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Good manners always make a great impression. And no time is more important than when you’re trying to romance your love on Valentine’s Day. Sure, you probably know not to talk with your mouth full or wipe your mouth on your sleeve, but some dining etiquette points can be a bit more nuanced. For instance, how do you order the perfect bottle of wine? What are the appropriate conversational topics for a date? We’ve put together a list of the most important table manners for men to keep the romance alive on Valentine’s Day.
- Soup: Differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack – remember the proverb, “Just like ships that sail out to sea, I spoon my soup away from me.”
- Invitations: The person extending the invitation is the host and is responsible for payment of the bill. When extending invitations, inquire about special dietary requests such as food allergies or kosher, halal, gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free diets. Book a restaurant that accommodates these needs. Guests don’t split the bill.
- Dress nicely: Dinner jackets or suits for gentlemen are appropriate, especially when dining with international clients or colleagues from overseas.
- No table additions: Keep your smart phone, wallet, keys and glasses off the table.
- Pre-arrange payment: If you want to be a sophisticated host, arrive early and provide a credit card, or call the restaurant ahead of time to pre-arrange payment. Your date will appreciate that everything is handled seamlessly.
- Napkin knowledge: As the host, place your napkin in your lap first. When excusing yourself between courses, the napkin is placed on the chair seat soiled side down. At meal’s end, place your loosely folded napkin on the left of your plate. Don’t refold it.
- Please take my guest’s order first: Polite comments to the server such as ‘Please bring my guest…’ or ‘my guest will order first, please,’ let the server know that you are the host.
- Sommelier: For a pleasing pairing, tell the sommelier what you like and the entrées you and your date ordered. You can provide an idea of your price range by pointing out 2-3 wines in your price range. The sommelier will stay within those ranges. Don’t say how much you want to spend.
- Avoid a catastrophe: Alert the server to allergies and sensitivities such as eggs, gluten, salt, sugar, and spice. If the server lists 4 types of dairy as part of a secret specialty sauce and doesn’t mention eggs, protect yourself. Say: “I’d like the house specialty, but I can’t stand eggs. You didn’t mention eggs, but I know sometimes there are hidden gems.”
- How many courses? Order the same number of courses as your date. This avoids awkwardness and allows you to pace yourself with your date.
- Pacing the meal: Make sure to take your time eating and pause after every few bites, since you don’t want your date to feel rushed during the meal.
- Sending food back: If you must send your food back because it is not cooked to your liking, it’s your responsibility to insist that your date start eating.
- Silent service signals: If you are resting between bites, place your fork, with tines up, near the top of your plate. To signal the server that you’re finished, place your fork and knife across the center of the plate at the 5 o’clock position.
- Silverware savvy: Once silverware is used (including handles), it must not touch the table again. Rest forks, knives, and spoons on the side of your plate. Unused silverware stays on the table.
- Refreshing beverages: As is customary in Asia, don’t pour yourself a drink. If there is a carafe of water or beverages on the table, always pour for your date.
- Sharing food: Depending on how well you know your date, you may unobtrusively pass a bread plate for a sample before a first bite.
- Eating difficult foods: Boiled lobster? Artichokes? Avoid panic attacks by planning what you’ll order ahead of time. Read the online menu, call the restaurant about daily specials and do your research beforehand.
- New serving trend: Traditionally, professional wait staff have served food from the left and removed food from the right. Beverages are poured and removed from the right. Be aware of a new trend of serving from the right and removing from the right.
- Nonverbal cues: Oh server? A closed menu indicates you are ready to order. If you or your date is browsing an open menu, the server has the impression you aren’t ready. Catch the eye of the server if you need assistance, or slightly raise your index finger pointing up. If they are busy, softly call their name or “server?”
- Conversation: As the host, it’s your job to keep conversation going during the meal. Don’t hog the conversation—ask your date questions. Light topics include books, travel, vacation, movies, pets; avoid politics or religion.
- Fete accompli: When you place your loosely folded napkin on the left side of your place setting, dinner plate, dessert, or coffee, the dinner is concluded.
- Tipping: Always leave a tip at restaurants: bartender: 10-15% of bar bill, valet: $2.00-5.00, coat check: $1.00 per coat, server: 15-20% of bill; 25% extraordinary service, sommelier: 15% of wine bill. The tip should reflect the total price of the bill before coupons, discounts, or gift certificates.
Food is our common ground, a universal experience. – James Beard
Sharon Schweitzer, JD is cross-cultural consultant, international etiquette expert, and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, her work and travels have taken her to over 60 countries on seven continents. Sharon speaks French and some Czech. She is a popular radio and TV guest on NPR, and CBS; as well as a sought-after conference speaker, columnist and blogger appearing regularly in Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, Inc., the New York Times, Bangkok Post and numerous others. Connect with her at www.austinprotocol.com.