Professional Etiquette Tips

Increase you professionalism with these etiquette tips brought to you by the Culture and Manners Institute:




No more on the pour...

I get this question often and I don't think I've ever had it as a Tip of the Week: What if wine or coffee is being served and I don't want any?


Do not reach out your hand to cover the top of the glass or cup (especially if you do not want hot coffee accidentally poured on your hand.)  Do not turn your glass or your coffee cup upside down.  If the coffee cup is already upside down on the table, leave it.


A simple, "No thank you," will do.  (See?  Etiquette is easy -- not difficult at all.)


If you accept the wine or coffee, leave your glass or coffee cup resting on the table while the beverage is being poured.  Don't try to hold it in the air while someone else pours.


The Etiquette Tip of the Week may be forwarded to others who really, really need it, pinned to billboards, taped to the water cooler, blogged, Tweeted or used to fill that last little hole in your newsletter.  Giving credit to the Culture and Manners Institute is the polite thing to do.


The Culture and Manners Institute is all about respect.  Therefore, your email address will not be sold, traded or gifted to other parties, as that would not be a polite thing to do.


If you would like to be removed from this list, simply type the words, "Please Remove" in the subject line and hit Reply.




Your New Best Friend

When starting a job in a new workplace, know that the first person who wants to be your best friend may not be.  Beware the office gossip who takes a personal interest in you, who is mining for information to be used against you. 

Conversely, people who at first impression may seem to be not with you, might turn out to be your greatest allies.

Treat everyone with kindness and respect.  Be cautious and conscious of those around you and do not rush to judge.

back to top


Let Them Eat...Lunch

If someone is eating lunch at his or her desk, do not loom and ask, "What's for lunch?"  Do not interrupt the person and try to do business. Give them some space.  Respect the lunch.  It's a lot like when people are on the phone - do not hover in the door of their office or cubicle / veal fattening pen.  Unless the building is on fire, do not interrupt them.

If you are the one eating lunch, be honest about your lunch time. If you have an hour, that doesn't mean go out and shop for an hour, then bring lunch back to your desk and begin to eat it after your lunch hour is over.

back to top


Get in Line

In a line or crowd, there are two kinds of bullies:

1) Those who weasal and nudge their way past those who have been waiting longer than themselves.

2) Those who say to late-arriving friends in back, "Come up here and get in front of me," as if they own the real estate in front of them and have the right to push everyone else back.  (Newsflash: wolfish, clique-y behavior does not go away with high school graduation.)

Practicing good etiquette means awareness and consideration of the people around you.

If you would like to offer your late-arriving friends your spot, you may switch places with them and take their position at the back of the crowd or line, as long as the switch does not involve throwing elbows, flattening senior citizens or knocking others out of the way.

Take the high road. There is no glory in owning a seat, while senior citizens stand or those with disabilities stand. If your coat, purse or barrel of popcorn did not buy a ticket for the movie theater, your coat, purse or barrel of popcorn should not usurp a seat from someone who did buy a ticket.  Allow the person behind you in line at the grocery store with one or two items to go before your cart-load.  "I am in a hurry," is not a viable rationale for cutting in line.

Want to clobber the perpetrators of bad behavior in a crowd or line?  Take a number.

back to top


Interview Park & Flight

A woman who works for a trucking company told me she watches interview candidates all the way out to the parking lot. "I want to see what their cars look like," she said. "Because if we are going to trust them with a $120,000 vehicle, we want to see if they take care of their personal vehicle. Is it clean?  Does it have scrapes and dents?  Bumper stickers?"

A lot of people in human resources are looking out the windows.  And their stories are great: candidates parking in the handicapped parking without qualifying tags, stripping down into something more comfortable before they drive away, hanging out on their cell phones like they are on a stake out of next candidate (Inside the building, they are asking, "Is he/she still there?") and my personal favorite, making out with the person who drove them.

The interview is not over with the final handshake or when the front door closes behind you. Do not linger and make sure your impression outside the business is professional.

back to top


Borne and Bread

Nothing beats fresh bread with dinner. But if you take a roll out of the basket and place it on the wrong bread plate, you will throw off everyone else at the table and someone will be left holding a roll. Nobody wants that.  Place the roll on the bread plate to your left.

Do not butter your whole roll or slice of bread at once. The proper way to eat the bread is to tear off a bite-sized piece, butter it and eat it. Do not tear off several pieces at once, butter them and line them up for take-off. Tear off one piece, butter it, eat and repeat.

back to top


Dinner vs. Luncheon Napkin

A dinner napkin is large -- fold it in half, making a rectangle in your lap. Even if it comes in a triangle-shape, fold it into a rectangle in your lap.

A luncheon napkin is half the size of a dinner napkin -- unfold it all the way, making a square in your lap.

At the end of the meal when you get up to leave the table, do not refold your napkin (even if you do know how to make one of those fancy cranes or roses).  Place it slightly crumpled to the left of your place setting.

back to top


Business Card Conduct

Never pass out business cards at the dinner table.

In addition, do not pass out your business cards indiscriminately to everyone in the room. If someone who has received one of your cards notices this, that person will no longer feel important or special, because you are shooting your cards pell mell at everyone, like tennis balls out of an oscillating ball machine.

back to top



Don't be foiled by butter in foil wrappers.  Take the butter pat out of the foil wrapper and ease it onto your bread plate with your knife. (Your bread plate is on your left -- you need to know this, because everyone else at the table is watching you to figure out which bread plate is theirs.)

When you are finished with foil butter wrappers and paper sugar wrappers, tuck them under the rim of your bread plate to get them out of sight.  If the butter pat came in one of those individual plastic butter tubs, flatten it (without too much enthusiasm).  You should not accumulate a large stack of these items, because in a business meal, you know to use butter and sugar in moderation.

back to top


To Health and Back

When a co-worker returns to the workplace after a medical leave, never say, "I know what you are going through." In medicine, every case is unique.

Do not ask prying questions about one's condition or treatment. If one wants you to know, one will offer that information. Do not burden the person with stories of your own health problems or those of family or friends. Do not corner the person with your own treatment or health advice. Lastly, do not avoid that person, because you are not sure what to say.

Smile and say, "We are glad to have you back. Is there anything I can do to help?"

back to top


Dinner Party Stew

When you are invited to someone's home for a dinner party, do not call ahead to dictate to the hostess/host what you should be served based on your likes, dislikes, diet, allergies or other health condition. If you have an overwhelming urge to do this because you are sure it would make the hostess happy to make sure you are happy -- quash that urge.

Eat what you can. Leave what you can't. Do not show up with your own meal. If you have a serious allergy to the lobster bisque or shrimp cocktail that could land you in the hospital, excuse yourself from the party. If you would like more control over the menu, throw your own party.

back to top


Write or Type?

When sending letters by mail (postal, not the celebrated e-kind), it is good to know when to type and when to write by hand.  Here are some guidelines:


  • Business correspondence
  • Thank you notes for interviews or contracts

Hand-write (use dark blue or black ink):

  • Thank you notes for gifts and other acts of kindness
  • Replies to formal invitations
  • Condolence letters
  • Expressions of love

Do not use business letterhead for personal correspondence that might be misconstrued as coming from the company, such as a letter to the editor, an endorsement of a political candidate or letter of complaint.

back to top


More Tips on Tipping

We've covered restaurant tipping before: 15 percent is a standard tip. Tip more for outstanding service. A wine steward assisting in your wine selection is tipped 15 percent the cost of the wine. Itemize tips on the bill when paying by credit card.
Here are some tips on other tipping:

  • 15 percent is a standard tip for other services, too, from taxis to hair cuts.
  • $10 or more to a hotel concierge who has helped you obtain event tickets.
  • $4 or more to the door attendant at a hotel who hails a taxi or a car valet who retrieves your car.
  • $2-4 per day for the housekeeper who cleans your hotel room or for a room service delivery.
  • $1-2 per bag to a bellman or an airport sky cap who assists you, or per coat for a coat-check person.
  • $1 to a rest room attendant. (Please be congenial, do not avoid eye contact with the rest room attendant.)

Do not tip when you are a guest at someone else's private club. Tip more for extraordinary situations or service beyond-the-call. Tip more in a high end restaurant or hotel, because there is a higher level of service.  Tip more to the door attendant who hails a taxi in the rain or freezing temperatures. Tip more to a housekeeper if you really made a mess of the hotel room.  Tip more to the wait person who is scrambling to cover a lot of tables.

