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Surviving Your Office Holiday Dinner Party With Style

12/11/2014 08:37 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST
Images by Jon Sheedy via Getty Images

The boss's summer barbecue is now a distant memory! It's cold out there, so you might find yourself in a nice restaurant for the long-awaited office holiday party, which means a few days break from the work grind are likely not too far off.

A restaurant office event can test even the savviest conversationalist or diner. When you know your way around a table and dine with confidence, you will stand out as others hesitate and appear uncertain about key table management issues.

Here are 10 tips to help you both navigate the "silent service code," communicating with servers, and standout (in a good way) when dining with your work colleagues, clients or anyone else you would like to impress.

#1: Napkin etiquette: Game on!

Don't flap your napkin in the air like a matador. Wait for your host to put their napkin in their lap. Unfold the napkin under the table. Should you leave the table during the meal, place the napkin on the seat of your chair. This tells servers that you are coming back.

Blotting or patting your lips is preferable to a washcloth-style wipe, and remember that this is not a handkerchief.

When you are finished, leave the napkin to the left of the setting in loose folds, so that the used portion is out of view.

#2: Keep your hands where I can see them

Rest your hands with your palms on the edge of the table when you are not eating (not your elbows or forearms). Quick downward glances into your lap with your hands out of site may suggest you are texting or checking messages. Expecting a call? Let your host know in advance and politely excuse yourself when the call comes in.

#3: Bread and butter advice

The host picks up the basket and asks, "Would anyone care for some bread?" Once you've taken a piece of bread from the basket, it's yours: Don't tear off a portion and put the rest back in the basket. Put your bread on your bread plate along with your butter (or jam/jelly). Each time you want some, break off one or two bites' worth, butter it while holding it on the plate (not in the air). When an uncut loaf (with cutting board and knife) is placed on the table, the host -- or whoever is closest to the basket -- cuts three or four slices, leaving them on the board.

Don't take the last piece of bread without first offering it to others.

#4: Knife (and fork) play

Appetizers are eaten with the small fork to the left of the dinner fork. If you're having soup, the server will probably bring the soup spoon with the soup unless it's part of the place setting to the right of the knife.

If a platter for sharing has been ordered it is passed around the table, with each diner holding it as the person next to him serves himself, using the serving utensils provided.

#5: Beverage management

Before taking a sip of water, wine, or any other beverage, dab your lips with your napkin to keep the glass from becoming dirty.

The water glass isn't a substitute for a finger bowl. If you want to clean your fingers, use your napkin or, if a dish has been messy to eat, excuse yourself to clean your hands in the restroom.

#6: Food may arrive at different times.

If a significant time passes between the arrival of the respective diners' hot dishes, the host will probably ask those who have been served to go ahead and eat. If everyone is having cold dishes, waiting until everyone is served is considerate.

#7: Can I send it back?

As a rule, send a dish back only if it isn't what you ordered; it isn't cooked to order (a supposedly medium-well steak arrives bleeding, for instance); it tastes off; or you discover a hair or a pest. Just speak quietly to the server when making the request rather than drawing attention to your unsavoury "find."

#8: "You wanna try a bite of this?"

You may feel very comfortable offering your fellow diners new taste experiences. Accepting another person's offer to taste a morsel of his dish -- or offering a bite of yours -- is fine as long as it's handled well. Either pass your bread plate to the person so he can put a spoonful on it or (if he's sitting close by) hold your plate toward him so that he can put the morsel on the edge. Holding a forkful of food to another diner's mouth is great... if he's an infant.

#9: What's this? And how do I eat it?

If a food you're not sure how to eat comes on a platter of appetizers -- a type of sushi, perhaps, or crab in the shell -- here are three options regarding how to proceed: (1) Wait until someone else starts to eat and follow suit. (2) Ask a server how the food should be eaten (fingers or fork, for example). (3) Avoid the food altogether.

#10: How do I manage my utensils?

During the meal, instead of placing a fork or spoon directly on the table, place it diagonally on the edge of your plate, not propped against it like an oar. In fact, how you place your utensils on your plate is a code to the server, letting him know whether you have finished a course.

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