Archive for category Tips
To channel management guru Peter Drucker, more business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no business school courses are given on the subject. So chew on this: If you want to boost your selling power, it pays to improve your networking skills.
It pays to prospect. Seek out places where potential customers gather. We are surrounded by networking opportunities, although you should never confuse networking with schmoozing.
“Schmoozing has the connotation that you are getting something from someone with no benefit to the other person,” says Diane Darling, author of “The Networking Survival Guide.” Prospective customers see right through that. “One of the biggest pet peeves I hear from people is that people want something from them without a thought of giving back.”
So you schmooze, you lose. Instead, to woo new prospects, you need to be willing to give before you start networking. Here are five of Darling’s top ways to network:
1. Ask questions before meetings. The first few minutes of any local business group meeting is an excellent time to network. The atmosphere is casual and the conversation is light. Ask two or three neutral questions, such as where a person previously worked. Another good opener is, “I’m curious, where are you originally from?” That is an easy, non-threatening way to find something you have in common.
2. Talk to fellow passengers. Practice networking while in transit. When you sit down, smile and say hello. Ask if your seat mate is heading to a meeting or heading home. Of course, you also should respect the person’s body language and personal space. If the person shifts away from you, that’s a sign he or she wants to be left alone.
3. Use a book as a prop. This is an anti-networking tip. When you network on planes and trains, carry a book or an e-reader and have it visible. “When you first talk to someone, this indicates that you have something else to do and won’t necessarily talk his or her ear off,” Darling says. And if the person turns out to be boring, she adds, you can begin reading right away.
4. Network at conferences and trade shows. When you have a booth, make a point of catching people’s eyes when they approach. “If the person is also an exhibitor, ask questions such as how many shows she or he typically attends in a year or what in particular she or he likes about this one,” Darling advises. If the person is an attendee, ask him before you do too much talking. Monopolize the listening, not the speaking. Remember, you learn more listening to others than talking their ears off. Don’t be that guy or gal.
5. Stalk, but nicely. If you’re attending a conference or trade show, consider if there is someone specific you want to meet. Read speakers’ bios. Make the connection a week or so in advance via e-mail and by phone. But don’t overcommit yourself. “You can quickly run out of time,” Darling warns, “and canceling appointments at shows is not professional.”
So what can you give the people you meet? Listen to their needs and then sincerely seek to connect them with the contacts, information, or prospects they are looking for. You will find that the more you feed others, the more you will get fed.
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More about Networking
Great employees are reliable, dependable, proactive, diligent, great leaders and great followers… they possess a wide range of easily-defined—but hard to find—qualities.
A few hit the next level. Some employees are remarkable, possessing qualities that may not appear on performance appraisals but nonetheless make a major impact on performance.
Here are eight qualities of remarkable employees:
1. They ignore job descriptions. The smaller the company, the more important it is that employees can think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes, regardless of role or position, to get things done.
When a key customer’s project is in jeopardy, remarkable employees know without being told there’s a problem and jump in without being asked—even if it’s not their job.
2. They’re eccentric… The best employees are often a little different: quirky, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavor.
People who aren’t afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.
3. But they know when to dial it back. An unusual personality is a lot of fun… until it isn’t. When a major challenge pops up or a situation gets stressful, the best employees stop expressing their individuality and fit seamlessly into the team.
Remarkable employees know when to play and when to be serious; when to be irreverent and when to conform; and when to challenge and when to back off. It’s a tough balance to strike, but a rare few can walk that fine line with ease.
4. They publicly praise… Praise from a boss feels good. Praise from a peer feels awesome, especially when you look up to that person.
Remarkable employees recognize the contributions of others, especially in group settings where the impact of their words is even greater.
5. And they privately complain. We all want employees to bring issues forward, but some problems are better handled in private. Great employees often get more latitude to bring up controversial subjects in a group setting because their performance allows greater freedom.
Remarkable employees come to you before or after a meeting to discuss a sensitive issue, knowing that bringing it up in a group setting could set off a firestorm.
6. They speak when others won’t. Some employees are hesitant to speak up in meetings. Some are even hesitant to speak up privately.
An employee once asked me a question about potential layoffs. After the meeting I said to him, “Why did you ask about that? You already know what’s going on.” He said, “I do, but a lot of other people don’t, and they’re afraid to ask. I thought it would help if they heard the answer from you.”