Give tips discreetly. Flashing the cash for all to see is considered low brow.

back to top


Hat Etiquette

For those who want the bare bones: a gentleman removes his hat when entering a restaurant, church, office or a home.  A lady may keep her hat under all these circumstances. For those who crave details: a gentleman removes his hat when entering a restaurant, church (with the exception of an orthodox synagogue, where a gentleman might be required to cover his head), office, home, apartment building, hotel lobby, an elevator for a hotel or an apartment, a store, theater or a courtroom.  A gentleman may leave his hat on in a bank, an airport terminal, an office building (remove when entering an individual office), a public building like a post office, an elevator for a public building or an office building, or a shopping mall (remove when entering individual stores.) A lady generally keeps her hat, but a lady who is a military officer removes her hat in dining rooms and in the officers' clubs.

back to top


The Gate Wait

In the crowded gate area in the airline terminal there are few empty seats.  A tiny woman with dark hair places her laptop on one seat with her bag in front of it and leaves an empty seat next to it where she plans to sit.  Then she moves to another set of seats and sits and chats with two co-workers.  An older man comes along toting his luggage and makes for the empty seat.  She stops him and says, "Oh no - that's mine."  The man pauses and looks at her sitting in the other seat, then shuffles on.

No one should be able to hog three seats in a crowded gate.

In adult life, there is no such thing as "I called it!"  There is no such thing as "this seat is saved" when the seating area is filled, when the train or bus is filled, when the theater is filled.  If your friend or kin has not arrived, that is not the problem of the person who is there and looking for a place to sit down.  Your bag, no matter what kind of day it's had in the underbelly of the airplane or going through security, does not warrant a seat of its own.

Make room for others.  Place bags on the floor or on your lap.  Give up your own seat for those who are elderly, frail, pregnant, juggling small children or anyone who looks like they could really use it.  Rather than say, "Do you want this seat?" say, "Please take this seat."

back to top


The Windbag

Some people can talk like it is an Olympic sport. When someone repeatedly drops by your office or cubicle and talks non-stop, it can feel like hostage situation, because it ties you up and prevents you from completing business. What can you do?

Smile and say, "I am sorry to interrupt, but I have to focus on this project" or "I need to get back to work." You may add, "Thank you for stopping by." Then continue with your work.  If the person is sitting, stand up, look that person in the eye and play the broken record, "I need to get back to work now."

back to top


Banquet Speakers and Diners

When the master of ceremonies introduces the after dinner speaker, all else ceases.  There is no tittering, twittering, dithering or jittering.  Finish eating and sipping coffee before the speaker begins, turn your chair toward the speaker and give the speaker your undivided attention.  No, you may not text under the table.

If your ill-timed dessert arrives after the speaker begins, you may finish it as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. A speaker can be distracted by the clanking of dishes, silverware and glasses or the uttering of "yummy noises." You may not ask the banquet staff to box any part of the meal "to go," nor put food into a plastic baggie in your purse, man-bag or pockets.

back to top


Reply to All Gall

It is a week before the elections.  The races are tighter than a gnat's...well, it's not polite to say.

Someone has sent you an email on a political issue.  There are at least 50 other people you do not know copied on the email.  You feel so strongly about what is said in the message that you are certain it is your civic duty to hit "Reply to All" because it is a matter of life and death that you let everyone you don't know...know exactly how you feel about this political issue. 

Wrong.  It's not about you.  Do not engage in "Reply to All" debates.  Respond to the original sender if you must, but leave all the other unwilling participants out of it.  Better yet, let it go.

back to top


When to Begin Eating

You are starving to the point where you are ready to start gnawing on your napkin and even the floral centerpiece is beginning to look tasty. But when may you begin eating?

There are a few different answers:
1) In an interview meal or dinner party, follow your host's lead and begin eating when your host begins.
2) At a banquet or any dining situation where you are sitting at a table with eight or fewer people, begin eating when everyone at your table has been served. (It is not necessary to wait for all 200 people in the banquet hall to be served.)
3) When there are nine or more people at the table, wait until at least a few people have been served.

The same rules apply for each course in a multi-course meal.

With a buffet, you may begin eating as soon as you are seated, but it is polite to wait until at least a few people have joined you.

back to top


The Flap on Envelopes

When mailing a business letter (the traditional way, not the celebrated "e" kind), the return address should be on the front of the envelope in the upper left corner. When sending a personal letter by mail, the return address should be on the back flap of the envelope.

If the business letter is of a personal nature on "monarch" stationery (smaller than a standard business letter, 7 1/4 x 10 1/2 inches, commonly used by executives) or a correspondence card (4 1/4 x 6 1/4), then the return address should be on the back flap of the envelope.

back to top


Standing Orders

In social etiquette, when gentlemen are introduced to ladies, the gentlemen stand and the ladies remain seated. Both ladies and gentlemen stand when introduced to older people, clergy or other dignitaries. Young ladies stand when introduced to older ladies. (Which can be a tricky situation with ladies who are sensitive about their age.)

The business world is gender neutral. In business, both ladies and gentlemen stand for introductions. To remain seated is to insult -- as if you are telling the person he or she is not important.

back to top


The Napkin Challenge

If you need to excuse yourself from the table in the middle of the meal, there are two schools of thought about what to do with your napkin:1. Traditional: leave the napkin on the seat of your chair. This avoids having everyone at the table get an unsavory look at the soiled napkin while they are still eating. 2. Newer thinking: leave the napkin on the table, slightly crumpled to the left of your place setting. Leaving the napkin on the chair and then using it to wipe your mouth seems a little unsanitary.  If you crumple the napkin and leave it on the table, please try to fold any soiled parts in, out of the view of other diners. When you leave the table in the middle of the meal, politely excuse yourself.  There is no need to announce your destination and purpose to the entire table.  Most of them have an idea. At the end of the meal, when you get up to leave, place the napkin slightly crumpled to the left of your place setting.

back to top


Which Fork?

When you see all those forks, spoons and knives at your place setting what is the first thing that comes to mind? (Besides, "Thank goodness I don't have to do the dishes.") Many wonder, "Which do I pick up first?"

The answer is simple. Start with the utensils on the outside and work your way in towards the plate. If the first course is a soup course, use the spoon on the far right. A fork to the left, for a salad or main course, may have a corresponding knife on the right side of the plate. The dessert fork or spoon (or both), may be found above your plate. If you don't see anything there, don't panic. Sometimes dessert utensils are served on the dessert plate itself.

If you are doing the dishes, smile. It's a character-building experience.

back to top


Place Knives Blade In

Do you talk with your hands?  For the safety of everyone around you at the table, please put your knife down and do not use it to gesture.

Knives at your place setting are always "blade in" (the blade faces towards your place setting.)  On a bread plate, the butter knife rests horizontally across the top (think 10 and 2 on a clock), with the blade facing you.  Similarly, when you are eating American style, a knife not in use should rest horizontally across the top of your plate, blade in.  When eating Continental (also known as European) style, the fork and knife are placed in an upside down "V" on the plate, with the fork tines down on the right and the knife, blade in, on the left.  (An easy way to remember the upside down V is to set them down exactly as you were holding them.) 

When you are finished, fork and knife are placed diagonally on the plate (think 4 on a clock) with the fork closest to you and the knife, again, blade in.  This signals to the wait staff that they may remove your plate.

back to top


Going Up

Have you ever approached an elevator, only to see the person inside madly pushing the button to close the door before you get there?  So much incivility in life has to do with people in a hurry.

Elevator rules are simple: business etiquette is gender neutral -- in business, the person closest to the door exits the elevator first.  All other times, social etiquette dictates that gentlemen stand aside and let the ladies on and off the elevator first and everyone stands aside for the elderly or those needing extra time.  If you are waiting to board the elevator, allow those coming off the elevator to exit first.

Hold the door for people trying to board or disembark; do not hold the door to make plans for the evening with someone outside the elevator, while others are waiting.  If you are standing next to the control panel, offer to push someone's button (though not in those words).  If you are at the back of the elevator, do not try to reach across everyone to hit the button yourself, ask nicely for someone to select your floor.  If you are alone in an elevator with big mirrors and you decide to primp, check your teeth or make other adjustments, please keep in mind that you may be doing so for the entertainment of the building security personnel.

back to top


No Dunking

At a breakfast meeting, never dunk your donuts into your coffee (even if your meeting is at Dunkin' Donuts). At a dinner meeting, never dunk your croissants into your wine. Before dinner, never dunk your fingers into your cocktail (or mocktail) to grab the elusive fruit on the bottom. After the meal, nobody wants to shake your dunking hand.

In the privacy of your own home, go wild and dunk away.

back to top


The Peter Brady Party

No one wants to have what's known as "a Peter Brady party" where no one shows up.  Once you commit to attend an event, honor that commitment.  Do not throw over your host/hostess for a better offer or assume there will be plenty of people there without you.

R.S.V.P. on an invitation means, "Respond please."  Inform the invitee whether you will attend or not attend the event.  "I think I might be able to be there…" is not the right answer. When you answer an invitation, you are responding or replying.  There is no such thing as "RSVPing."  (It would not exactly have a nice ring to it, in any case.) 

If you decline an invite, it is not necessary to state a reason why.  Gifts for an event which you will not be attending, such as a graduation party, birthday, shower or wedding, are optional.

back to top


A Fat Tip on Gristle

After a previous Tip about not spitting things into your napkin, there was a tsunami of emails: How do I rid myself of that piece of gristle, fish bone, olive stone, icky mushroom, etc?

