Manners 101: Etiquette queen Angelyn Davis gives it to us straight

Should we be sent back to the kids' table with a sippy cup?

Our soup bowls are cleared and plates of Mediterranean Chicken arrive. "This is a beautiful entrée," Davis says, but I can sense that the appearance of bone-in meat has set off a wave of panic for many of us. Davis demonstrates the Continental-style approach to wielding eating utensils, in which the knife is held in the right hand and the fork in the left to avoid the tedious hand-switching of the American style. Davis pierces the chicken and cuts away from herself. "No sawing," she says, "down and away." She skewers the piece with her fork, tines down, and moves it to her mouth.

To us died-in-the-wool American-style diners, once familiar utensils now make us look like first-time chopstick users. I watch others struggle to hold the fork "upside down" and repeatedly catch myself unconsciously switching my fork back to my right hand. I feel a bit like I should be sent back to the kids' table with a high chair and a sippy cup.

I don't fare much better with our dessert course, a towering, berry-topped "chocolate cathedral." As I pinch the structure between my fork and spoon and carefully tip it over, a blueberry rolls off my plate and comes to rest in the no-man's territory in the middle of our table. But Davis has advised us that if you're not the sort of person to carry a crumber—I wouldn't be surprised if she had one tucked into her clutch—to just leave any reckless bits where they lie. "Food is meant to be enjoyed," she says.

What's the most graceful way to tackle the "chocolate cathedral"? Angelyn Davis will show you.
Jana Freiband
What's the most graceful way to tackle the "chocolate cathedral"? Angelyn Davis will show you.

Davis takes questions from the group: Is it ever okay to eat with your hands? (Yes for burgers and fries, which are showing up more often at upscale restaurants, but if you have a choice, select a dish eaten with utensils as you'll likely be shaking hands after the meal.) Is it more polite to finish everything on your plate, or leave a few bites? (In more formal settings, it's best to leave a few bites, to reflect your host's generosity.) One poor woman with short stature and a large chest says she has trouble fitting into booths and wonders if it's okay to request a table instead. Unfortunately, Davis says, the host could perceive your request as rude, and she recommends putting up with the discomfort.

Then Davis explains that if you'd like to get up to use the restroom—never apply lipstick at the table, ladies—you should cross your utensils in the middle of your plate, leave your seat from the right side, and place your napkin on your chair. When you are finished with your meal, place both pieces of silverware in the 4 o'clock position. Our white-gloved waiter recognizes the cue, but I'd imagine that a fair number of servers—and diners—aren't as well informed.

The best way to avoid a tussle over the check, Davis says, is for the host to catch the server beforehand and arrange the appropriate delivery. And don't ask for a doggie bag, she adds, unless the host does. As soon as the host has taken her napkin off her lap and set it before her, it's a signal that the meal is over. And, Davis says, that a handwritten thank-you note—not an email or text message—is in order.  

Upcoming Classes

Business Etiquette Class

October 1, 11 a.m.St. Paul Hotel, 651.228.3860$55 per person

Children's Etiquette Luncheon

October 3, 10 a.m.St. Paul Hotel, 651.228.3860

$45 per child

University Alumni Association Etiquette Dinner

October 20, 5:30 p.m.McNamara Alumni Center, 612.625.9180

$20 students, $30 alumni association members, $35 general public

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