Remarkable employees have an innate feel for the issues and concerns of those around them, and step up to ask questions or raise important issues when others hesitate.
7. They like to prove others wrong. Self-motivation often springs from a desire to show that doubters are wrong. The kid without a college degree or the woman who was told she didn’t have leadership potential often possess a burning desire to prove other people wrong.
Education, intelligence, talent, and skill are important, but drive is critical. Remarkable employees are driven by something deeper and more personal than just the desire to do a good job.
8. They’re always fiddling. Some people are rarely satisfied (I mean that in a good way) and are constantly tinkering with something: Reworking a timeline, adjusting a process, tweaking a workflow.
Great employees follow processes. Remarkable employees find ways to make those processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can’t help it.
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Globe and Mail
The company holiday party can be a surprisingly useful opportunity to enhance your career prospects and make valuable contacts. But it is important to get the balance between work and play right.
How do I approach the party?
“Remember that the Christmas party is not work,” says David Pendleton, a founder of Edgecumbe, the organizational psychologists. “It’s a completely different way to interact with people who you may normally only discuss tasks with, but it’s still a work event.”
Networking expert Carole Stone says it is an opportunity to build on existing relationships and to talk to colleagues that you do not normally deal with. “It’s an opportunity to look sideways outside your area. You never know who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn,” she says.
How do I work the party?
“The biggest area is connections and networks,” says Simon Hayward, managing partner of Cirrus, the employee engagement specialist. “It’s also an opportunity to use a bit of disclosure and to find out a bit about people and to build a bit more trust. Trust is a huge enabler.”
But Mr. Hayward says there is no point faking an interaction. “Don’t be manipulative, be genuine and have fun together. It allows barriers to come down so you can know people on a more intimate level,” he says. “When you make those intimate connections, it means you can offer favours and pull in favours. It removes formality and can be much better than a business meeting. There’s value to the individual and the organization.”
What about talking to senior people?
“If there’s someone you want to meet, this is the perfect opportunity,” says Mr. Hayward. “The layers of the organization are much vaguer. But remember it’s a party – make conversation interesting and genuine, don’t just pursue an agenda and don’t forget the marketing director is human.”
Ms. Stone says being tactful is important. “If you are sitting next to the CEO don’t say: ‘I have this idea.’ Rather, talk to them, then at the end ask if you can send them an e-mail or drop in to see them,” she says.
How formal should I be?
“Don’t be a party pooper,” says Ms. Stone. “Talk to everyone – and if you drink, have a couple of drinks.”
Mr. Pendleton warns, however, that the situation will dictate the level of formality – so be careful about alcohol. “You can be a bit bolder, but be personally sensitive like you would at any social function,” she says. “Avoid the mistletoe and don’t drink too much – in whole company events, serious errors of judgment get around like wildfire.”
How should I follow up with people I’ve met?
“Drop them an e-mail afterwards,” says Mr. Pendleton. “Remember: relationships are fed by regular contact. Send them a link that might be of interest or follow them on Twitter. It takes 15 seconds. Technology has made following up so much easier.”
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Kristi Hedges, November 10 2011
It can come out of nowhere. There you are, minding your business at work, trying to do a good job, when a colleague undermines you. It could be a shot across the bow from a new competitor or a conniving, malicious act from an old friend. It hurts, and it can hurt your career.
We know that politicking and backstabbing exists in the workplace. Many times these situations exist because corporations are set up to be extremely competitive, with fewer seats the further you move toward the top. Functional heads are frequently pitted against one another in a sort of psychic and physical endurance test to see who gets promoted.
It’s no surprise that relationships between people who need each other to get things done can turn toxic when it feels like a zero-sum game. (Ironically, teamwork is one of the key skills required for promotion, but I digress.)
I can say, as a coach, that the culprit is often poor communication or misunderstanding, but not always. Not to get too woo woo on you, but as the inspirational author Marianne Williamson writes, all actions come from a place of fear or love. You can guess where territorialism, gossip, or backstabbing comes from.
The question is, what do you do about it?
Your instinct may be to keep your head down, do good work, and hope the powers that be will see the truth in time. Or your approach may be to take on your saboteur directly, and match fire with fire.
I’m going to offer a third option — a road less travelled but worth the trip. Approach the situation as an opportunity to build trust instead. You’ll strengthen your presence and influence in the process.