Three things you can do with an unwanted object:

1) Remove it with two fingers--discreetly.  Bring the object down to your plate and wipe your fingers on your napkin.  (Works well for a fishbone.)

2) Spit it out into your cupped fingers--again discreetly.  Bring it down to your plate and wipe your fingers on your napkin.  (This is the safest course with something slippery like a watermelon seed or an olive stone.)

3) Bring your fork to your lips and move the item to the front of your mouth and onto the fork (This takes finesse, but is good for gristle.)  Bring the fork down to the plate.

The idea with all three of these is that you attract as little attention as possible.

back to top


Proper Introductions for take my kid to work day:

Normally, when introducing anyone from outside your company to a member of your company, you are presenting the member of the company TO the person outside the company, regardless of rank.  Say first the name of the person OUTSIDE the company.  (Example: Luke, this is Joan McDonald, our CEO.  Joan, this is Luke Allen, Director of Sales for Company X.)  The same goes for family members - say first the name of the person outside your family.

If you bring a child to work, present your child to your superiors, co-workers or people who report to you.  Say first, the name of the person with whom you work.  For example, "John, this is my daughter, Ann.  Ann, I would like you to meet John Allen, he is the Vice President of Finance."  Give a title - avoid, "This is my boss."

Say "This is..."  Do not say, "May I present" or "May I introduce..." Those are reserved for more formal occasions.

back to top


Chair Person

Everyone wants the best seat.  In a business lunch or a meeting, however, it is proper to wait for the host (the person who has invited you) to designate where he or she would like you to sit.  The same is true for an interview - wait for the interviewer to tell you which seat to take.   

If you are the host, offer your guest the best seat - usually the one facing out into the dining room, the one with the best window view or one that is out of the main line of traffic.

back to top


Roll With It

The bread plate is located in the upper left corner of the place setting.  (If you are sitting at a large round table and you mistakenly place your roll on the small plate on the right, the entire table will be thrown into chaos.  And someone will be left holding the roll.) 

The bread plate is for bread and butter.  You may also place items from a relish tray on your bread plate, such as radishes and olives. The bread plate may not be used as a weigh station for things from your dinner plate that you do not care for, such as fish bones, gristle or icky mushrooms.  What happens on the dinner plate stays on the dinner plate.  In the absence of a bread plate, place your roll on the upper left side of your dinner plate.

back to top


Door Wars

There is a lot of confusion about holding doors.  In social situations, a gentleman opens and holds the door for a lady.  But in the business world, business etiquette is gender neutral, so the one who reaches the door first - man or woman - opens and holds the door. 

If you are going through the door and there is someone right behind you, pause, so the door does not swing back and flatten his or her nose.  If someone holds the door for you - man or woman - the proper response is, "Thank you."  If you open the door for someone and the person barks at you, "I can open the door MYSELF!"  Do not be a "door boor"- do not respond with a personal attack and do not defend yourself. ("That's the way I was taught!")  Simply smile and go about your way.

back to top


The Buffet Way

When can you begin eating after you have served yourself at a buffet?  Technically, you can begin eating as soon as you take your seat.  However, in a business setting, it is a good idea to wait until two or three other people join you, so you do not appear impatient or ravenous.

back to top


Superinfo Highway Rage

If someone sends you an incendiary or insulting email, do not respond immediately.  Do not dwell on it.  Do not read it over and over, which will just make you angrier.  If you can, let it sit for a few hours or even overnight.  If the one who sent it is sitting on top of his/her computer waiting for a response, this will drain some of the steam out of that person like a bag of microwave vegetables.

When you do respond, respond in a calm and professional manner.  Avoid arguments over email and especially "Reply to all" arguments.

back to top


Death by Breath

In the event of bad breath, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling... if only.  When your breath stinks, it’s hard to do business.

Remedy garlic breath or bad breath during a business meal by chewing on parsley, drinking lemonade or taking advantage of the restaurant's after dinner mints.  Chewing on coffee beans is a quick fix, although this might be followed later by coffee breath.  Chewing gum is unprofessional, unless you are a football coach.

back to top


Waiting Room Shocker

There is one story that, when I tell it in a university setting, I can see the whites around the eyes of the students.

A woman approached me after a talk in Oklahoma and said, "I am the receptionist in my office.  The hiring manager has asked me to keep an eye on the job candidates in the waiting room and report back to him which ones are talking on their cell phones, checking messages or texting.  Those are the candidates we do not hire.

Avoid using your cell phone or text messaging while sitting in the waiting room before an interview or even a sales call (which is in itself, an interview).  Take out a notebook and study your notes (for surely you have done your research on this company -- their leadership, mission statement, sales figures, etc.)  Go over the answers to tricky questions in your head.  Even if you usually review notes on your phone or PDA, use something else so you don't appear to be checking messages.  Leave the impression that you are focused on the business at hand and not distracted by other things in your life.

back to top


The Star of the Party

If you want to be the most popular person at any party or event, be the person who introduces people to each other.

First introduce yourself.  The person who introduces himself or herself is more memorable than the one who hangs back and waits to be introduced.  Ask the person you have just met questions about himself or herself -- gather information to find common ground for introductions.  Is there a person standing alone?  Invite that person into your conversation.  Introduce that person to the first person.  Look for common ground to initiate conversation.  ("Aliah was just telling me she has taken up snowboarding?  Have you ever tried that?"..."Do you watch 24?  Michael was just telling me how he had a small part and his character was blown up this week.")

Find another person.  Keep going.  Smile while you are talking to show enthusiasm and draw more people to you.

back to top


Let's Roll

Do not butter a whole roll or a half of a roll and then bite into it.  The proper way to eat a roll is to tear off a bite size piece, butter it (if you would like butter), and then eat it.   Consume one piece at a time.  Do not tear off several pieces, butter them and line them up on the butter plate like little airplanes waiting for take off.

This next thing is going to be difficult for some, but I am telling you because I care. Do not grab the roll in your fingers and drag it through the gravy, salad dressing or spaghetti sauce on your plate.  Instead, you may take your bite size piece of the roll, spear it on the end of your fork and soak up that last bit of gravy, salad dressing or spaghetti sauce.

back to top


The Order of The Order

When a person invites another out for a business meal, the person who extends the invitation is the host and the invitee, the guest.  The host is the first to place the napkin in his or her lap and the guest follows suit.  When placing an order, the host allows the guest to order first.

If you, as a guest, are not sure what to order, ask your host for recommendations.  If the host says, "Everything is good," don't go crazy. That five-pound lobster in the tank is not calling your name. Order something moderately priced. 

back to top


The Incident

Think back to your grammar school days. If there was a student who became a little queasy and threw up in class, you can probably still describe the individual and the incident in vivid detail.  So too, will people remember you if you have too much too drink in the presence of your co-workers, clients or potential clients.

No one forgets an alcohol incident.  You may have to change jobs.  You may have to change cities.  Moderate, even when the green beer is flowing at Happy Hour on St. Patrick's Day.  It is better not to drink alcohol in a business setting and keep a clear head.  For safety, do not leave your beverage -- alcohol or no-alcohol -- unattended at any time.

back to top



Sometimes there is a fork or a spoon above your plate on the table.  Those are for dessert.  (Hurray!)  If you do not see a fork or spoon above your plate, not to worry -- the dessert spoon or fork sometimes arrives on the plate with the dessert.

In some formal settings, the wait staff will set down an empty plate with dessert utensils on top, then move the utensils to the right and the left of the plate for you, before serving dessert.

back to top


That Little Straw

If you are holding a cocktail (or a mocktail) at a networking event or reception and there is a skinny, little straw in your drink, do not try to sip through that tiny little hole.  That is a stir stick for stirring your drink, not a straw for sipping. 

Never place a used stir stick or a toothpick from an hors d'oeuvre back on a tray with food. Hold it in your napkin until you find the appropriate place to discard it. (A trash can, not in the base of a nearby plant.  Definitely not between the cushions of the furniture).

back to top


Learning Curve

I met a very wise young woman who was an events planner at a luxury hotel.  She had only been in the job a few months, but she spoke with enthusiasm about how much she had learned from the servers on the banquet staff, many who had been with the hotel for years. I could tell from her interaction that she had a good rapport with the staff and they liked her very much.

When you start a new job, before putting forth your brilliant, turn-the-earth-on-its axis ideas, spend some time listening and learning.  No matter what your education or degrees, anyone who has spent more time at the company than you has more experience. Listen and learn from the people with more experience.  Learn the corporate culture -- get to know the people you work with and how they do things.  If you do this, your ideas will have a better chance of being well-received, than if you started spouting ideas like a fountain the day you walked in the door.

back to top


The Dinner Napkin

Another tip for Banquet Season: if there is an invocation or grace being said before a big banquet, wait until it is completed before you place your napkin in your lap. At a smaller occasion, such as a dinner party, if there is no invocation, place your napkin in your lap when your host does.  Same thing for an interview meal -- wait for your interviewer to place the napkin in his or her lap.

