In the movie Miss Congeniality starring Sandra Bullock and Michael Caine, there was a scene where Sandra Bullock’s character was chomping down steak at a fine restaurant, at which Michael Caine’s character was appalled and remarked, “I’m sorry, what was the question? I was distracted by the half-masticated cow rolling around in your wide-open trap.”
Such etiquette gaffes are not constrained to Hollywood movies. At a formal dinner in Kuala Lumpur recently, a second generation business owner not only erroneously claimed the bread on her right as her own, she chided the guest on her right who had touched the bread roll, “The bread is MINE!”. For those of us who sometimes will have problems remember which bread is yours and which drink is yours, the simple left “b” and right “d” hand [see picture] are fool proof discrete reminders in times of social emergency such as these.
These two scenes nonetheless reminds us that dining etiquette plays an important role in your personal and professional lives. However if you do not have access to a Henry Higgins or a Harry Hart, you are not doomed to be an uncouth Eliza Doolittle or Eggsy Unwin forever.
Here’s five easy tips to dining confidence:
- Think you have impeccable manners already but want to have a check? Eat alone in front of a mirror. If there are any half-masticated cows rolling around in your mouth, you will see it.
- When in doubt, watch the others on the table. Not sure which knife or fork to use? Watch what the majority on the table does and follow.
- Be sensitive to cultural norms – a quick google search will help if you are going to be in an international dining environment: for example, Westerners rarely share food off their plates unless its family style dining, Muslims eat only with their right hand, Chinese frown upon chopsticks stuck upright, Japanese do not use soup spoons, to name a few.
- Eating is not a race neither is it a solo journey: Do not start eating until everyone else’s food has been served, unless you are urged on; and try not to be the first or the last to finish on your table as it will hold the rest of the table back.
- Last, if the food is hard to eat; you will have to make a mental trade-off in your mind of whether you are going to make a mess or leave the food. Foods potentially to avoid during a business setting are french onion soup (imagine how you are going to break the gruyere cheese crouton with your soup spoon), steamed artichokes, crabs, fried chicken or even sloppy burgers.
And with that you’re equipped for your dining “Ascot”.
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