Dining Etiquette for Business Holiday Dinner – Formal Dining Etiquette

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The holiday season is still in full swing. Last week we posted about dining etiquette at holiday cocktail parties, a common form of seasonal celebration in business. But what if your company chooses to take the formality of its holiday party up a notch, and instead plans a formal dinner to ring in the New Year? Whether in a home or a restaurant, these tips may come in handy to make your business holiday dinner smooth sailing.

Technicalities: Place Settings and Silverware

The basics of place settings, flatware and general table protocol should be fresh in mind before heading to a dinner. Take a look at an earlier blog post on silverware etiquette for more detail.

  • Silverware: A basic table setting generally is arranged as follows: salad fork, then dinner fork to the left of the plate; knife, then soup spoon on the right; dessert or coffee spoon at the top.
  • Place setting: Remember that your bread plate is to the left of the main plate and glasses are placed at the right. At a crowded table with many plates, this could get confusing, so be wary not to “steal” someone’s bread plate!
  • Napkin: The napkin should be placed on the lap as soon as you sit down and remain there for the duration of the meal. If you need to get up from the table, set it on the table to the left of your place setting.

Courtesies at (and around) the Table

  • Devices: Not only should you keep smartphones or other devices away from the table – but also, stow them away before you even enter the restaurant or host’s home. Though you are among business colleagues, this is not the time to be distracted by work. Therefore, in answer to your question whether your device goes on the right or left side of your dinner plate, I believe you have the answer; it does not go on the table at all!
  • Dress code: Generally this type of holiday party is more formal, so plan an outfit accordingly. If dining at a restaurant, knowing the style and dress code of the restaurant can help in choosing attire. Though festive pieces are appropriate at a holiday gathering, remember that this is a professional occasion: tastefulness is of the essence.
  • Host gift: If you have been invited in to someone’s home, bring a gift for the host. Classic options such as a bottle of wine or a gift basket are good choices; for more creative selections, this post from HGTV’s blog on top five host gifts has some great alternatives – like a ceramic vase filled with fresh flowers or a beautiful olive wood bowl or cheese board. I simply like to order flowers and have them delivered before we arrive so the hostess can display them where she pleases.  There is nothing worse than having guests walk in with flowers and having to cut them, find a vase and decide where to place them.

Holiday Celebrations at Restaurants

This year the Zagat blog posted a useful article on Holiday Dining Don’ts in restaurants. Since the holidays span a short season, most diners don’t need to consider this protocol during the rest of the year – hence why these guidelines are often forgotten. Highlights from the nine “don’ts”:

  • Wrapping paper: Restaurant servers are there to assist you with your meal, but not to clean up an excess mess! Article author James Mulcahy recommends that if you open gifts at the table, fold up the wrapping paper and bring it with you to discard out of the restaurant.
  • Outside food: Sweets and cookies often are exchanged at holiday parties, which is certainly acceptable. What’s not acceptable, says Mulcahy, is bringing out these desserts for eating at a restaurant. Staff likely will not be pleased to see outside food consumed alongside their own.

As with holiday cocktail parties, a formal holiday dinner is a wonderful way to celebrate the season with colleagues. Good protocol ensures a successful event and a good time had by all!

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