A dinner napkin is large and folded in half on your lap -- fold it into a rectangle shape, even if it comes folded in a triangle shape.  A luncheon napkin is smaller and is unfolded all the way in your lap, so that it is shaped like a square.  At no point is the napkin tied around your neck or stuffed into your shirt.

back to top


Who's Name First?

When introducing two people in business, usually the first name that you say is the person who is higher in rank.

Example: "Joe, this is our new Vice President of Sales, Sally Sellsmore.  Sally, this is our CEO, Joe Executive."


However, when introducing anyone in your organization to someone outside your organization, the first name you say is the person outside your organization.

"Hal, this is Sally Sellsmore, our Vice President of Sales.  Sally, this is Hal Onwheels, who is a Sales Rep from Must Buy Supply."


When introducing two people, it is fine to say, "This is..."

"May I present..." or "May I introduce..." is reserved for more formal occasions.

back to top


The Narrow Gate and Important Date

Earlier in my career I worked for Sony Music, the Epic and Columbia recording labels.  I started on the front phones and you can just imagine the crack-open-a-can-of-crazy people that call into a music label.


"I am a very close friend of Mariah Carey, but I lost her phone number.  Could you give it to me?"

Me: "Sure, it's right here in my rolodex." (Click.)


One day, a man called in saying he was Eddie Money.  I said, "Right."  I put him on hold and said to the woman at the next desk, "Get this, this guy says he's Eddie Money."

She said, "Did he ask for Mike?"

I said with some hesitation, "Yes..."

She said, "That IS EDDIE MONEY."

I quickly picked up the phone again and said, "Mr. Money, he will be right with you."


  • This Wednesday, April 25, is Administrative Professionals Day.  Always be nice to the person who answers the phone -- the executive secretary, assistant or receptionist.  He or she is the gatekeeper -- the person who puts your call through...or not.
  • When calling a business, announce yourself to the person who answers the phone:

              “Hello, this is (first name, last name), May I please speak to John?”

              Add your company name or your department if calling for business:

             “Hello, this is (first name, last name), I am calling from X Company…”

            “Hello, this is (first name, last name), I am calling from the IT Department.”

  • Do not put the person answering in an awkward position by saying, “Don’t you recognize my voice yet?”  That your voice is unremarkable and not memorable is not that person’s fault.
  • Have you hugged your administrative professional today?  If not, that's good, because you don't want to get fired or sued for hostile work environment.  But try to do something nice this week for the administrative professionals that you work with, whether it's a card, a gift certificate, lunch or time off.

back to top


A Stirring Issue

If you stir your iced tea with an iced tea spoon, the spoon stays in the glass while you drink the tea. To do this, trap the spoon against the side of the glass with your index finger, while you wrap your other fingers around the glass.

If there is a lemon wedge with your iced tea, you may squeeze it.  A lemon slice is a garnish and it is just there to look pretty.  Do not squeeze the lemon slice, nor grind nor pound it into the bottom of your glass with your ice tea spoon (no matter what kind of day you have had so far.)  You may put either the wedge or slice in your tea or leave it out on a plate underneath your iced tea, a salad plate or dinner plate.

back to top


Only the Lonely

Here is the person I really don’t get: the person dressed for business on the airplane or in the airport, playing Solitaire on a laptop or other computing device.

What a waste of time and battery power.  Not to mention if you are spotted playing Solitaire or any other game by someone from your own company, someone from the organization you are about to meet with, or a representative from another organization with which you do business, you will look thick as a brick.

Feed your brain.  If you are still on company time, read a business book, a literary classic, a magazine or a newspaper.  Get some writing done or shut your eyes and recharge your own batteries.  When on business, always project a professional image.  You never know if the person sitting next to you will be your next big client, investor or employer.

The no-Solitaire rule also applies to those lunching at their desk.

back to top


 The Great Thing About Interviewing...

The great thing about interviewing is it is the one time you can tell people how wonderful you are and they are actually willing to listen.

Be honest about your qualifications and experience.  If an interviewer asks, "What is your biggest weakness?"  Do not try to disguise a positive as a negative with a canned baloney answer like, "I work too hard" or "I am a perfectionist."

Instead, give an honest answer about a time that you really goofed and put it in the context of what you learned from the experience.  A wise CEO once told me that a person who learns from mistakes is more valuable than a replacement employee.

back to top


Cocktail (or Mocktail) Refresher

If you have a cocktail (or mocktail), here are a few reminders:

Do not try and sip through that tiny little straw -- that is a stir stick.  Use it to stir your drink, then discard it (preferably to a waste receptacle and not between the cushions of a chair or couch).

If you have fruit in your beverage, do not reach in with your fingers to get it.  If it is stuck to the bottom of the glass, leave it.

Never chew your ice.  Like the cracking of knuckles or the scraping of teeth on fork, that really makes some people cringe.

Know your limit.  No one is impressed by how much alcohol or food you can put away at the cocktail party.

back to top


Highs and Lows

Because formal teas are sometimes used in business, it is good to know the difference between High and Low Tea.

Sometimes what is advertised as "High Tea" is not High Tea at all.  But the term "High Tea" seems to garner more reservations than if it were advertised as "Low Tea."

Here is the difference:

Low Tea (also known as Afternoon Tea) is served from around 2 to 4 PM

It is like a snack, designed to tide you over until supper.

Menu: Tea sandwiches, scones with jam and Devonshire cream, plus a sweet course (cookies, petit fours, sherbet, etc.)

Origin: Started by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, in the time of Queen Victoria.  It is called "Low" because it is served on a low table, what many in the U.S. might think of as a coffee table (or tea table).


High Tea is served around 5 or 6 PM

It is a full meal, served in the evening as supper.

Menu: Meat or fish dish (shepherd's pie or pot pie), salad, fruit and cake

Origin: It was a hearty meal factory workers came home to during England's Industrial Revolution.  It is called "High" because it is served on a high table or regular dinner table.

At either tea, do not loop your finger through the teacup handle, but rather pinch the handle between your thumb and fingers.  (No pinkies out -- that's just not done.)

back to top


Location for Negotiation

During a business lunch, if you are sitting at a four-top table, sit next to the person you are doing business with, rather than directly across from him or her.  Next to the person, puts you in more of a negotiation position. Sitting directly across from the person, is more adversarial.

Same thing with sales or contract negotiation.  Work with clients or potential clients while standing or sitting next to them, rather than opposite them.

back to top


Do you hear what I hear?

My good friend and mentor, Maria Everding, from The Etiquette Institute says, "No one ever listens himself out of job."

Listening is valuable skill for any career.  Highly effective attorneys, sales people or managers are not just "good talkers," they are good listeners. Dr. P.M. Forni, the author of the book Choosing Civility and co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project reminds us that humans want validation and listening is a fundamental form of validation.

We are listening, too!  Have you encountered any outrageous cell phone, PDA or texting rude behavior lately?  Please email Callista Gould:

back to top


New Kid

The "new kid" in the office always makes me think of that Far Side Cartoon by Gary Larson, where the new kid in the classroom stands out because he is radiating sparkles of newness.

That may or may not happen when you are the new kid in your workplace. But one thing every new kid should know is there is a protocol to follow.  Do not ask the CEO or other executives who out-rank you for their business card.  Wait until it is offered or they ask for yours.  Same thing with lunch.  Do not invite your supervisor to lunch.  Wait for an invitation from him or her.  In either case, you do not want to appear to be currying favors with those who outrank you.

Those of you who are old veterans of the workplace, please invite the new kid to lunch and take him or her under your wing.

back to top


The Business Kiss

Most of the time, a greeting with a kiss is not appropriate in business.  However, there are certain industries where a greeting with a kiss on the cheek is common -- certainly the music business and the entertainment industry, but also the advertising industry.

When I worked for a company that hired an advertising firm from New York, I was surprised to find that members of our account team would frequently greet me with a kiss on the cheek.  Being kind of an arms-length person from the Midwest, I slapped a few of them before I figured out that was the norm.

So shake hands, lean in and give a light kiss to the right cheek.  Not a wet, sloppy labrador retriever kiss.  Also, know the cultures you are dealing with, because some may require a kiss to both cheeks.

Now, if someone calls you into an office, shuts the door and then tries to kiss you, that is something different.  You need to get out of there.

back to top


Flag Etiquette and Business

When traveling to other countries, it is good to know each country's flag etiquette, along with protocols for meeting, greeting and eating.  National flags always have an interesting history, so be sure to include that in your research.

Here in the United States, tomorrow is the national holiday of Independence Day, so it is a good time to review flag etiquette.  Many times in business, we find ourselves at sporting events, ceremonies and conventions where our national flag is displayed and an anthem sung. 

Before the national anthem, be respectful: stand, face the flag, place your right hand over your heart and do not talk. If the flag is not visible, you may face the music. When the anthem begins, you may sing along or remain silent.  (Let your voice blend in, this is not an X-Factor audition.)

Gentlemen remove their hats or caps, but ladies do not. Military personnel salute the flag when in uniform and simply hold their right hand over their heart when in civilian clothes. 

back to top


Eyes on the Fries

French fries are finger food, right?  Not always.

