Proper table manners keep the focus on work

Last week, I explained three tips to decode the table setting at a business lunch or dinner. In addition to the table setting, the other big issue that is at the heart of all our dining etiquette seminars is how to hold a fork and knife when you are cutting food.

Grasp your fork in your fist like a weapon and the other diners will quietly note that you don’t know how to hold a fork, much less a knife, correctly.

So, here’s how to do it:


1. Place the butt of the handle of the fork in the palm of your nondominant hand with the tines facing down away from your palm.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

2. Next, grasp the butt of the handle with your, little finger, ring finger and middle finger.

3. Place your forefinger along the back of the fork.

4. Use your thumb to grasp the handle.

You now have the fork grasped firmly in your nondominant hand. In this position it is easy to hold down whatever you are cutting and not have it slip off the plate. You hold the knife in exactly the same way as the fork


Why hold the fork in the left hand if you’re right handed? You want to do the cutting with the knife in your dominant hand.

I’m invariably asked, “Is it OK for me to hold my fork in my right hand if I’m left-handed?” Yes. Left-handed people want to do the cutting with their dominant left hands, so the fork goes in the right.

And then there’s the issue of whether, after cutting a piece of food, is it OK to lift the fork to your mouth (continental style of eating) or do you put the knife down switch the fork to your dominant hand, and then raise the food to your mouth (American style of eating)?

In the first edition of “Etiquette,” Emily Post referred to the American style of eating as “zig-zag” eating, and she preferred the continental style for herself. Today’s answer: Either way is OK. Do what seems easiest to get food from your plate to your mouth without dropping it or otherwise making a mess.

Remember, the goal is to raise the food to your mouth without drawing attention to what you are doing. You do that by being comfortable in your actions. That way you keep the focus on enjoying the company of the people you are with. And that’s the real goal of a successful meal with business associates.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to