Etiquette at Work

Avoiding blunders when sharing a meal

Dining etiquette is about more than which fork to use or which butter plate is yours or where to put your napkin when you leave the table. It also addresses the dilemmas that occur almost every time you sit down at the table. Here are six potential missteps and how to deal with them to help make you more at ease:

When to start eating. Your plate of delicious-looking food is set in front of you, but a couple of people at the table haven’t been served yet. Refrain from picking up your knife and fork and wait until your host invites you to start or your host starts eating herself. If you’re with colleagues and your plate hasn’t arrived, the polite thing to do is to encourage the people who have been served to begin eating. If the meal is buffet style, however, it is acceptable to begin eating when you sit down at the table. Other people at the table may be at the back of the line and waiting for them would leave you eating cold food.

Your knife, fork, or glass is soiled. Don’t make a big deal about it by announcing the problem to everyone at the table. Get your server’s attention and quietly ask for a new one.


“There’s a fly in my soup.” You spot something that shouldn’t be there floating in your soup, or you notice a hair on your vegetable. Again, making a scene isn’t your goal. Correcting the problem is. Stop eating if you’ve started, calmly get you server’s attention, and ask for a fresh serving.

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Someone at the table has spinach stuck on a tooth or a piece of food on a chin. Try catching his eye and then make a quick motion with your finger like you’re wiping something off your chin or mouth. Chances are, that signal alone will be more than enough to alert your dining companion. If not, you can say something quietly like, “John, there is something on your chin.”

What do you do if you have something on your chin or spinach stuck on a tooth? A quick wipe with your napkin should deal with the item on your chin. However, rummaging around in your mouth with your finger or using a toothpick to fix your tooth is not a good idea when you are at the table.

“Take that with you?” Restaurants often serve overly large portions. Yet, at a business lunch or dinner forgo the “to-go bag” unless you are out with colleagues and are splitting the bill.

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