What do your table manners say about you?
That you’re the right person for the job? For the promotion? To represent a client?
Picture sitting down to a business meeting with an important client and drinking from their water glass by mistake. Perhaps you’re nervous and imbibe a little too much or you receive repeated text messages during a lunch interview for a possible promotion.
All could spell career disaster, yet all are easily avoidable with a little forethought, suggests Terry Cockerline, a qualified dining etiquette trainer. “Dining etiquette is of utmost importance,” he says. “You want to represent yourself well; I think it’s important at every opportunity when you’re trying to make an impression.”
While as a rule parents do a pretty good job of teaching the basics, sometimes the finer points can get missed or forgotten. “In this day in age, it’s not always something people have the opportunity to learn.”
By day, Cockerline works in the alumni relations department at the University of Victoria, and as part of the school’s recent 50th anniversary celebrations, he recently offered a sold-out program on dining etiquette for business.
“I became tuned into dining etiquette and the importance of how we present ourselves when I worked in the wine industry in Ontario,” he explains.
Approaching the topic with humour and an accessible manner, Cockerline began offering presentations while he was still in Ontario, often to university-age professionals who were set to embark on their careers but may not have had the experience of dining in a business setting. Other seminars have been provided to professional associations as an opportunity for education and professional growth for their membership.
The significant interest in his programs speaks to the discomfort many of us experience when dining outside our comfort zone.
Because while the dining basics – not chewing with your mouth open, for example – are readily apparent, some elements of dining etiquette are more subtle. However, knowing that your bread plate is always on the left, and your water glass on the right will help you avoid the embarrassment of eating someone else’s bread or drinking from their glass.
“It can probably be best described as people just not paying attention to their manners,” Cockerline says.
“Somehow they feel they’re at home having dinner with their family but they’re not.”
For a potential employer, this is an opportunity to see how you will present yourself to clients; for a client, it can be a reflection on your professionalism.
No-nos, for example, including licking your knife or ordering an extra dessert to take home – both things Cockerline has seen in his travels. Others including dressing too casually for a business meeting and drinking too much alcohol – best to avoid liquor all together (this isn’t Mad Men, after all), or perhaps nurse one drink for the evening.
Another possibility for those who are uncomfortable dining in these situations is that their nerves may cause them to “shut down” and grow too reserved. “But the problem is that you’ve been invited to a dinner because they want to evaluate you,” Cockerline notes.
Nerves, or a too-casual attitude can also lead people to chatter about unsuitable topics, another common mistake. “You really have to have your social filter on,” Cockerline says.
“The biggest thing is to watch your host and pay attention to what they are doing.”
And remember, no cell phones. “Pretend you don’t even have one,” Cockerline says. “Unless you’re expecting a life-or-death phone call, there’s no reason to bring it to the table.”
5 Common Dining Mistakes
1. Not giving your dining partners your full attention
2. Consuming too much alcohol
3. Discussing inappropriate topics
4. Eating from the wrong plate
5. Answering the cell phone or a text