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Blog

World of Etiquette: Sharing a Meal

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean returns with a second installment in our “World of Etiquette” series, this time with her notes on dining in and out. Once again: etiquette is for life, not just special occasions...

Exactly where your family eats dinner when AT HOME means everything! Do you all gather at a table in your kitchen? Or does everyone get their own food, take it to their bedrooms, and eat at different times? These habits may develop slowly, for perfectly understandable reasons. But the trend continues, and the problems that develop might snowball over time and wreak havoc later.

 Because you never know who you'll end up seated next to at a dinner party later on... (L-R: Claire Danes, Giancarlo Giammetti, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, Anne Hathaway)

Because you never know who you'll end up seated next to at a dinner party later on... (L-R: Claire Danes, Giancarlo Giammetti, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, Anne Hathaway)

Dinner time is prime time for a family to communicate, get to know each other, realize that all people have daily ups and downs. It is a time to learn empathy, manners, nutrition, listening skills. What happens when a family never eats together, at least a few times a week, without their cell phones on the table? When the children become teenagers and then young adults, they will 100% embarrass themselves at a date’s house, their job interview, or other social occasion. In the future you may receive a call from your child accusing you of never teaching him how a table is set or the importance of waiting to dive in.

 Always serve your company first. (L-R: Keith Richards, Tina Turner, David Bowie)

Always serve your company first. (L-R: Keith Richards, Tina Turner, David Bowie)

Here are mistakes we see far too often IN RESTAURANTS: forgetting to put the napkin in your lap first, or to close the menu signaling the waiter you are ready to order; and asking questions like What beers do you have? when the list is right in front of you. There is nothing tackier than being disrespectful to the service staff or acting too privileged to say Please and Thank you. People who talk with food in their mouth, fail to wipe their face with a napkin, or help themselves before passing come off as completely gross. Always offer the platter to your neighbor, serve them with a fork and spoon, and then keep it going around the table. Your plate will soon have plenty of food on it, too. P.S. Always pass the S&P together.

 Settle the the bill with a game of ping pong, if you must. (L-R: Paul Newman & Robert Redford) 

Settle the the bill with a game of ping pong, if you must. (L-R: Paul Newman & Robert Redford) 

Who pays? Especially if it’s a negligible amount, offer to pick up the bill and let your company treat you next time. It will all even out eventually. (People will notice if you always let them pay, regardless of how much money they have.) And anyone who has worked in F&B knows that splitting the check for more than a couple of people is a total pain and can slow things down, especially in the age of Venmo. Better yet, bring cash and settle your dues the old-fashioned way. Remember that if you order an expensive wine without consulting everyone at the table, you are responsible for paying for it regardless of who else drinks. Even if you do split the bill, ask to add the cost of the bottle to your half of the food total.

Finally, if you have real FOOD ISSUES, including illness or serious allergies, be confident in yourself. Call your host ahead of time to let them know. Although this is a considerate gesture, your issues are still your problem and you must take care of it yourself. You are not asking for a menu change. If you do not eat something on the plate, they will know that it’s not because you do not like the cooking. Bottom line: it’s your job to be self-sufficient!