There is a Victorian saying; “every meal is a lesson learned.” It is at the dining table we first learn not only what to do, but perhaps more importantly, what not to do. Manners, it turns out, are as important to the pursuit of living as the culture of dining. Knowing exactly how to behave at the table was as important to cavemen as in today’s corporate dining room. In order to become a fully accepted member of a group, or to be recruited as a team player, it is essential that everyone abides by the same rules and minds their manners.
There are many kinds of behavior that we consider bad manners. Bad behavior results in the offender being permanently expelled from the group. What may be tolerated, though not applauded at home is often unacceptable in public. Learning how to behave when in other countries is crucial to the negotiation of contracts of all kinds. It therefore is essential to learn:
- How to behave in the company of others i.e. no cell phones, oppressive perfume or repellent after-shave lotion, no reading materials, no kissing, hand-holding or other overt touching/feeling and overall no boorishness of any kind particularly the kind that could become the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit.
- How to dine at a formal dining table including how not to address the wait staff.
- How to select the correct silver, crystal, and the correct use of the napkin.
- How to be mannerly when in the company of natives from countries other than one’s own.
- How to offer and respond to a toast.
- How not to spit out food that is offensive to you.
- How to request the check or be grateful to the host who, (thank goodness,) graciously beats you to it.
Business is booming for etiquette coaches. Climbers of corporate ladders are recognizing how important it is for them and their significant others, to at least appear to be “cultured.” The hiring decision may rest on what and how the prospective employee behaved during an interview conducted over dinner.
Pamela J. Holland, co-author of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? Career Skills Press, 2001 and CEO of Brody Communications in Philadelphia, a company that provides dining etiquette training to corporate clients says, “I think this renewed interest in civility and manners is a reaction to young entrepreneurs who arrived in the workplace wearing sandals and a T-shirt.” And Pauline Winick and Dale Webb, founders of the Protocol Center in Miami observe: “Regardless of one’s place in the work hierarchy, it is hard to argue against good manners. If you are competing for a job or promotion against others with the same level of competency but you have the social skill, too, you always clobber your rivals.”
According to Michael Bateman, writing in London’s The Independent on Sunday, there are several ways to let dinner guests know it’s time to leave. “A Frenchman may ask if you’d like something, a fruit juice perhaps. In Japan, if the guests fail to take the hint, the host and hostess may leave the room and not come back. That usually does the trick.
To become a dining coach you must carefully study Miss Manners Guide to Excrutiangly Correct Behavior, Judith Martin. Norton, 2005. She guides the reader into the correct way to extract a sliver of green leafy food from its lodging place between your teeth.
It is sound advice for us all, not to order the fried eggs, sausage, hash browns and a fizzy drink for breakfast if the host has requested half a grapefruit and a pot of herb tea. We are counseled not to reach into the plate of the prospective boss without his express permission, not to pick up the steak with your hands and gnaw the bone, not to dip your bread in the gravy, not to hold your fork like a shovel, not to use chopsticks for the first time when being interviewed for a job. And never, ever wear a lobster bib. Finally, it is even more important to grasp the unwritten rules than the more obvious ones.
Staff turnover is very costly so employers try their best to make sure a prospective new employee will not only become a productive member of the team but also fit in well with the organization. The last step of the evaluation process frequently involves going out for a meal. The hopeful employee will be judged on his ability to converse agreeably, a tendency to fidget, the number of times he experiences ian urgent need to leave the table to go to the bathroom and above all, his table manners.
A table manners coach can prepare a candidate for acceptance or rejection.
This is a great job for a Mom.