If the french fries are served with a burger or sandwich, which is eaten with the hands, then one may use one's fingers. If the french fries are served with a steak, fish or anything else eaten with a fork and knife, then one would use a fork and knife to eat the fries.

back to top


Beautiful Loser

I was invited by some co-workers to be in their volleyball league. A friend of mine was dating a man who seemed like a great catch. He was handsome, physically fit, charming and nice...until we played volleyball with him.

He turned out to be one of those people who took recreational volleyball very seriously. He went ballistic on the sand court, screaming and cursing at people on his team when they missed a shot. He made some of the women cry. He made some of the men cry, too. Everyone dropped out of volleyball that summer.

Business happens in after-work volleyball leagues, bowling leagues, on the golf course, in the racquetball and squash courts, and at the gym or health club.  Be a good sport. Congratulate the winners. Compliment them on a good game.  Be gracious to the losers.  Tell them they were worthy opponents, compliment them on something they did well.  Thank them for the game.

The same is true back in the workplace.  When you are competing against another person for a promotion and the other person gets the promotion, congratulate that person.

back to top


The Sandwich

If you are a supervisor and you need to have one of those difficult discussions with a person who reports to you, Toastmasters has a great technique for evaluations called "the sandwich."

The sandwich means that you start out by saying something positive, then follow that with some constructive feedback, and finish up with more positive remarks.


It might sound something like this:

(positive) You are a hard worker and a valued member of our team.

(constructive)  But your body odor is killing everybody and if you do not improve your hygiene, you will be transferred to the office in Antler, North Dakota.

(more positive)  The reason I am telling you this, is because I believe you have tremendous potential and I want to see you do well.


The sandwich works well for annual reviews and other evaluations, too.

back to top


The Things That Wouldn't Leave

Your party should have been over hours ago. All the other guests have gone home, but you have that one couple of hangers-on that just won't leave.  And they won't stop talking. You are about ready to leave your own house just to get away from them.

What can you do?  It's a five step process and it involves "tough love."

Step One: Shut down the food and beverage service. Begin the clean-up process around them.  Do not accept offers from hangers-on to help clean up.

Step Two: Remain standing and even move towards the door.  If they are allowed to stay on the comfy couches, they will never leave.

Step Three: Offer verbal cues: "It's been so nice having you here, but we really need to get up in the morning..."  Yawn alot.

Step Four: The direct approach: "It's been nice having you here, but it is time for you to go now.  Can I call you a taxi?"

Step Five: Expunge their names from future party lists and your holiday card list.

More well behaved guests know that you should always leave within half an hour of the guest of honor.

back to top


Proper Grip on the Mic

Somewhere, sometime, somebody will hand you a microphone.

You might be in a large audience, asking a question of the speaker.  You might be interviewed on stage or serving on a panel.  You might be taking part in a video of spontaneous responses.  Or you might lose all inhibition at the karaoke bar.  In any case, you should know how to hold a hand microphone.

I learned this last week from Bill Stephens, a professional video producer, when I was participating in the Semifinals for Toastmasters International's World Championship of Public Speaking in Orlando, Florida. Bill has produced the recordings of Toastmasters International conventions for decades.  He is an expert in making people look good.

Do not hold the microphone tightly in your fist, as some people will do when they are nervous.  Hold it lightly in the middle of the mic with your fingertips in the front and your thumb behind. (Pick up the pen or pencil on your desk and practice right now.)

Hold the microphone just beneath your chin, so anyone taking your photo will capture you and not the microphone.  Do not eat the microphone mouthpiece. Your mouth does not have to be on the mouthpiece for it to pick up your voice.  And besides, you don't know where that mouthpiece has been, do you?  (I always see contestants doing that on American Idol and I think, "Gross.  Who has to use that microphone next?  Are they going to wash that off?)

Sidenote: I came in 2nd in my Semifinal - whoo-hoo!  But it was not just about the contest, I met a lot of great people from around the world.  Toastmasters is a fantastic organization for learning the art of public speaking, but also for networking and developing leadership qualities.

back to top


 I Now Pronounce You...

There are worse things you can do at a business meal than order steak tartare medium rare.  That is why it is helpful to know how to pronounce items on the menu correctly, so as not to look like a rube to co-workers, clients, interviewers or investors.

Please forgive us, if we are a little saucy in today's Etiquette Tip on how to pronounce a few sauces.

Roux (roo): a mixture of flour and fat used to thicken sauces

Bechamel (BAY-sha-mel): a white sauce with milk, butter, flour and onions

Mornay (mohr NAY): a thick cheese sauce, that is a variation of bechamel sauce

Beurre blanc (burr-blahn): a butter sauce made with white wine or vinegar

Demi-glace (dehm-ee-GLAHSS): a rich brown sauce reduced to a syrupy consistency

Espagnole (es-puhn-YOL): a brown sauce made with veal stock, vegetables, herbs and tomatoes

Veloute (veh loo TAY): a white sauce made with chicken, veal or fish stock and thickened with flour and butter

Remoulade (ray moo LAHD or ray mah LAHD): a mixture of mayonnaise, seasonings and herbs, often served cold

Hollandaise: (hol UHN days): a butter sauce made with egg yolks and lemon juice

Bearnaise (BEHR-nays): a variation on hollandaise, with vinegar and tarragon or shallots

Coulis (koo LEE): a sauce made with pureed vegetables or fruit

Au Jus (OH zhoo): "with juice," natural juices extracted from the meat after cooking, sometimes combined with another liquid and seasonings

Pesto (PEH stoh): an Italian sauce made by blending crushed garlic, basil, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese

Pistou (PEES too): a cold sauce made of basil, garlic and olive oil

Bon appétit !

back to top

Shake on it...

I am always surprised when I meet a college student or person in business who is the picture of confidence -- smart business attire, great eye contact, smiling, perfect posture -- but then when that person goes in for the handshake... his or her handshake is so lifeless, so limp, I feel like my next step should be to check the person's pulse.  What a letdown!  I know labradoodles that can shake more affirmatively.

Your handshake speaks. It must be firm. It should say: "I am intelligent.  I am confident.  And I am darn glad to meet you."

A weak, limp handshake says:  "I'm not sure of myself.  I am not sure about you.  I am not sure why I got up this morning."

Your palm fits in the other person's palm.  Seal the grasp by wrapping your fingers around the other person's hand.  Don't squeeze the blood out of the other hand, but do give a good firm grip.  No need to pump up and down like it's crack-the-whip.  Just grasp.

If you are concerned that the person you are shaking hands with might be frail or suffering from arthritis and a firm handshake might hurt them, then mirror the pressure that person puts on your hand.

Practice your handshake with friends and other professionals.  If you mean business, if you want the job, if you want the sale, say it with a firm handshake.

back to top

Can you watch this for me?


Have you ever been sitting in a public place -- maybe a library or a busy restaurant or coffeehouse -- when a total stranger from a nearby table approaches and says, "Can you watch my laptop while I go to the restroom?"

My answer to that person is, "No."

I tell the person, "No, I cannot accept that responsibility.  If someone larger than me wants to take your laptop, I am not willing to tackle that person to stop him or her from leaving with it.  (To one woman I said, "Is that the new Apple Macbook?  I might take it myself.")

At some time in our lives, we must all rely on the kindness of strangers.  Do not let it be with your $400-2,000 laptop.  Pack it up, take it with you, and when you return, unpack it and start using it again.  Okay, maybe you will lose your seat and have to look around a lot of people's legs to find another outlet, but would you rather lose your seat or your laptop?

Do not be afraid to turn down such a request. Some will be taken aback, but you can soften the blow in a kind way.  You might say, "You pay me a high compliment in saying I appear to be an honest and trustworthy person.  And while I am, I want you to have a healthy distrust of strangers."

back to top

I'll have the soup

To eat soup properly, do not draw the spoon toward you, but scoop away through the soup, moving the spoon away from you. This way, you are less likely to splash soup on yourself.  (Gentlemen, you may not flip your tie over your shoulder at meals. You must learn to eat neat.)

Sit up straight and bring the soup spoon up to your lips.  Do not bring your lips down to the table.  Sip noiselessly from the side of the spoon (not from the front of the spoon as you were once coaxed as a child with, "Here comes the airplane.")

In business meals, do not cool your soup by blowing on it or taking ice out of your beverage to put in the soup.  Wait for the soup to cool -- this shows patience.

back to top

The great plate debate

People often ask, "If my entrée is not in the best position to cut, may I turn the plate?"   The answer is, "Yes, you may turn your plate once."  You may not continue to rotate your plate this way and that like you are driving a bus.

When out for a business meal, do not mix all the food on your plate into one pile of hash.  In the comfort of your own home, when you are not entertaining others, feel free to pile on.

back to top

When to break the rules

"How am I supposed to remember all these RULES?" asked the frustrated college student.

The idea of etiquette is not to impose more rules on maxed out college students or society as a whole. Etiquette is about being aware of the people around you and attentive to their needs. Dr. P.M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and author of the bestselling book, "Choosing Civility," calls it a "benevolent awareness of others."  (Call me an etiquette nerd, but I love the way that gentleman speaks.)

