Over the years, I have seen — and received — a variety of reactions from people when they learn of my profession. One of the most memorable experiences took place at a luncheon I was attending; I was new to an organization and acquainted with some of the other attendees but the future friendships we were to experience had not yet developed. As I was taking my place at the table of eight, I happened to over-hear a discussion amongst some of my table-mates: “You sit by her … I’m not going to sit by her, you sit by her …” It turned out the concern was table manners, and what my reaction might be to those around me as they consumed their food.
This still stands as one of the funniest moments in my career as an etiquette specialist. While I do believe that courtesy and manners are important at the dining table, when I am sharing a meal with others, I am focused on our conversation and enjoying the company, not on how they might be using their table ware. I also have three children, two of whom are boys, ages 9 and 15, and to be honest, there is really nothing I haven’t seen or heard at the table; I can even vouch for the fact that pasta does stick to the ceiling, long after it has dried and fossilized into place.
In other words, despite what might be assumptions to the contrary, I am not particularly critical of other people’s table manners.
However, in attending a professional lunch meeting recently, I could not help but notice the man next to me, in part because he spent the majority of the time with his head down, about six inches from his plate. Although he did follow my lead and introduce himself, he was much more intent on inhaling his food, literally shoveling it into his mouth in large gulps. And while it was his lunch, I found myself to be quite uncomfortable from the sheer frenetic energy of his actions, wondering if I would be the one to experience the ill effects later on.
A business meal is the only time when your conversational abilities, self-confidence and table manners are all on display at the same time. People may not seem to pay attention to good manners, but they will definitely notice when they are lacking.
Etiquette guidelines are not to make you feel uncomfortable but rather to put you at ease, help you to avoid blunders, enjoy your meals and make a powerful first impression.
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