(Photo by Vladimir Gorbanev/iStock)
You know what gets some readers all riled up? Well, certainly when I opine about women’s appearances. (Remember all the flack I got when I suggested that women over 40 might think twice about wearing long, straight hair at the office?)
But this might surprise you as a controversial issue: table manners. Whenever I express chagrin about how clueless (and gauche) lawyers can be about business lunch etiquette, I’m accused of being snobby and superficial.
Guilty as charged! Sure, the way you hold your fork and place your napkin have no bearing on your legal acumen or worth as a human being. But I’d be amiss as your career sherpa if I didn’t address this issue that goes directly to your image.
I’d like to say that this is just for the benefit of summer associates. But truth is, I know a number of partners at major firms who could use some etiquette pointers, too. So here is our seasonal refresher on table manners:
1. Know the BMW rule: Bread plate to the left, meat in the middle, and water to the right.
2. Start with utensils farthest away from plate (usually the salad fork).
3. Do not clutch utensils as if you’re about to chant, “We want food!” Instead, hold spoon and fork as you would a pencil. (See Corporette for in-depth discussion on this.)
4. Keep your napkin on your lap. But if you need to excuse yourself during the meal, always place your napkin neatly on your chair. When you leave the restaurant, put it on the table.
4. Don’t precut your food. Of course, you should cut that giant piece of lettuce or that juicy T-bone steak—but do it one bite at a time. Never, never, cut pasta into bite-size pieces like you’re about to feed a baby. As for spaghetti-type of pasta, just twirl it onto your fork and eat it. (It is neither necessary nor cool to twirl spaghetti against a spoon like they do in The Godfather.)
5. Don’t talk with food in your mouth. I don’t care if someone is defaming your mother, wait until you’ve swallowed your food to defend her honor.
6. If you drop a fork or knife on the floor, leave it and ask the waiter for a replacement. If you drop your mobile device, pick it up only if it’s easily reachable; otherwise, ask for assistance. Under no circumstances should you scurry under the table like a busy rat.
As for what to talk about, you can’t go wrong asking the partner questions about his/ her practice and showing interest in all its mind-numbing details. (Need I remind you of the art of the suck-up?)
Okay, so you might think all this stuff is shallow and ridiculous. But all things being equal, what’s wrong with mastering the finer points of dining so that you won’t embarrass yourself in front of the Queen at Buckingham Palace?
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