My good friend Maria Everding of The Etiquette Institute has a wonderful way of looking at it.  She says, "The number one rule of etiquette is to break any rule of etiquette to make the people around you more comfortable."

back to top

 How nice for me

The next time you are introduced to someone, instead of saying, "I'm pleased to meet you," or "It's nice to meet you," try saying, "How do you do?"  It's a more polished response and it makes the introduction about the other person instead of about you.

Make an effort to repeat the person's name back to him or her: "How do you do, Mr. Haskell?" This is flattering to the other person and it helps you with name recall. (Okay, sometimes it is about you.)

The answer to, "How do you do?" is, "I'm fine, thank you."

How do you know when to call him, "Mr. Haskell" or when to call him, "Eddie?"

The safest thing is to use honorifics (Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.) until one gives you permission to call one by one's first name.  In general, if someone seems old enough to be your parent, use the honorific.

back to top

 Neutralized and brought down to size

A friend of mine in Washington D.C. had a great way of dispatching notorious braggarts.

She would smile and say, (and the emphasis is important here) "How nice FOR you."  Her inflection was so subtle and her smile so sweet, sometimes they did not realize they were being neutralized and brought down to size.

This is different from saying, "How nice for YOU," which implies a tinge of jealously on your part.  That is what the braggart wants, right?  No need to be jealous of people boasting of material wealth, because most of them are living beyond their means.  It's what Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, authors of the best-seller, The Millionaire Next Door, called the "Big Hat, No Cattle" theory.

back to top


Save the knife...

"Would you like to hold onto your knife?" asked the server.

It always seems like a strange question. There you are holding a knife dripping with salad dressing and you are not quite sure what to do with it.  At a high-end restaurant you usually get a knife with your salad and another knife with the main course.  But some restaurants, in order to cut costs, cut back on the number of eating utensils.

Here are your options:

1. Give up the knife and ask for a new one.

2. Place your knife, blade in, horizontally across the top of your bread plate, if you have one.  Or prop it up on a spoon that is already resting on the table. 

3. If there are no other options, you may have to set the knife on the table itself.  (If you are worried your knife might pick up bacteria from the table, you need to read The Wall Street Journal's article this morning about what kind of bacteria is already on your cell phone.  Sometimes you just need a good pre-Halloween scream.)

What happens if your knife falls on the floor?  Wait for the serving staff to pick it up and hopefully, bring you a new one.

back to top

Count your steps...

When traveling for business and staying in a hotel, know your escape routes. As soon as you are settled in your hotel room, step outside the door to your room and locate your closest emergency exit. Next, count the steps it would take to get to that exit. That way, if emergency lights are not working or are somehow obscured, you can still find your way to the exit.

This is especially important when traveling abroad to countries that may have varying emergency exit standards.  You might want to follow the route all the way out of the building just once.  I remember being in one hotel where the emergency stairs ended in a maze of tunnels behind the banquet halls.

Do the same for an airplane.  Count the steps to reach the emergency exits in both directions, in case you find yourself in the dark.

Prayers going out to all our friends weathering the storm on the East Coast of the U.S.!

back to top


Young manager, older reports...

This past week, the business and political worlds mourned the passing of Letitia Baldrige, who was once featured on the cover of Time magazine as "America's leading arbiter of manners."  Ms. Baldrige, who came from humble roots in Omaha, Nebraska, was White House Social Secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy, worked in American embassies overseas and wrote 21 books on etiquette that are full of humor and insights from her colorful journey through life.

This week's Etiquette Tip is from Ms. Baldrige's "New Complete Guide to Executive Manners" and tackles the challenge of being a younger manager with older employees reporting to him or her.  Recognizing that the older employees may feel resentment, hostility or have fears of being replaced, Ms. Baldrige advises that the younger manager set his/her style of management at the first staff meeting by doing the following:

Greet and shake hands with every employee present, asking each person his name and job.

Read carefully beforehand the employee bios, so that he can profess admiration for the impressive background and job skills of the people he or she will now manage.  He should memorize interesting tidbits about them, to prove when he meets them how well he did his homework, such as, "You're the one with nine children, aren't you?  Wonderful!  I'd like to see a picture of them some day."  "You must be the one who transferred from Indianapolis.  How do you like Denver in comparison?"  "You won the company sales championship last year, didn't you?  Great!"

Explain to his workers they really need one another in order to work as a team, to bring increased profits.

Demonstrate why he is qualified to be in the new lead position he holds.  He should talk about his background and his expertise, and how he expects to utilize it.

End with a vigorous affirmation of how pleased he is to be in the new job, how much he admires his team already in place, and how successful he knows they will all be.

back to top


Between the teeth...

You can feel it. An unidentified food object stuck between your teeth. That's the worst, isn't it?

While your colleagues continue to discuss business over lunch, you are wrestling with your own demon. What can it be?  Parsley?  Meat fragment?  Couscous?  Never should of agreed to that fresh ground pepper on the salad!  You try to dislodge it with your tongue. Why aren't human tongues a little more pointed or sticky like a toad's?

If you try to remove it with your finger, a fork or the toothpick from your sandwich, your business associates will be disgusted and appalled. (Even if you cup one hand over your mouth while mining with the other, they'll still know.)  And while your attention to dental hygiene is appreciated, don't even think about using at the table that floss you've been carrying around in your purse or wallet.

What can you do?  First, take a drink of water and swish it around your mouth to try and dislodge the object. (Swish, don't gargle.)  If that does not work, you must excuse yourself and go to the restroom, where you may use a toothpick or floss to remove it discreetly.

back to top


Table manner quick hits...

It's Thanksgiving this week in America, so it's time for some table manner quick hits:

Wait until after the grace or invocation to place your napkin in your lap.

Begin eating after your host/hostess does.

Bread plate on your left, drinks on your right

Start with utensils on the outside and work your way in towards your plate.

Pass plates of food counterclockwise.  (That's from your left hand to your right hand for you digital-age youngsters.)

Turn the serving utensils towards the next person who will be receiving the dish.

Pass salt and pepper together, one in each hand.

If someone asks you to pass the salt and pepper, do not use them first.  (That's pass interference - automatic first down.)

If there is something you do not like, keep it a state secret. (I believe this is the most delicious tofurkey I have ever had!)
If you are dining with Australians, don't say, "I'm stuffed."  It means something else to them.

Don't forget to write a hand-written thank you note to your host/hostess for a lovely meal. (Yes, even if they are your relatives.)

back to top


The other reason for the season

If you will be in the market for a new job soon or are currently unemployed, Holiday Party Season is your season.

Networking does not mean you become a walking/talking resume.  Think of networking as research.  As said in previous Etiquette Tips, the best way to start and continue a conversation is to ask questions:

What do you do for a living?

How long have you been with that company?
How did you first become interested in that company?
What do you like best about your company (or job)?

How did you get started in that field?

This is not just job research, it's company research, because you learn which company has happy and satisfied employees and which ones don't. (One person badmouthing their company might just be a malcontent.  Three is a pattern.)

Here is the best part. When you ask questions of another person, you show you are taking interest in that person and that makes people feel good about themselves.  This is what etiquette is all about.

Some people who are out of work avoid holiday parties. Never fear to admit you are out of work.  Everyone has been there.  Networking skills honed in holiday season are valuable assets when you do find employment. Now get out there and party.

back to top


Holiday party networking...Part 2

Last week's Etiquette Tip of the Week was about networking for a job at holiday parties by asking those you meet about their job and company.  What next?

Don't pounce on people with desperate pitches. Instead, look for inroads.  Here are some examples:

Do you have any advice for someone like me who is just getting started in your field?

I have enjoyed speaking with you and I am trying to build more contacts in your line of work. Do you mind if I call and make an appointment to speak to you further?

My background is in marketing research.  I know that is not your area, but can you recommend a good person at your company I could speak to?

If you are really a star, you will send a note to a few of these people at their office that says, "I enjoyed meeting you at the Smith's party..." etc.

Don't be discouraged that many companies are not hiring in December.  They still may recruit and do initial interviews in December for hiring in January or February.  Stick to your job search like a dog on a pant leg and soon enough you will be barking with the big dogs.

back to top


Inviting disaster

As anyone who throws parties will tell you, one of the challenges is a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon in the understanding of the letters, "R.S.V.P."

R.S.V.P. stands for the French "respondez s'il vous plait" meaning, "Please respond," as in whether you plan to attend or not attend the event. It does not mean "Regrets only."  If you are throwing the party, using "Regrets only" is regrettable, because it assumes rude people who never respond will be there.  ("Honey, why do we have so much left over shrimp dip?")

Respond to an email invite by email.

Respond to a phone invite by phone.

Respond to a formal invite through the postal mail by a written reply through the postal mail, using a fold-over note.

In your response, say, "I am replying..." not "I am"  (Which does not have a nice ring to it, in any case.)

