Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How not to Embarrass Yourself Over Lunch/Dinner (Causal dining etiquette)

Eating out is a common activity amongst friends, family and business associates. I have heard stories of dates gone wrong or business deals falling through because of poor dining etiquettes. While people expect them to be common sense, some of these are in fact not commonly practised. Whether you are new to Canada and not familiar with Canadian dining etiquettes or you attend a lot of dinner events and eat out a lot, there's always room for improvement on dining etiquette. Being a foodie myself and attending lots of family, social and networking dinners here are my five tips on how not to embarrass yourself over dinner based on personal experiences and publication from experts. (For proper business dining etiquette, please refer to an expert's blog such as Etiquette Page.)

1-   Dress properly and arrive on time!
Imagine how awkward it would be if you wore a suit to a toga party or maybe the other way around! One of the most effective way to save face is to spend that time to look up the dress code ahead of time so you will not look as awkward.  If you wish to stand out, do so in a good way! Go and be original in an appropriate fashion, get a funky tie for that casual Christmas banquet or maybe that new pair of shoes you haven't worn for a while, don't come in the wrong attire!

Many young people cannot comprehend certain dress codes (eg. business casual, semi-formal and formal) and end up overdressing or under dressing to certain events. Go and Google up pictures for inspiration. If you are attending an event or activity for your first time and do not know what to wear, look at photos of past similar events. I remember my first time attending an introductory salsa dance class on Meetup and not sure what to wear. I googled up the dance studio's page and looked at the photo album of past introductory salsa classes to see what people wore. Google is a great resource to know what to wear and a short 2 minute search can save yourself from embarrassment.

Being punctual is another important step in not embarrassing yourself, imagine yourself going on a date, would you want to be late for that important date? Of course not! While you are not on a date, when you sign up for a meetup event you are in fact making an appointment with everyone. If you come late, you may be causing a hold up for everyone else who are there already. I remember attending a salsa dance session where there were more guys than girls; the dance instructor introduced a game where if a lady arrives late everyone would cheer. (You can imagine what kind of sound everyone makes when a guy comes in.) While you will certainly be remembered by everyone, there are better ways to be remembered without making everyone see you as a hindrance.

2-   Respect all common courtesy, know your dining etiquette and greet everyone at your table
It is important to respect all cultural and social etiquette at every event, the worst thing you would want to do is to commit a faux pas that offends somebody. If you are being invited to a house party, best to bring a bottle of wine or box of chocolate as gesture. Try to educate yourself on dining etiquettes because the last thing you would want to do at a formal dinner banquet is to make a lot of noise slurping your soup and having every set of eyes in the restaurant looking at you. Most of these dining etiquette tips can be found on youtube or from blogs like etiquette coach Margaret Page's, go and look it up!

It is common courtesy to acknowledge everyone at your table before digging in. Be sure to greet everyone at your table, this would be easy if you are early, you just greet them as they come to your table. If you are one of the lasts ones to arrive, introduce yourself to the whole table and remember to smile. If there is a lively conversation going on and nobody greeted you, take the initiative to introduce yourself firstly to the people to your immediate left and right and introduce yourself to others as they shift their attention to you. I once attended a networking dinner where an executive arrived and introduced himself the people immediate to the left and right of his seat and WALKED clockwise around the table greeting each person at his/her seat before sitting down at the table. That definitely got the attention of everyone and made everyone feel valued.

3-   Turn off your cellphone
If you're going to any event, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE or PUT ON VIBRATE if you're expecting an important call or you are the primary contact at an outing event (and please sit near the door). If you have to answer a call quietly leave the room; apologize if you have to and don't stir up a commotion like the 'bus uncle'. It is also very rude to whip out your cell phone to check the latest tweet or Facebook update while someone at your table is hoping to start a conversation with you. Yes, I know you want to keep up to date with Kim's latest gossip news or Ian's latest tweet, but those can wait; save those texting for the bus ride home. You're coming out here to meet people and have a fun time, not to tweet all day long. Many people went to a great meetup event and had a bad experience because they  bury themselves into their cell and smartphones preventing other people from interacting with them. Other people would like to interact with you but because they see you on the phone, they are courteous to not disturb you. DO yourself a favour, do others a favour- turn off your cell phone!

4-   Participate in conversations
Of the many dinners I attend (family, networking, social dinner) people will usually start off a table conversation about a current event or a topic common to everyone at the table. Go and keep yourself up to date, prepare yourself for conversation by reading up on newspaper. Google news is a good resource as it provides you the news you're looking for and how recent it was presented.

Knowing your audience well is a good thing as well, from previous meetings you should be able to gauge what people tend to talk about and prepare yourself between events. Don't be a lone nut and keep everything to yourself, you're here to socialize and make friends! Get yourself into the mindset of meeting people.

Sometimes the fluidity of the conversation moves toward a topic you're not familiar with and you may end up being silent at the corner of the table. If that happens, feel free to ask for elaboration or explanation on certain topics but don't over do it, or else it becomes annoying. Don't hijack the conversation, let the conversation flow where it wants to flow. If you try to hijack it, others would think you're forceful and rude or likes to 'change the topic'. If all else fails, see if the person next to you is as lost as you are and start a new conversation on a new topic.

5-   Tip adequately, ask for split bills and thank the restaurant
If you had a good service, please tip the hosts and staffs generously and thank them for their service on the way out. Most of the staffs are minimum wage staffs and have little to get by the day. Etiquette coach Margaret Page says restaurant tip should be 15-20% and should only apply to the price before taxes, if you are paying by debit machine you may unconsciously tip the tax portion of your bill as well. If the service was unpleasant, do not just forgo tipping to "send them a message"; most of these servers are busy with multiple tables and may not know what they have done wrong; ask to speak with the management instead.

When eating out, do inform the server that you want split bills as soon as you can and remind them before asking for the bill. I had good eat out dinners ruined because the server put everyone on the same bill and their computer system was unable to split the bills and some people brought only credit cards or large bills.  Splitting the bill will save everyone from headaches.

And of course thank the servers, sometimes a simple "Thank you" can brighten up a server's busy and mundane day. You may be remembered and receive better service next time you come back.

Try to put these tips to practice next time you go out to eat. It may take time to grow out of a couple bad habits but awareness is the first step and practice is the next step to overcome existing bad dining habits. May your next dinner be as enjoyable as it can be. Bon appetit!

*Etiquette research is drawn from the blog site of Etiquette Coach, Margaret Page at http://etiquettepage.com/*

For the earlier part of his life, Edward has been sitting at the sidelines of life observing his more charismatic peers basking in the spotlight. Ever since his 'great encounter' and the discovery of his 'Anchor', Edward has found strength and a new direction to overcome his fears of interacting with people in a social setting and establishing that with true wisdom and sufficient perseverance "change is possible" . Edward is an event organizer for the meetup group Extremely Shy, the most active meetup group in Vancouver with 10 events happening every week and 2500 active members. He organizes monthly mingler events with guest lists of over 80 people and introduces the 2500 members to different exciting activities and local restaurants around Vancouver building community and relationship. Got a question on meeting people and or social etiquette, ask Edward at ed.extremelyshy@gmail.com!

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