I realize this is a leap when the situation may exist because trust has been destroyed. But consider that the absence of trust with a co-worker creates an incredibly unhappy, stressful, and untenable environment for a person. You end up constantly on guard, with your adrenaline pumping to the fight or flight responders in your brain, leaving your best intellectual power untapped and unavailable.
Finding a beneficent solution is both a selfless and a selfish act.
You may never be able to singlehandedly morph a relationship, but you can do your part. Instead of cowering or attacking, try these ideas instead:
- Seek to understand. Make it a mission to learn about your colleague’s motivations. The more you know about what makes him tick, the more context you’ll have for his behavior. We naturally stay away from those who threaten us, but the adage “know your enemy” has circulated since Sun Tzu wrote it in The Art of War thousands of years ago. The more understanding we have, the broader our perceptions and our options.
- Validate your perceptions. Take the initiative to vet your assumptions with the other person. This is not meant as an attack, but a level setting. Share your observations in a nonthreatening way. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. For example: “I’m picking up on some tension. I’d like for us to find a way for us to work better together. What can I do to make this work?” Even if the person denies or stonewalls, you’ll learn more than you knew going in.
- Change the dynamic. Relationships either move in an upward spiral or a downward one. You can change the directional dynamic by taking a surprising tack: be openly supportive of the other person. Back her up in a meeting or call out her excellent performance. Talk up her project to others. Be genuine! Offer sincere compliments, not flattery.
- Encourage regular interaction. More than one workplace feud has been resolved during a lengthy business trip. Unless you’re dealing with a sociopath, chances are commonality exists between you as well — if you can find it. Look for ways to work together one-on-one to expand the impressions you have of each other. This may start by initiating a “how can we help each other” meeting.
- Take accountability. If you find your way to an honest dialogue, own up to your part in impairing the relationship. Think of what you’ve contributed and take accountability — don’t defend your actions as a reaction to his.
- Keep talking. As Susan Scott put it so well in Fierce Conversations, “The conversation is the relationship.” Many a divorce, business partnership, or professional relationship has frayed from the silent treatment. When you bother to talk, it shows you care.
More on networking…
Lisa Gerstner, November 10 2011
1. Give the traditional way. PayPal? Forget it. An end-of-the-year tip should be handed over in person. Tuck the money (crisp, new bills are a plus) into a card with a handwritten note expressing your appreciation. If you can’t do it face-to-face — in the case of, say, the newspaper deliverer who passes by at 4 A.M. — mail a check or gift card, says Jodi R.R. Smith, president of etiquette consultant Mannersmith. And don’t wait until the final weeks of December — the recipients may be depending on the money to buy holiday gifts. The optimum time for end-of-year tipping is the week before Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter.
SEE ALSO: Our Quiz on Who to Tip for the Holidays
2. Make a list. The people who make your life easier should be at the top of your list. They may include your nanny or caregiver, hairstylist, fitness instructor, housekeeper, dog walker, garbage collector and, if you live in a condominium or apartment, handyman or concierge. For a nanny, a week’s pay is appropriate. The cost of one session is a good benchmark for many others on your list, such as a pet groomer, weekend babysitter or weekly cleaning person. Consult our tip sheet ; you can also find a guide at the Web site of the Emily Post Institute .
3. And check it twice. Take into account your relationship with the provider. If you have worked together closely or for a long time, or if you’ve received outstanding serv�ice throughout the year, you might tip at the higher end of the scale. The local cost of living matters, too; $50 goes further in the Midwest than in Manhattan.
4. Know whom not to tip. Check a company’s policy before you tip one of its employees. Mail carriers are not allowed to take cash; they may accept gifts worth less than $20. Nursing-home workers might not be permitted to take tips or gifts. Don’t pass cash to a professional, such as your doctor, lawyer or accountant; home-baked goods, a bottle of wine or chocolates are acceptable. And don’t give cash to your child’s teacher — it could look like a bribe. Consider pooling your resources with other parents to give a gift card, if the school’s gift-giving policy permits. “A teacher doesn’t need another mug,” Smith says.
5. Don’t fret if money is tight. You don’t have to blow your budget. It’s okay to tip only your A-list providers, such as your nanny, says Smith. But you should show your gratitude to anyone you don’t tip with a card and a note — and a small gift, such as a box of candy. Once your cash flows again, you can make up for a missed tip anytime the following year. Or you could use your talents and skills as currency, says Mary M. Mitchell, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Etiquette. Mitchell herself once gave a lesson in dining etiquette instead of a tip or gift. And homemade crafts and food are always low-cost, thoughtful ways to say thank you.
