch-all rule for anything you’re not sure about, you can safely do something if your host has already opened that metaphorical door. You can remove your suit jacket if your host does, but you might appear too casual if you’re the only man at the table who does so. If your host offers you a cigar, the choice is up to you, but brazenly lighting a cigar on your own initiative runs the risk of being hugely offensive.
Don’t– Talk with your mouth full
This may seem obvious, but it’s one of the most common complaints about men with poor dining manners, and it is absolutely never OK. Granted, dining is a social experience, but whatever you have to say, no matter how timely or important, can wait until you’ve swallowed your food.
Do– Dress appropriately
If the event calls for black tie attire, it’s your obligation to wear a tuxedo and bowtie, even if you have to rent one for the occasion. Business casual, for its part, never means “casual.” If you’re not certain about what you’re supposed to wear, overdress — don’t underdress. In any formal setting, regardless of how well you think you pull it off, jeans are never OK.
Do– Drink responsibly
Always exercise caution when alcohol is involved. Sharing and appreciating a drink is civilized; drinking too much is not. Even if you’re absolutely certain you can hold your liquor, drinking more than the rest of your company sends an undesirable message to anybody at the table who doesn’t.