It is rude to ask your host or hostess, "Who else will be there?" as it implies that accepting or rejecting the invite is contingent on there being people more important to you than the one throwing the party. (No one likes to feel like a tuna sandwich to a person who prefers grilled salmon.)

Try to respond to an invitation as soon as you know you are able to attend...not at the last minute, because you have been holding out for a better offer.  Once committed to an event, stick to it, even if the better offer does come.  There are certain parties, such as an open house, where you may pop in, then leave to attend another party.  But you may not leap up in the middle of a dinner party and announce, "I have somewhere else I have to be!" (I'm so popular!) If an emergency arises, contact your host or hostess and let them know you will be unable to attend.

Count on people who don't respond to an invite just showing up.  Have enough food and a little flexibility -- because it would be difficult to suddenly shut off the lights and have all of your guests hit the deck and pretend like they are not there. The next time, you can leave non-responders off your invite list.

back to top


Bring it

This time of year, questions pour in about when to bring a hostess/host gift and what to bring.

When do you bring a hostess/host gift?  To any occasion where someone has opened their home for entertaining (dinner/lunch/brunch invite, dinner party, cocktail party, open house, sports watching party, graduation party, etc.)

A hostess gift need not break the bank.  It can be in the $5-20 range.  It might be:

A small box of fine chocolates or nuts

A box of notecards

An amaryllis bulb

Some freshly ground coffee (or coffee beans) or tea from a specialty shop

A music CD or DVD movie

A special ornament, if they have a Christmas tree
Fresh fruit


If you know the interests or tastes of your host/hostess, then the possibilities are wide open.  I recently brought bottled barbecue sauce from an award-winning local barbecue joint, that was first recommended to me by the party thrower.  Here are some other ideas:

For those who like to cook:

A special kitchen gadget

Fresh spices from a spice store or a spice grinder

Gourmet item from a specialty grocery store


Barbecue accessories

Themed apron

Hot pads or kitchen towels


Sports fans:

Oddly colored tennis balls or golf balls

Latest sports biography

Football-shaped chip and dip plate

Accessories with favorite team logo

Imported or locally manufactured specialty beverages


Families with kids:

Special storybook or DVD

Interactive toy


Supplies for new baby


Other hobbies:

Business book
Scrapbooking supplies

Art / photography / coffee table books

Bird feeder or bird seed

Pet accessories

Addition to host's collectibles

Post-party personal pampering supplies

Gardening supplies

Travel accessories

The best places to find hostess/host gifts are specialty shops or museum gift shops.  Avoid the grocery store cake in the thin plastic box or the sneaky grocery-store cookies-on-your-own-Santa plate.  (Come on, these people cleaned their house to entertain you. Show a little effort.)

If you want to give flowers, send them ahead of the party, so your host/hostess is not scrambling to find a vase for them when you arrive or so it does not conflict with a centerpiece the hostess may already have.

Your hostess/host may have planned their wine selection, so if you bring a bottle of Blue Nun or Three-buck Chuck, it is the privilege of the host/hostess to decide whether to serve it or not. That means you may not open it and serve yourself or grab any unopened bottle on your way out.  Same with any kind of dessert gift.

The Etiquette Tip of the Week is taking a much-needed rest and will be back on January 8.  Thank you for a wonderful year of questions, kind remarks, forwards, re-Tweets and speaking referrals.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Have a Safe New Year's!

back to top


Heard instinct

Have you ever been on the phone with someone and you could hear a soft tap, tap, tap... of their computer keyboard?

When we are tapping away computer keyboard, clicking a mouse, or chewing food, others can hear it over the phone. If someone is checking messages, surfing the web or watching TV, we can feel the distraction in how that person responds.

The purpose of etiquette is to be attentive to the people around us.

Set aside digital distractions. Put down the turkey sandwich (or your New Year's Resolution snack of carrots and yogurt.) If you must cough, cough away from the receiver.  And unless you are the football coach, do not chew gum.

Take an interest in the person who is calling. Give them your full attention. Do not make them feel like they are interrupting your work.

back to top


What to do when you...


There is a lot of that going around.  Here are some rules of the fungal jungle:

Always carry tissues, because you may not sneeze into or blow your nose on your napkin at the table.  Can't remember to carry tissues?  Leave yourself a reminder on your cell phone.

If you are at a table with food and you have to sneeze or cough, try to get up and walk away (or dive) from the table.  Sometimes there is not time -- it just sneaks up on you and wham!  There it is. In that case, try to sneeze or cough down, away from the table, away from the food and into your tissue.  (Some will say, "Sneeze into your elbow," but if you are wedged in with people on either side, you might miss and hit your neighbor. And if you have ever been on the receiving end of that, it's hard not to scream.)

In any case, excuse yourself from the table and go wash your hands (in the restroom, not the kitchen or wet bar sink.) If the sneezing or coughing continues, you may have to excuse yourself from the meeting, party or event.

Not all who are sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose is viral.  Some people have food allergies or sensitivities to dusty or dry conditions.  The polite thing to do when someone sneezes, is to not recoil in horror.

back to top


So many forks...

Because Etiquette Tip of the Week readers are so smart, they send in great questions and ideas. One reader who knows the basics asked for a little more info on specialty utensils.  So this week's Tip will cover forks.

As suggested by another astute reader, I am going to use a visual.


Do not be intimidated by a table full of flatware.  With each course, start with the utensils furthest from the plate and work your way in.


Forks you may recognize:  Fork #2 is a Dinner Fork and Fork #3 is a Salad Fork.  In this map, the main course will come before the salad, so the salad fork is pictured closer to the plate.  That is a European tradition often used in very formal meals.  Most of the time you will see those two forks reversed, with the Dinner Fork closest to the plate.  Sometimes both Dinner and Salad Forks will be exactly the same size, so again, start with the fork on the outside.

Above the plate is the Dessert Fork. (Yay!)  Don't despair if you don't see a Dessert Fork when you are seated at the table.  Sometimes the Dessert Fork arrives on the plate with dessert.

What is that funky, curvy fork to the far left? Fork #1 is a Fish Fork. Its shape is instrumental in helping separate the fish on your plate from the bones.  (I know some find it disturbing when your third course is looking back at you, but that's the way of it.)

Our last fork, tiny little Fork #8 is the first fork in the meal.  It's a Seafood Fork, also known as a Cocktail Fork. You may see this resting in the bowl of your Soup Spoon when the First Course is a Seafood Course, such as shrimp cocktail or scallops.  Notice this fork has three prongs.  A similar fork with two prongs is an Escargot Fork.

For you fork snobs, there is also a Lobster Fork, Oyster Fork, Fruit Fork, Strawberry Fork, Pastry Fork and Ice Cream Fork (which we have mentioned before looks a lot like its hillbilly cousin, the "Spork.")  Now that you are in the know, keep it under wraps from anyone about to go crazy with a Bridal Registry.

back to top


All about spoons...

The previous Etiquette Tip of the Week was on forks, so this week is all about spoons.

Spoons are on the right side of the place setting. (How to remember? The words, "spoon" and "right" both have five letters.)  With each course, start with the utensils furthest from the service plate and work your way in.  The dessert spoon will be above the service plate or provided when dessert is served.


There are a few different types of soup spoons. 

An Oval Soup Spoon looks like a Tablespoon. (Try not to be scandalized, but many people just use Table Spoons.)

A Cream Soup Spoon has a round bowl.  A Bouillon Spoon looks just like it, but is smaller in size.

The long, skinny spoon with a small bowl is an Iced Tea Spoon.  If there is no plate underneath the glass to place it on, this spoon stays in the glass while you sip. (Awkward... I know!)  The more petite spoon that looks like it could be a prom date for the Seafood Fork, is the Demitasse Spoon, to stir coffee or espresso served in the adorable, little demitasse cup.  (Alas, the two shall never meet, as they reside at opposite ends of the meal.)

The Tea Spoon is for...(drumroll)... tea.

There are many other spoons.  "Why should I care?" you might ask. They talked about the Grapefruit Spoon on Downton Abbey the other night -- so it matters.  There is also a Chocolate Spoon, an Ice Cream Spoon, an After-Dinner Coffee Spoon, and a Five O'Clock Spoon (smaller than a Tea Spoon, larger than an After-Dinner Coffee Spoon) for high tea.

back to top


No waiting...

"I don't want to bug the person."
"The online application said not to call."

It's kind of you to think that way, because etiquette is about consideration for the other person. But unless you are applying for a position where you are expected to sit around waiting for the phone to ring, you should make the call.

How we behave in the interview (or sales) process is an indication of how we will behave in the job. So make the call. Show them you are a self-starter with initiative -- not someone they will have to light a fire under. Same goes for sales or account representatives -- will you be the person who checks in with the client to see how the product or service is working? Or will you disappear?

Person you are calling is not available? Gently coax information, "Is there a better time to reach him/her?" Be kind to the gatekeepers. They can make sure your call gets through... or not.

back to top


In a fix...

Valentine's Day is upon us and once again it is time to send messages of affection and appreciation to those we hold dearest. Of course, I am speaking of the people in the IT department.

