It’s official—the holidays are upon us, and it’s only a matter of a time before you’re invited out for a nice holiday dinner party. Whether it’s dinner with the boss, celebrating with the clients, or just a fancy girls’ night out, it’s the perfect time of year to brush up on your dining etiquette.
Here are a few points to keep in mind, plus Diane’s short guide to decoding all the French on that menu.
7 Tips for Upscale Dining Etiquette
1. Keep your purse off the chair
As sophisticated as the bag itself may be, it’s unsophisticated to hang your purse off the back of your chair. And since it does not properly belong on the table either, consider bringing a small handbag with only the essentials that will easily fit on your lap. You can cover it with your napkin to keep it from falling.
2. Watch your host
Don't start to eat until your holiday hostess has had the opportunity to make a welcome toast. After that, be sure everyone at the table has been served before you dig in.
3. Clink with caution
You don’t need to clink glasses with everyone in your vicinity—so forget about squeezing in those last few clinks post-toast. While you would never refuse a clink, it’s better to simply raise your glass towards the center of your table, acknowledging all of those around you, and then take a sip.
4. Have a drink, not a bottle
I know I don’t need to remind you, but I’d be remiss to not mention it here anyway. A holiday dinner party can be the downfall of your carefully earned reputation if you overindulge. Drink in moderation, keep your composure, and never have to worry about a completely unnecessary misstep with your co-workers or managers.
5. Pass to your right
Food is customarily passed counterclockwise around the table. Another tip to remember: the salt and pepper are traveling partners. When someone asks for the salt, the pepper should be passed right along with it, so they stay together.
6. Keep your coffee cup up
Even if you are not a coffee drinker, don't flip your cup over in an effort to show your server that you are not interested. Simply place your hand above the cup when he passes by to signal “no thank you.”
7. No doggy bags
Even if your dog would love all of the bones at the table, skip it and keep your holiday image shining.
Diane’s Guide to Dining Vocab
Prix Fixe (pree fix) is a multi-course meal offered at a set price. Usually, the guest will have an option of two to three choices per course. The price remains “fixed,” regardless of your particular choice of course items.
Table d’Hôte (taabluh dōte) is also a multi-course meal offered at a set price, but the price of the entrée determines the cost of the meal. For example, a five-course chicken meal might cost $65 while the five-course lobster meal runs $300.
Amuse Bouche (amuz boosh) is a small, one-bite morsel eaten as an appetizer to blunt your appetite.
Foie Gras (fwah grah) is French for “fattened liver.” It’s typically served as a smooth mousse made from the enlarged liver of a goose or duck. The process of making foie gras is controversial because animals usually force-fed to get their livers to the ideal the size and taste. But remember that a work dinner is not the venue for your political views on animal rights: Even if it’s not your personal preference, resist the urge to visibly turn up your nose if someone else orders it.
Carpaccio (kär-pä'chiō) are thin slices of raw beef dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and various seasonings.
Bouillabaisse (boo yah base) is a highly-seasoned stew made from several kinds of fish and shellfish.
Vichyssoise (vish ē swahz) is a hearty soup made from potatoes, leeks, onions, and chicken broth or cream.
Haricot verts (ah ree ko ver) is the French name for small, slim, green beans. Easier to eat than to say for most!
Intermezzo is a tiny serving of sorbet, served in a small glass, used for cleansing the palate between courses.
Sommelier (sô'm∂-lyā´) is a highly-regarded restaurant employee with an extensive knowledge of wine. He or she will be well-versed in pairing wines with food and happy to offer advice to the restaurant guests. Don't be afraid to use his or her expertise!
With this quick refresher, you're sure to shine at your next dinner out. And a final thought on dining: One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry John Heinz: “To do a common thing, uncommonly well, brings success.” May your holiday dining experience be successfully merry and bright.