10 Physician Etiquette Tips, Navigating a Formal Meal

April 9, 2014
Sue Jacques

You're skilled with a scalpel, but do you ever wonder how to handle a knife and fork at a formal meal? Don't worry we've got you covered.

You're skilled with a scalpel in the operating room. You have finesse with forceps in the delivery room. But do you ever wonder how to handle a knife and fork in the dining room?

Let's face it; we all need to eat to survive. There's a difference, though, between eating and dining. Eating is a task. Dining is an art.

From knowing how to extend an invitation to understanding which bread plate is yours to determining who picks up the check, these 10 dining tips will help you carve through your next formal meal with confidence and grace.

1. Establish the ground rules.

When you ask someone to join you for a meal, you become the host and are responsible for making the arrangements and paying the check ­­­­- unless you declare otherwise. Make your intentions clear by saying something like, "Would you like to get together for dinner next Thursday? My treat." If you're a guest and unsure who's paying, simply ask, "Shall we arrange for separate checks?"

2. Be specific when extending an invitation.

Otherwise, the same questions will come up again and again. What should I wear? Who else will be there? Why are we meeting? Who can I bring? Where do I park? Pre-empt such inquiries by including those details in your invitation.

3. Follow the leader.

As a guest, the host is your guide. Watch for him to make the first move. For example, don't place your napkin on your lap until he does, and begin eating only after he has begun. At a large event, where there is no host at your table, wait until everyone in your group is seated before unfolding your napkin, and start eating only after everyone else has been served.

4. Don't text with your mouth full.

You're busy. We get it. But please minimize electronic distractions at the dining table. Use your hands for holding silverware, not software. If you must take an urgent call or respond to a text, discreetly excuse yourself from the table to deal with the matter in private.

5. Avoid anatomizing your meal.

Remember, you're at a dining table, not an autopsy table. There's no need to dissect the food on your plate. Doing so can be off-putting to your fellow diners. Cut, rather than saw, your food into bite-sized pieces as you go, not all at once.

6. Imagine a luxury vehicle.

Unsure about which bread plate or goblet is yours? Here's a common etiquette suggestion: While looking at your place setting, think BMW. The small plate on the left is your bread plate, B. In the middle is your meal, M. And the right side is where anything wet goes, like wine or water, W. There you have it: BMW!

7. Select a style.

There are two common styles of dining. In the Continental style, the fork stays in your left hand and the knife in your right for cutting and eating throughout the meal. Fork tines always face down. In the North American style, the knife is rested on the right side of the plate after the food is cut, the fork is moved to the right hand, and the tines are placed in the up position (left-handed people may reverse hands).

8. Choose your weapon.

It can be intimidating to see the variety of forks, knives, and spoons on each side and above your plate at a formal meal. Fear not! Simply use the outermost implement(s) first. Those pieces will be taken away when the course is cleared. You can then pick up the silverware that's next in line when the following course is served. The fork and spoon above your plate are for dessert, and are meant to be used in unison.

9. Pace yourself.

You know how to scarf down lunch on the run during a frenzied workday. A formal meal is different, though. It's an experience that's meant to be savored. Slow down and enjoy the flavors, the ambience, and the conversation. If, on the other hand, you're the world's slowest eater, you may have to kick it up a notch to fit in with the tempo at the table.

10. Share your gratitude.

Go beyond saying a simple thank you on the way out. Follow up your formal dining experience with a sincere e-mail or, better yet, a handwritten note of gratitude.

Dining confidence is a valuable and increasingly rare business skill. Even though your plate is already full, there's always room to enhance your mealtime manners.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, professional speaker, and author. Sue helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect, create courteous corporate cultures, and prosper through professionalism.www.TheCivilityCEO.com