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The 10 Top Dining Etiquette Errors

Do you break out into a sweat the minute you sit down to a formal dinner, faced with the challenge of picking up the proper utensil for the proper dish, knowing that if you don't you'll appear unsophisticated, unworldly or - worst of all - merely human?

You're not alone. The market is ripe with books and courses geared toward helping Americans dine with ease and grace. But while dining etiquette errors may cause only a chuckle here and there when you're among friends, these types of blunders could cost you your next business deal if they occur at a business lunch or dinner ... or even your inheritance if your wealthy aunt witnesses you using a soup spoon to mix honey into your tea!

According to Adeodata Czink, president of Business of Manners, a company that specializes in mastering proper international protocol:

"Bad table manners are the biggest giveaway that a person lacks manners. If you are in Europe and you don't know how to hold a fork, that is the first thing they notice. You can fake a huge amount, but you can't fake holding a fork."

If you avoid these top 10 dining etiquette blunders, you'll be well on your way to being the toast of the party.

1. Not Holding Utensils Properly.

Rather than holding your fork (or spoon) in a full-fisted way, the proper way to hold your utensil is to balance it between the first knuckle of the middle finger and the tip of the index finger, while using the thumb to support the handle. When you use a knife, the tip of your index finger should rest on the upper blade of the knife.

Use the utensil that's farthest away from your plate first, then work your way in. Use one utensil for each course (don't save your salad fork to use with the main course, for instance).

Knowing which utensil to use for which course is one of the toughest parts of formal dining. A general rule? Start from the outside and work your way in.

If that's not enough to remember, there are two ways to use a knife and fork: The American Style and the European Style, either of which can be used.

American Style: Hold your knife in your right hand, fork in the left. Cut a few pieces of food, place knife on the edge of your plate (with the blade facing in), then switch your fork to your right hand to eat (unless, of course, you're left-handed).

European Style: Hold your knife in your right hand, fork in the left. The difference is that you don't switch hands-you eat with your fork in your left hand, with the prongs curving downward.

2. Taking Phone Calls During a Meal.

Cell phones should NOT be answered during a meal. In the event of an emergency, apologize beforehand for having to answer your phone, then leave the table and talk outside of the room. Ideally, your cell phone should not even be with you at the table, and certainly should not be placed on the table (nor should purses, keys, wallets, etc.).

If it seems unfathomable to answer your cell phone during dinner and like something only a teenager who doesn't know any better would do, a study led by Robbie Blinkoff, Context research group's principal anthropologist, found that's not the case. "Parents are just as guilty as their teenage kids of accepting cell-phone calls during dinner," the study said.

3. Chewing With Your Mouth Open.

This is one of the quickest ways to be sure you're not invited back to dinner. Always keep your mouth closed while you chew and try not to make loud noises. It's acceptable to talk with a small piece of food in your mouth, but don't attempt it if your mouth is full or close to it.

Avoid cutting up your entire meal all at once. Cut only a few pieces of food at a time.

4. Cutting Your Food up Into Tiny Pieces/Cutting Meat up All at Once.

Proper etiquette says you should only cut a few pieces of meat/food at a time, or, better yet, cut only the piece you plan to eat.

As for people who choose to cut their food up all at once, Czink says, "When you cut your food up like that, you look like you are about to feed a baby."

5. Acting Rude to Wait Staff/Servers.

Acting rude to waiters and waitresses is a good way to embarrass yourself and others at the table. While it's fine to ask questions about the menu, or point out if you receive the wrong dish, it's important to be polite to everyone around. Many business deals have surely gone sour after a company sees a rude display at the dinner table-they're likely wondering how the person will treat their own employees!

(Plus, some of us here at always wonder if waiters and waitresses "pay you back" for rudeness in ways that you can't see. Remember, they have private exposure to your food before you do! :)

6. Expounding on Religious/Political/Dietary Beliefs.

Conversation at a formal dinner should not be offensive to those around you. If you sense that you've crossed the line in dinner topics, such as ranting about why you do or don't eat meat as the main course is served, and notice others sending looks across the table at your expense, simply change the topic as quickly as possible.

Top Recommended Reading
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7. Complaining About the Food.

Even if the meat is tough, the vegetables are overcooked and the bread is stale, there's no excuse to tell this to your host. An exception would be if you're in a restaurant, and then it's acceptable to politely ask for a new dish.

8. Picking your teeth with a toothpick or fingers while at the table.

If food gets stuck in your teeth, excuse yourself from the table and fish it out while in the bathroom. Be sure to wash your hands afterward. In the case of removing an olive pit or shrimp shell from your mouth, the general rule is to take it out the same way it went in. So, if you ate the olive with your fingers, you can remove the pit with your fingers as well.

Interestingly, picking your teeth is not just a dining faux pas-it also happens to be one of the Nine Grossest Things Other People do That can Make You Sick.

9. Using the Butter Serving Knife to Butter Your Roll.

A portion of butter should be taken from the butter dish, using the butter knife, and placed onto your own bread plate. Break the roll into small pieces and butter your bread a piece at a time, rather than buttering the whole piece at once.

10. Licking Your Fingers/Using Fingers to Push Food Onto Your Fork.

Always use a napkin to remove food from your fingers, and a knife to push food onto your fork. If the situation were reversed, would you want to shake hands with, or take a dinner roll from, someone after their fingers have been in their mouth or on their plate?


Business of Manners

Common Mistakes in Dining Etiquette

Dining Etiquette

Wired News

Basic Table Manners

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