Since there is no special Hallmark card section for IT Valentines, we have created our own little "Ode to the IT Department" limerick you may use to express yourself:

Our computer breaks and we cannot cope,

You're there for us at the end of our rope.
When our files are a loss,

And we don't dare tell the boss.

IT heroes like you bring us hope.

We are more likely to get assistance if we are kind to our IT people, and everyone else we work with, all year round -- and not just when we are in a fix.

back to top


How to stuff it...

You print out your beautiful business letter, you proofread it -- it's perfect!  It's the most stunning business letter ever -- and it only took five printings.  Then you fold it and something goes terribly wrong.  It won't fit in the envelope.

A business letter on an 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheet is folded in thirds.  Take the bottom edge of the stationery and fold it two-thirds of the way up (or one-third from the top).  Then take the top edge of the stationery and fold it over, as if the bottom edge of the sheet is nestled in the top fold, and the top third is folded over and shielding it from harm.  If you have trouble aiming for the two-thirds spot (I was fractionally challenged as a child) -- place the envelope next to the stationery as you are bringing up the bottom edge for the first fold.

Executives will sometimes have a smaller 7 1/2 x 10 1/2-inch personalized stationery called Monarch stationery.  It too, is folded in thirds.  (If you get a hand-written note from your chief executive on this, it's usually because you have done something right.)

back to top


Beware the group interview...

Some companies, rather than interview one candidate over lunch or dinner, will interview a group of candidates.

But beware the group interview.  While you may be tempted to distinguish yourself from those other losers, by wowing the interviewers with your superior wit, intellect, and experience -- don't do it.  One thing interviewers look for in a group interview is how well you get along with others.  So attempts to play "I can top that story..." or crush your fellow candidates like a bug, may be frowned upon.

What's a person of your superior wit, intellect, and experience to do?

Greet and shake hands with the other candidates as well as the interviewers.

Be convivial -- chat with the other candidates before the interview begins.
Listen intently when others are speaking.

Direct answers to interview questions to the interviewer, but also look around and make eye contact with everyone else.

Don't get drawn into arguments. Maintain your composure.
If there is a very quiet, shy candidate, invite that person into the discussion.
Don't join others behaving badly: if several candidates are ordering the most expensive items on the menu, over-imbibing, hitting on the wait staff or texting under the table, don't join them.  Also skip the side-whispers, eye rolls and other evil alliances.

As with any interview, follow up with a letter to your interviewers thanking them for the dinner and the opportunity, as well as re-emphasizing some of your good qualities and continued interest in working for their organization.

back to top


A grateful alternative...

There are a plethora of articles out there advising us to write down things we are grateful for every day.

Here is an alternative: as long as we are going to be writing something down, we should write thank you notes to people we are grateful to.  Keep a box of fold-over notes on your desk.  Don't overthink it.  Just knock it out and mail it.

You could simply text it, Tweet it or email it.  But the sentiment on a fold-over note lingers longer.

As it turns out, doing for others, does something for you.

back to top


Memory maneuvers in the meeting...

So many new names to learn and so little time.  When you are at a meeting around a conference room table where each person introduces himself/herself, draw a map of the table in your notes with the names of each person, where they are sitting and any additional info: titles, where they are from, etc.

During the meeting, try to find patterns that will help you remember the names... two "M" names: "Mark" and "Mariah;" rhyming names: Terry and Larry; alphabetical order: Nancy, Olivia, Peter.  Memorize the faces that go with each name.

Name recall does not require a photographic memory.  It requires practice.

back to top


Crisp and subtle...

If you heard people at a tasting describing what they experienced as sweet, fruity, crisp, subtle, salty, smokey or oak-y, you would think they were talking about a fine wine.  But they might be talking about oysters.

An Etiquette Tip of the Week reader recently asked about oysters: "Do I use a fork or raise the shell to my lips and slurp it?"  I admit I had to research this topic, because the thought of eating oysters leaves me clammy.  So here is the answer:

In a formal dinner, oysters may be served as a "seafood course" at the beginning of the meal.  A seafood fork -- that cute little fork resting partly in the bowl of your soup spoon -- is used to lift the oyster from the shell to your mouth.  A seafood fork has three prongs.  A little fork with two prongs is for escargot.

In a more informal setting, and by that I mean your waitress has more tattoos than Dennis Rodman, you may pick up the shell and slurp. 

In most business settings, however, when dining with superiors, colleagues, clients or future clients, please use the fork.

The same goes for clams and mussels served on a shell.  Use the little seafood fork or use a larger fork or spoon if the seafood fork is not provided.  Fried clams may be eaten with the fingers, but better in a business setting to use a fork.  At the end of the meal, no one wants to shake a clammy hand.

back to top



Many thanks...

If you are interviewed by a group, should you write one thank you note to the most senior person and cc or email the rest? Or should you send an individual thank you note to each interviewer?

How badly do you want the job?

Write individual notes and vary what you write to each one, because they may send copies around to each other. Send thank yous to each by email, too -- in case they are making a quick decision.

This demonstrates to the employer that you put effort into what you do and it showcases your writing skills.  Lack of writing skills is a huge issue in hiring these days. The thank you notes also help you establish a connection with each person -- a valuable jump start if you do get the job.

The same goes for a sales or marketing pitch.  Send a follow up note to each member of the team you meet with.

You don't have to make the extra effort, but know there's a good chance you will lose the job or the sale to someone who did.

back to top


Space invaders

Have you ever been conversing with someone standing too close and when you take a step back, they answer by stepping forward?  You keep backing up and they keep moving forward and as long as you avoid walls, it's like you are engaged in this crazy two-step around the room.

When someone invades your personal space, it can be uncomfortable.  We all know people who talk with their hands and add emphasis by touching you on the arm or shoulder.  In business, however, it's hands off.  In the United States, stand at least an arm's length apart. Shake hands and do not put a hand on the person's shoulder or grab their upper arm.   (I know politicians do that all the time, but they usually have a security team that prevents people from slapping them.)

Other cultures may differ.  Brazilians may stand closer and put a hand on your arm, elbow or back.  Do not back away suddenly - you may offend them.  In China, you may see young girls walking arm in arm, but in general, the Chinese do not like to be touched by strangers.  So beyond the handshake, keep your hands to yourself.

As businesses get involved in emerging markets around the world, you may find yourself immersed in many cultures. When you take the time to learn another
culture's etiquette and language, the people with whom you are doing business will think you are... outstanding.


back to top


Second that

College students (and sales people for some reason) frequently ask the question: "Can I have seconds?"

When eating in someone's home, wait until seconds are offered. Your host/hostess may have other plans for the leftovers that don't include you.

In a business situation, avoid seconds.  If there is one bun left in the bread basket, never ever say to your interviewer, "You gonna eat that?" Leave it. Never eye your client's french fries and say, "Are you going to finish those?" Or you're done.

Same goes for the appetizers at any business event - don't pile them on.  If you want to be a pro, eat before you go.

back to top


Get the most from your toast...

Once in awhile, we cover how to eat a slice of bread or a roll served at a meal.  Tear off a bite-sized piece, butter it, then eat it.  When you are ready for some more, tear off another bite-sized piece, butter it and eat it.

The question often comes up, "What about toast at a breakfast meeting? Do you tear off a bite-sized piece of your little toast triangle, butter it, jelly it, then eat it?"

As it turns out, there is a different approach to toast.  Cut the toast in half (if it is not already served that way) and butter each half, while keeping it on your bread plate.  Do not cradle it in the palm of your hand and butter it there.  Same with the application of jelly, jam, preserves, marmalade, nut spread or what have you -- the toast stays on the bread plate.

The reasoning behind this is that toast is best enjoyed when the butter melts into it. Though we all know most toast served in a restaurant arrives to the table at the same temperature before it went into the toaster.

Hold the toast by the edge and bring it to your lips.  If any of the jelly slips onto your fingers, wipe your fingers on your napkin, not your tongue. And while on business, there is absolutely no dunking of toast in your coffee or tea.

back to top


Why the evil eye?

If your normally cheerful assistant, secretary, receptionist or Gal/Guy Friday seems a little out of sorts today and you don't know why you keep getting the evil eye... it's because you have forgotten that today is Administrative Professionals Day.

It's the day we recognize the angels in the office that make us look good by covering all the details that we don't have the time or -- let's be honest -- the competence to do -- with lunch out, flowers, treats, gift certificates or anything else they might like.  The rest of the year it is important to recognize our administrative assistants with written notes of thanks, praise and most importantly, a kind word.

This is also the day we gently remind all others visiting or phoning a business to be attentive to the admin professionals who run the place.  Whether it be for a job interview, a sales call, or to get that aching tooth taken care of, kill the receptionist, assistant or any office staff with kindness.  They are the gatekeepers who frequently have input on the hiring decisions, buying decisions or whether that tooth gets looked at tomorrow... or sometime in July.

If you are an administrative professional reading this -- thank you for all your hard work and have a great day!

back to top