Don't Slurp...
And other helpful hints in business dining
By Karen Workman

Anyone who attempts to have fun in the usual social way - overeating, over-drinking, heavy-flirting - would be jeopardizing his or her career. So enjoy these occasions, but just don't have a good time. That is what friends are for.
– Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) on business cocktail parties

Dear Gentle Reader,

Walking into a room set aside for eating with your office mates can be comfortable and engaging, but dining out for business-a necessary nicety- requires refinement, panache, and self-confidence that you are using the correct fork and not drinking from the clichéd finger bowl.

Business cocktail parties (even more difficult events), require balancing food and conversation, networking without being frightening, pitching while not pointing, and being social but not intimate. This is where a bit of training would be helpful to ensure that you are representing yourself and your company to the best of your abilities.

Etiquette in the work force continues its shift from more of an old boys club to accommodate an influx of women professionals, which is creating new rules that skew more towards professional than personal morés. For example, in a business atmosphere women should not expect men to pull their chair from the table for them to sit down (although it shouldn't be considered rude if men do).

It's a living

Good manners, at one time an important part of a child's elementary education, fell out of favor in the 1960s and 70s with the incorporation of fast food in our diets and the loss of family-shared dinner time. Regina Horine, owner of Etiquette and Protocol, Inc., reminds us that the need to learn these important rules is still there and a resurgence of their presence in the workforce has created a niche for those who are prepared.

Horine, whose company is based in Georgetown, KY, has combined her extensive business background and certification from The Protocol School of Washington® to form an avenue of learning that provides others with the skills to properly present themselves to others (whether employer, employee, or potential client) as professional, competent, and distinguished from the pack. If you are traveling to a foreign country and you are not sure of the cultural differences (body language, gestures, and gift giving) and how you will be expected to behave, she can tell you. She travels all over the country conducting interactive seminars that teach modern business etiquette and protocol, basic or detailed, to those who want to feel more comfortable in a situation, such as meeting a new boss, that could be fraught with pitfalls and the potential for sweaty palms.

One such seminar that she teaches is Business Dining Etiquette, which is set up in a four-part session, lasts for four hours and, exclusive of diplomat and international dinners (of which seminars are also available), should cover every query of dining rules and prevent an eating-utensil misstep.

The first section of this session is entitled "Business Entertaining." It is a review of the duties of the host and guest, such as how to extend and accept invitations, what to wear to what degree of formality, seating guidelines, and how to introduce and proceed with the reception and receiving lines. You will learn who walks before whom and how that is affected by whether you are at The White House or an Armed Services function.

"The ABC's of Dining" include, my favorite, a briefing of the different types of silverware (twelve forks, twelve spoons, and eight knives) and glasses (eight styles), maps of correct place settings, how you should approach your chair, what to do with your napkin (do I fold it back up or leave it in the chair?), when to eat and how to toast, and the proper way to hold a fork and knife.

"A Dining Tutorial" has lessons for several styles of eating, mostly American versus Continental, but also included are directions for eating with chopsticks and how to eat difficult foods in public, such as the artichoke or lobster. There are instructions on how to leave your fork and knife resting on a plate as a signal to the waiter that you are finished and how to retrieve food from a platter that is being passed by the wait staff without landing it on your lap.

The final part of the session is the Do's and Don'ts lists that are fairly common sense, but rules I am sure that you have seen someone breaking this week. Chewing with their mouth open? Gesturing with their utensil while talking? Drinking from the saucer? Licking the knife clean?

We all forget that these are no-nos now and again. We need to be reminded once in a while that we live in a civilized society.

What I Learned

After reading the textbook associated with the seminar and realizing that I did not know that the fish knife should be held like a pencil or that bacon should be eaten with a fork and knife, I felt compelled to make my dinner etiquette habits more appealing and less painful for those eating around me. I attended the seminar. Actually, I could not wait to take this class: a six-course meal at The Lafayette Club and a very well-spoken woman teaching me to spoon the soup away from me instead of towards me.

The class, sponsored by The Junior League of Lexington, was held in one of The Lafayette Club's large meeting rooms with 18 women in attendance. The table was clothed and formal place settings were arranged for the optimum introduction of different types of eating and drinking implements. Horine explained every step of the process at length and with each course discussed the nuances unique to it, such as chilled spoons should be served with the sorbet intermezzo, and do not eat the ice on which the sorbet is resting.

We discussed everything from tipping to the importance of reflected light on the table, and from how to eat pasta to writing the perfect thank you note. Horine listened to our questions, answered confidently, and encouraged our group to call her if we had any etiquette dilemmas at a later date.

Trying to be a good table-turner, one who speaks to the guests seated on both sides, and avoiding the three taboo dining topics (sex, politics, and religion), I had the opportunity to get to know the people around me better and the whole meal was very enjoyable and educational.

Eating Continental style, with the fork in the left hand turned upside down and the knife in the right hand, provided a bit of entertainment when it came time to time eat French-style green beans with toasted almonds and I did manage to spill butter on the tablecloth but, for the most part, the new etiquette rules that I learned should be easy to incorporate into my dining habits.

It has been said that first impressions are made within the first five seconds of meeting someone, and if this is the case, preparation and information are invaluable.

It is also said that it takes 21 days to start a new way of doing something, a pattern, so practicing what you have learned is also important. Today's business world requires that we be on our collective toes and I am, armed with my certificate of completion, now more prepared to properly dine with any diplomats that are visiting Lexington, as I so frequently do.

l Etiquette

Our modern rules of etiquette are not stringent, but helpful, and can be traced to France and a need for order. It seems that once upon a time, King Louis XIV had an unruly court. Unbelievably, the nobles would walk through the perfectly manicured gardens of Versailles, trampling dainty seedlings. In an attempt to control their strolling behavior, Louis' gardener placed signs, etiquets, instructing them to "keep off the grass" which they subsequently ignored.

Louis, wanting to make his gardener happy, as you can imagine, made "keep off the grass" an official decree, and so it was obeyed. With this in mind, more rules of conduct and protocol were written on a ticket, etiquette, which was given for court functions and the process of building the structure of modern etiquette began.

The website for Etiquette and Protocol, Inc. is