6. Be generous if you can. A fatter-than-usual tip could mean a lot to someone who is struggling financially. Be careful not to set an expectation that you’ll tip extra each year, and avoid making anyone feel like a charity case, says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. She advises that you say that you know times are tough and that your ability to help out this year is a gift to you, too.
More on tipping…
October 18 2011
An elevator speech is a sales call in a sentence. It either confirms or destroys your image — not to mention how it affects your results.
If you find yourself stammering and stuttering when you should be selling yourself and your services, consider the following tips:
1. State what you do in terms of a benefit. Example: “We help salespeople really engage their buyers when they deliver a sales presentation or a written proposal.”
2. Make sure the benefit has a “hook.” The hook causes listeners to say to themselves: “Oh, yeah? We have problems with that, too. I wonder how he/she does that?” People don’t really care what you do — they care about what you may be able to do for THEM.
3. Add a credibility builder. You may mention well-known clients to establish that others value your services. Consider key results achieved for clients, such as a certification process “just completed” to accomplish the same effect. Example: “Our clients — such as IBM, ExxonMobil, and Frito-Lay — tell us that they’ve been able to improve their closing ratio by up to 20 percent.”
4. Deliver your “speech” as if off the cuff. Never sound purposeful or canned. Work in some conversational glitches. Stumble on a word, use a colloquial phrase, or bridge from the conversation at hand with a spontaneous segue. Give careful attention to your phrasing, speaking rate, tone, and demeanor. They all provide context to make the message sound as if you’re talking friend to friend.
5. Be quotable. Make it memorable so the other person can pass it along to others interested in what you offer. Before you charge me with contradicting the previous point about a casual delivery, let me elaborate: There should be some phrase that sums up the essence of your offering succinctly.
You might deliver your memorable quote in a casual way like this: “I often tell clients that when they need to talk to the top brass, our presentation programs open the door. How well do your people do that in the C-suite — routinely talk to the top brass with class?”
6. Prefer the vernacular to jargon. Sound as though you’re talking to your brother, not a prospective boss or client.
7. Keep it brief-not more than 15-30 seconds. Remember that people have attention spans geared to 15-second, 30-second, and 60-second TV commercials. And those employ screen changes to hold attention. How often do you flip the channel or leave the room for a snack?
8. End with a question. Your goal is to engage the other person in a dialogue. Example: “How difficult do your employees find it to do X around your office?”
If you just end the “speech,” you’ll typically get a pleasant nod or polite “Hmmm.” And silence leaves both of you uncomfortable. But with a question, the person can either respond briefly and change the subject if uninterested, or continue about the challenges you can help him meet-ideal
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Jessica Kleiman, October 19 2011
Most people struggle with how to promote themselves without coming across as boastful or aggressive. Representing your own business or product is tough enough to begin with, but there are another set of challenges entirely when you’re trying to build your personal brand within the confines of a bigger company. How do you put yourself out there without upstaging your boss or looking like you’re trying to land a better job elsewhere? Here are some tips for how to navigate being your own best publicistin the workplace without alienating those around you:
Position yourself as an expert…for the company: If you’re interested in leveraging your expertise to do media interviews and speaking engagements, talk to your supervisor and suggest that you take some things off his or her plate and serve as an alternate spokesperson on certain topics. Your boss probably gets a ton of requests and will be happy to have the help. At the same time, you’ll be building up your reputation as a go-to expert.
Volunteer to train others: A couple of years ago, the PR team that I oversee realized that social media had become an integral part of communications and decided to develop a presentation about the dos and don’ts of social networking to share with others at the company. They presented it to all the top executives and the entire digital team. Though social media wasn’t their direct responsibility (the company actually had a VP of social media at that time), they were able to put themselves forth as a resource on the subject and raise their visibility across departments.
Be upfront about your goals: If you really want to raise your profile in the industry, sit down with your boss and share your desire to do so. Outline the reasons why (e.g. you think it will be good for the company, you want to expand your network, hone your skills) and get his or her buy-in and support so you can feel comfortable pitching yourself as an expert/spokesperson. For example, if you get booked to speak at an industry conference or write a bylined article in a trade publication, your affiliation will not only create good PR for you, but also for the company at large.
