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Decorous Dining Etiquette Instructor Offers Short Course In Minding Manners At The Dinner Table

Tue., March 24, 1998

Greg Richards wants to help you mind your peas and cucs.

The Spokane Community College instructor started teaching basic table manners last year during his quarterly etiquette lunch. And he’s been floored by the response.

“We had been getting calls (at the college’s culinary program), asking a lot of etiquette questions, so we thought there might be a small need,” Richards said. “But it’s been so successful.”

Such a hit that the etiquette lunch in May is nearly filled, mostly with students heading out to the job market, but also professionals looking to bone up on basics.

“People just aren’t taught table manners at home anymore. With the two-income families, Mom and Dad are just too busy to even sit down to dinner together,” Richards said.

And that’s where you learn which fork to use, how to gracefully eat ribs (can’t be done) and not to blow your nose in a fancy linen napkin.

While formal etiquette rules fill thick volumes — “Miss Manner’s Guide for the Turn-of-The-Millennium” is 742 pages — Richards hits on the major do’s and don’ts of dining out during the three-course lunch. The final exam might involve deftly carving a Cornish game hen.

Students start at the very beginning.

“If there’s a host, let them indicate where you should sit,” Richards said.

The next move might seem obvious, but many misstep.

“When you first sit down, you should take the napkin and put it in your lap,” Richards said. “Not tucked in your collar or into your pants. I make a joke about it because that’s what my grandfather used to do.”

Another lesson in showing good form with your serviette: If you get up from the table in the middle of the meal, fold your napkin and leave it next to your plate, not on the chair where other fannies have been parked.

While studying the menu, don’t be afraid to ask the server how something is prepared or to let them know if you have serious food allergies.

Then, Richards said, “if you’re out on an interview and with someone who’s the host, look to them for guidance. Ask what they recommend. If you’re the person who picked the restaurant, be ready to make suggestions.”

A couple of things to keep in mind when deciding between the duck and the prime rib: Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu if someone else is picking up the tab, and steer clear of hard-to-handle foods like fried chicken, spaghetti or ribs.

“Acceptable finger foods include crisp bacon and french fries,” Richards said.

If you’re called on to select a wine, don’t sweat it.

“That whole wine ceremony doesn’t have to be intimidating,” Richards said. “It’s not a taste test to see whether you like a wine, but to find out whether the wine has been stored properly and if it has spoiled.”

After making a selection, be sure and check the label when the server brings it to your table.

“You want to make sure if it’s a ‘92 on the menu that they don’t bring you a ‘94 instead,” Richards said.

When the cork is pulled, examine it for mold, but there’s no need to sniff it.

“You should look at the wine in the glass, smell it and taste it. If it’s bad, you’ll know and they should offer to bring something else,” Richards said.

Then, there’s the question of whether you should drink at all.

“If you’re on a job interview and trying to impress someone, remember that alcohol loosens the tongue. It’s probably best to order a mocktail,” Richards said.

When the food is set in front of you, don’t get flustered about which fork to use. When in doubt, work from the outside in or take your cue from your host.

“I always use the example of Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman.’ When she comes back to the table and everyone’s eating escargot, obviously she didn’t know what to do, but she watched Richard Gere pick up a toast point and figured out that was the way to go,” Richards said.

During the meal, place your utensils back on the plate, not on the tablecloth. After the last bite of soup is sipped, leave your spoon in the bowl.

But if you’re eating a shrimp cocktail, take the fork and place it on the little serving saucer. And when you’re finished, don’t wad your napkin up and throw it on top of your plate.

Other tips for stress-free dining out include taking sauce from a shared dish and putting it on your plate rather than double-dipping, cutting a cherry tomato in half rather than putting the whole thing in your mouth, and discreetly ejecting that olive pit onto your fork before placing it back on the plate.

“The general rule is that anything that goes into your mouth with a utensil should come back out with the help of one,” Richards said.

So much to remember!

Yet Richards said learning a few basic etiquette rules will help in so many situations.

“If you’re going to someone’s home for dinner, ask if you can bring something,” he said. “And when you go through the buffet line, don’t act like it’s the last supper.”

And a good guest is mindful about when the party’s over.

“It’s always a good idea to preset the hours for the party, but if people stay until midnight and you want to go to bed, it’s OK to be blunt. Tell them you need to get to bed because you have to get up early,” he said.

Finally, sending a thank-you note to your host can make a big impression.

“You should send a thank-you within 24 hours,” Richards said. “I’ve known cases where it was between two people up for a job, and the one who sent a thank-you was hired.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by Bridget Sawicki

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Etiquette help Spokane Community College Culinary Arts’ etiquette lunch is May 7. For information, call 533-7283.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Etiquette help Spokane Community College Culinary Arts’ etiquette lunch is May 7. For information, call 533-7283.


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