No Cellphones or Alcohol Please… Etiquette Tips for the Business World

Pearls of PolishGrowing up, my parents always taught me polite table manners, and after attending the University of St. Thomas Annual Etiquette Dinner and Networking Event on Feb. 24, I realized I still have something to learn. For example, I usually carry a clutch to dinner but if I happen to have my big daily purse then I would simply place it on the floor beside my chair. I learned that this shouldn’t be done and purses should always go in between your feet to avoid tripping the wait staff. Being able to present yourself well in an interview and represent a potential employer well, can be as important as fulfilling a job’s tasks. To prepare students for the professional world and all its expectations, UST hosts a variety of events and workshops.

This is the ninth year UST has invited Diane Gottsman, founder and director of the Protocol School of Texas, to teach dining, networking and business etiquette at the Etiquette Dinner and Networking Event sponsored by the University’s Career Services Center. Diane taught us the European style of dining, which is widely expected around the world, especially for corporate meals – this includes interviews too. According to Diane, the European dining style is taught and preferred because it makes the diner look powerful and reduces the loss of eye-contact.

Students were encouraged to ask lots of questions during the event. According to Diane, most second interviews are conducted over a meal because the interviewer will evaluate you based on how you treat the restaurant’s wait staff, how you react during an awkward moment and on your social skills.

The audience included UST students and junior and sophomore high school students who are part of the Bay Area Catholic Homeschoolers. Years away from corporate interviews, I think it’s awesome that the seven high school students decided to attend this informative dinner.

Diane gave us a lot of great information, so let’s start from the beginning of the corporate meal or interview.

EttiquetteThe Start: Gentlemen, don’t pull a woman’s seat out for her and don’t stand every time she stands up. These are expected in social but not business settings.

Purses: Ladies, place your purse on the floor between your feet, or on the chair next to you if an empty one in available. If you have a small clutch, place it on your lap and then cover it with the napkin. Diane said we should not use purse hooks or hang a purse on a chair. We should also avoid placing our purse on the floor next to our chair because it could cause a member of the wait staff to trip.

Jackets & Coats: Keep your jackets on. Winter coats can be left at coat checks or folded over and either placed behind your seat or on the chair next to you if available. Never hang a jacket on a chair back, always fold and place it neatly on there.

Napkins: When you pick your napkin up, be sure it goes straight to your lap from the table. Diane stressed that we should not shake it out or wave it around like a flag. When using the napkin, dab it at your mouth but don’t wipe. If you leave the table, place your napkin on the seat of your chair or folded neatly onto the back of your chair, but never place your napkin on the table.

Place Setting: Bread is always to your left and your drink is to the right. Remember this to avoid accidentally taking someone else’s drink. We use our silverware from the outside, and the spoon at the top of your place setting is the dessert or coffee spoon.

Soup: If lemon is wanted, be sure to squirt the lemon with your left hand and cover it with your right. Then the lemon wedge can either go in your glass or behind it on the table. During this course, you can rest your spoon on the saucer of a cup of soup, but if a bowl is served then rest your spoon on the bowl to the right.

Conversation: Keep up with your reading. Be up-to-date on both serious and light-hearted current events.

Restroom: If you need to use the restroom, simply say “excuse me,” and Diane advises to try and go before the entrée is served.

Beverages: Hold your water and tea glasses from the middle to bottom of the bowl. Note that at a job interview, you should always pass on alcohol. If offered, simply say “No thank you, but please go ahead.” If you are hired and attend an evening event, remember to act responsibly! Pinky fingers stay down by the way, and Diane said we should always hold the coffee mug by the handle.

Entrée: Index fingers go on the spine of the knife and fork. After cutting a piece, the knife helps push the bite of food onto the fork. After this, you should rotate your fork with its tines down to your mouth. Only cut one piece of food at a time; it is improper to cut up all your food at the beginning of a meal.

Resting or Finished: To let the wait staff know that you are taking a brief break from eating your meal, you should place your fork and knife in “resting position.” In this position, the fork and knife are crossed in the center of the plate; fork’s tines pointed down and knife’s blades facing left. To let the wait staff know that you are finished with your meal, the knife and fork are placed side by side on the right-hand side of your plate, at the 4 o’clock position – tines should face downward and the blade inward.

Dessert: If the dessert is served on a plate then you can rest your dessert spoon or fork, tines up, on the upper right-hand side of the plate. If dessert is served in a bowl, with a saucer underneath, then place your spoon or fork on the saucer.

Cellphones: Turn your cellphone off or place it on silent without vibrations. Do not place your cellphone on the table beside you even if your interviewer has his or hers out. It’s improper, so please don’t do it.

Other Big Don’ts: Diane said we should not ask for ketchup, ask to share food or ask for a doggie bag or to-go box. I know this last one seems strict, and if food is left-over then I don’t think a to-go box will hurt, but don’t order new food or a dessert to-go.

I hope this is helpful to everyone, and I wish you the best with all your future career moves.

For more tips on both business and social etiquette check out Diane’s blog.

By Deema Al-Rasheed

About the Author — Ronnie Piper

Ronnie Piper is the senior social media specialist for the University of St. Thomas. In addition to managing "likes" and "shares," he also serves as the University photographer.

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