Toot your own horn…just not at top decibel: In the book I co-wrote with fellow Forbes blogger Meryl Weinsaft Cooper, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, we have a chapter called “Toot Your Own Horn (but Not Too Loudly).” Meaning: There’s a way to promote yourself without being too in-your-face. If you’re constantly “all about me,” people will flee. Don’t just pat yourself on the back; spend as much time (if not more) praising others with whom you work. If you give credit to your colleagues and direct reports for a job well done, they’ll be less likely to see you as a blatant self-promoter when you are the one to present at an important meeting or do that interview about the project they helped make a success. Instead, they’ll likely be your cheerleaders.
No one wants to be seen as focused solely on himself but it is possible — and important — to develop a personal brand within a larger organization. With the job market in a volatile state, you don’t want to be known only for the company you’re at for but also for the unique abilities and talents that would make you an asset to anywhere else you go, whether to another outfit or to build your own business. And, if you do end up staying at your company for a long time to come, think about how lucky they’ll be to have a dynamic advocate/spokesperson/brand-builder in their ranks.
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Las Vegas Review Journal
Kristyn Schiavone, October 9 2011
For recent graduates, looking for a job and entering the workforce is stressful enough without the added task of recycling student group T-shirts for blazers and dress pants.
However, research shows that in an interview, your appearance is just as important as what’s on your resume when you walk in the door.
“Only 7 percent of a first impression is spoken word,” says Michelle T. Sterling, founder of Global Image Group, an international image consulting firm.
Most experts agree that exactly what you are wearing is not as important as looking prepared and professional. Sterling says this generation’s job seekers are very relaxed, so they need to be careful about projecting a polished look.
What to wear
Generally speaking, offices have become more casual, so the rules for proper business attire have changed over the years. Some clothing items that used to be taboo, such as jeans, open-toe shoes and even shorts, are now perfectly acceptable in some offices.
Interview attire, however, should still be somewhat formal, no matter what the culture of the office.
“I think the mistake that a lot of young people make is that if the company is casual, they go very casual (for the interview),” says Nancy Plummer, Chicago.-based image consultant and owner of Fine Threads. “Stick with traditional until you get the job.”
For young men and women, Plummer advocates what she calls a “classic yet contemporary” look. Choose basic pieces in a neutral color (black, navy, gray khaki), such as a shift dress for ladies and dress pants and a jacket for men. Then add color and personality with accessories. Ladies can add a bright shoe or belt, while men can add a contemporary touch with a patterned tie or colored shirt.
Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations and training for the Society of Human Resource Management, recognizes that many young job applicants don’t have the money for lots of fancy business clothes and says it’s not necessary for young people to show up in a $3,000 tailored suit to a job interview. It’s about putting your best foot forward to the company, whatever that best foot may be.
“That could just mean you buy an iron and iron your oxford shirt and khakis,” Orndorff says. “Showing up in a wrinkled shirt — you can fix that.”
She says that after you get the job, pay close attention to what others are wearing during your first week at work.
And while it may be a casual environment, leave your Dollar Store flip-flops, ripped jeans and T-shirts describing the details of your Cancun vacation at home.
Good news for ladies, though: In most offices, hosiery is out, and peep-toe pumps are also acceptable, even for the initial interview.
Building your wardrobe
Dropping big bucks on a new wardrobe can be tough to swallow, especially if you are a broke college graduate who doesn’t have a job yet. But image consulting experts say that you can purchase office-appropriate pieces in a relatively painless, even thrifty, manner.
Even if you are going for a traditional office job that requires you to wear a suit, Sterling says it doesn’t have to be pricey, and it doesn’t have to look like you borrowed it from mom or dad.
“If you’re going for something fashion-forward, brands like Tahari are very professional, and you can find them at Macy’s,” Sterling says. For both men and women, she recommends stores like H&M and Zara.
Every wardrobe, Sterling says, is based around basics and classics that fit perfectly. Fit is critical and makes an inexpensive piece look just as nice.
Once you land that job, don’t think it’s necessary to buy a month’s worth of clothes. Plummer’s “cluster concept” allows you to buy seven to 10 pieces of relatively good quality that can be combined to create 30-40 office outfits.
For ladies, this might be one dress, two jackets, three bottoms and four tops that can all be worn together in different ways and reaccessorized to create an entirely new look. For men, it might be three suits and six shirts that can be mixed and matched.
In a casual office that allows jeans, Plummer says she recommends sticking with dark denim for both men and women, as it has a less casual look. For men, pairing jeans with a loafer instead of a sneaker is usually the way to go.
