For some reason, people tend to think etiquette is only for ‘fancy’ meals – when you are all dressed up, and when you can hardly see the food on your plate because the portion sizes are so small. That couldn’t be farther from the truth – let me explain why.
I’ll start with a personal example. I was at a casual meal once where the host was serving a lovely lemon tart for dessert. Unfortunately, the table had only been set only with a fork and a spoon for this course. I could see some of the other guests wrestling with what to do – use the side of the fork to cut up the tart? Dig out bits with the spoon? Pair the fork and spoon together, to be deployed as if they had been a knife and fork? Could you (would you?) pick it up with your hands and avoid the cutlery altogether?
In our courses at Social Graces, we employ hands-on exploration of many different scenarios like this one – not because of some kind of blind devotion to following rules – but because knowing these details allows you (as a host) to avoid accidentally putting your guests into an uncomfortable situation, and allows you (as a guest) to do exactly what you want to do. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t hesitate for a second before eating every last bite of that delicious lemon tart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. (Contact me if you want to know which was the correct option for how to eat the dessert!)
The great news is that this kind of self-assurance can be learned. I recently checked in with a client shortly after he and I had had a dining tutorial. To my great delight, he had decided to put the skills he had learned in our session into practice right away – by taking his wife out to dinner that very night! He said he felt polished and confident, and as though the lessons he had learned had real practical applications. A few weeks later, during a business lunch, he knew it made sense to avoid the poppy seed bun when the breadbasket was passed. They are an almost-guaranteed way to get something stuck in your teeth!
You would be amazed at all of the things we cover in our courses and dining tutorials. Running through all of the tips, tricks, and skills in a class is so much better than being put on the spot in real life, like when an important family member comes into town unexpectedly, or when a big boss invites you along to a client meal on the spur of the moment.
Ultimately, dining should be about enjoying the company around you, not focusing on how to eat your food. Once you’ve thoroughly grasped the etiquette, the details become second nature so that you can concentrate fully on your friends, family, and colleagues. That’s why etiquette isn’t just for ‘fancy’ meals – it makes everyday meals that much better.