Sometimes makeup gets a bad rap in the workplace because it can go over the top, but Sterling says that for ladies makeup is an important part of looking polished, not like you just rolled out of bed and came to work. She recommends Bobbi Brown’s 10-step Beauty Tutorial, available at bobbibrowncosmetics.com, using neutral or nude shades.
And remember, no matter whether your workplace is formal or casual, showing too much of anything is never a good idea.
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Glam: Canoe Lifestyles
The basic blues that form the backbone of just about everyone’s casual day and weekend wear can also take you to work and out on the town.
Whether you prefer skinny or wide-legged jeans, prepare to jump into dark and clean cut styles, as the distressed and washed out look faded with summer’s last spark.
“Fashion trends trickle down from the runways, and this fall we’re seeing plenty of fashion-forward flares and bohemian retro looks inspired by the styles of the seventies,” says Michael Silver, the president and ‘chief denimologist’ of Silver Jeans Co., a company that started in Winnipeg several decades ago and currently retails a range of regular and extended sized jeans in nine countries.
Super flares and wide legged trouser pants may provide welcome relief for those who are tiring of the skinny jeans look, although that trend is hardly over.
Skinnies still form the basis of many looks, with most likely to be updated by dressier finishes, fabrications and colour. Sleek sateen and resin coated leather-look finishes, as well as densely pigmented colours also put a fresh face on skinnies. Relaxed cuts offer slightly roomier options.
Coloured denim, more often seen in spring, also makes a bold impact this fall.
“Scarlet jeans were seen on a number of designer runways, with Parisian designer Isabel Marant spearheading the trend,” says Lauren Applebaum, a national brand manager for Hudson Jeans.
Coloured jeans also make statements in more muted shades such as khaki, grey and plum. Velvet jeans will also be in stores as the holiday season approaches, especially in flares and trouser cuts.
“Fashion forward flares feature a mid or high rise and a trimmer fit through the thigh before belling out just below the knee. This produces a body flattering line that also elongates the legs,” says Silver.
Trouser cut jeans have a similarly figure flattering effect, as a wider hem line makes hips seem smaller by comparison.
“Our wide, straight-legged jeans also feature a longer rise which elongates the torso and helps create a sculpted body line,” says Hudson’s Applebaum.
Wear trouser cut and flared pants with tie-neck blouses, vests and jackets. High heels or ankle boots help form dressier looks that look just as good at work as they do out on the town, paired with camisoles and sequined tanks.
Pair your flares or trouser-cut denims with patterned sweater vests and Fair Isle sweaters over button-down shirts, and switch to chunky platform shoes or boots to make more casual impressions.
To tap into fall’s boho chic trend, try out denim with peasant blouses, layered necklaces, shaggy fur vests, scarves and platform wedges.
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Bailey Shiffler, September 28 2011
Perhaps this has happened to you: You go out to dinner with your spouse. Across the room, there is someone from work, or church. The person smiles, waves and then — Oh, no! Are you kidding me? — plunks herself down at the table with you and proceeds to monopolize the conversation.
Or maybe this is the scene from a recent dinner: Your spouse pulls out her cellphone while waiting for the meal to be served. The kids see this as a cue that they can do the same. Suddenly, the whole family is head-down, everyone immersed in his or her own cyberworld.
What are the rules for 2011 restaurant dining? In some ways, old standards have changed (sometimes elbows are allowed on the table), but new rules have emerged to respond to shifts in society.
Are you an unwitting restaurant boor? We talked with etiquette experts to find out how to be more eatery-urbane and less bistro-barbarian. Bon appétit!
As a general rule, your phone should not be touched at a restaurant. “People know if you’re sneaking a peek at your phone,” says Patricia Rossi, author of Everyday Etiquette: How to Navigate 101 Common and Uncommon Social Situations. “The signal you’re sending is that there’s something more important than them.” If you are expecting an emergency phone call, apologize and notify your dining mates beforehand, Rossi says. When the call comes, excuse yourself and take the call in the reception area. One gray area: using a smartphone to schedule post-dinner activities. Our etiquette experts agree that checking movie times for the group is OK, as long as everyone is finished eating.
There are no specific rules that outline how you should order, but the experts say to err on the side of politeness. Says Rossi: “You always want to have the utmost respect for anyone serving you…. Use all your verbal manners as well as body language — no snapping, no waving.”
Tina Pestalozzi, writer of Dining Skills A to Z: A Practical Guide to Today’s Table Manners and Dining Etiquette, says “I would like” or “May I have?” are great ways to order your meal but advises against “Bring me” or “I need.” Peggy Post, great-granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post and co-author of the 18th Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, says to always remember “please.”
While it is always best to be gracious, the experts agreed that a “thank you” to your wait staff for every water refill is overkill. “You can’t just keep chanting, ‘Thank you,’” Rossi says. “It makes the waiter uncomfortable and breaks dialogue with your dining mates.”
Running into friends
No matter the size of your city, it’s inevitable that when out to eat, you’re certain to bump into a neighbor, colleague or that man whose name you can never remember. Rossi says it’s important to keep restaurant interactions short and sweet, noting that you should never interrupt while people are actually eating their food: “You just want to say hello very quickly, then say ‘I’ll see you after dinner,’ or ‘Let’s catch up tomorrow.’” Pestalozzi agrees, saying that often a smile and nod of acknowledgement can be enough. “Table hopping is not viewed favorably,” she says, adding that spending time at another table can be confusing for the wait staff and can also clog servers’ traffic flow. And what should you do if Mr. and Mrs. What’s-their-name plop themselves down at your table midmeal to catch up on neighborhood gossip? Pestalozzi says a polite “It was nice to see you, we’ll have to catch up another time” should do the trick.
Conversing with the wait staff
It’s always best to be friendly to the wait staff, but remember that they are at work. No matter how welcoming a waiter is, he or she should not be expected to recant a life story, tell you his or her plans for the holidays or dish on co-workers. As well, physical barriers should not be broken. “Never touch someone that is serving you unless it’s family or a best friend,” Rossi says. “It’s just a screen you shouldn’t break.” As a general rule, be courteous, but remember that your conversations might be interfering with their service to other tables. “They are serving a lot of people, and their job is to be personable and make chitchat,” Rossi says. “But people go into diatribes and dissertations, and all the waiter is thinking about is other tables.”
Splitting the bill
Long gone are the days of “This one’s on me” — in these rough economic times, splitting the bill is the norm. There are two ways to go about splitting: You can assume that everyone at the table will have roughly the same amount to eat and drink and split the bill evenly, or you can itemize, letting each person pay for what he or she eats. Post says both ways are acceptable, but it’s mandatory to inform the waiter of the intended split before a single item is ordered. The ask-first approach will ensure that the restaurant allows splitting (yes, some still don’t) and will allow the waiter to take notes accordingly.
The rule of 15 to 20 percent of the bill — before tax — is still the standard, but the experts say it is perfectly acceptable to adjust the norm according to the quality of service. “It’s never OK to withhold tip to economize, but it’s acceptable to reduce or even eliminate the tip if there has been an issue or poor service,” Pestalozzi says. But Post adds a warning: Make sure the errors in service were your waiter’s fault. While inattentiveness, incorrect orders or sass may be attributed to your server, a backed-up kitchen may take the fall for slow service.
Also, for those ambiguous tip jars (or the fill-in-the-blank line on a receipt) at walk-up eateries where a cashier simply takes your order: Tipping is not mandatory. “People often feel guilted into leaving something,” Post says. “If you want to, it’s totally fine. It’s a way of saying thank you if someone is extra friendly.”
Save all primping, teeth checking and lipstick applying for the bathroom. Pestalozzi says the same rules apply to toothpicks — if you must grab one on the way out the door, wait until you’re in the privacy of your car to pick at your teeth.
The start of the meal — sometime between being seated and receiving your food — is the ideal time to place your napkin in your lap. “Wait until at least three people have arrived to do so, with the host taking the lead,” Pestalozzi says. There are several rules of thought when it comes to where to put your napkin when you excuse yourself from the table, though. Pestalozzi and Rossi advise that you should place your unfolded napkin in the seat of your chair when you go to the restroom — the waiter should refold it and place it on the back of the chair while you’re gone. When finished, the napkin should be placed loosely to the left of your plate. Post agrees with the post-meal placement, but says the napkin should go to the left of the plate when you leave for a restroom break, as well, to prevent a soiled napkin from staining or dirtying a chair.
As a general rule, diners should wait until everyone at the table has been served to begin eating, but Post notes that there are exceptions. If someone at your table orders a hot meal and the service for other diners is lagging, the host (or the rest of the party) should insist that he or she begin without them, and that diner should most definitely accept.