03/21/2012 09:46 EDT | Updated 05/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Sticky Situations: Dining Etiquette 101

Sticky situation:

I am a graduating law student and will be interviewing with three law firms over the course of the next month. My older brother's friend, who graduated in law two years ago, informs me it is common for the last interview to be held in an upscale restaurant while dining.

I am pretty comfortable handling interview questions but how do I manipulate the right utensils at the right time without looking self-conscious and appearing professional?


Dining tutorials are amongst my most popular training activities. Everyone, from student to rocket scientist, whether hosting their future in-laws at home or receiving a medal of honour at a lavish banquet, needs to know how to manoeuver utensils and courses while displaying coherence and credibility.

To boost your confidence while avoiding an Oscar Wilde moment -- "The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork" -- here are seven dining guidelines:

1. Place setting: Place setting is identified by B-M-W. The B-read plate is on the left, the M-eal is in the middle, and W-ine and W-ater are on the right. Another more fun way of identifying your place setting is by shaping your left and right thumbs and indexes to form a "b" and a "d." The "b" on the left indicates the bread plate and the "d" on the right is for drinks.

2. Utensils: Utensils are used from the outside-in. One starts with the cutlery furthest to the left and right and then proceeds inwards, from one course to the next.

3. When to eat: The meal begins when the host or guest of honour places their napkin on their lap. That means no drinking or eating prior to that moment. Bread is not an appetizer. It is meant to accompany the meal.

4. Bread basket: The bread basket will be picked up by the person closest to it, when the meal is served. He or she will offer some bread to the diner on his left, serve himself, and lastly offer it to the diner on the right who will continue the circulation around the table to the right; counter-clockwise. To the right applies to all items circulating around the table. The salt and pepper always travel together.

5. How to eat: Eating American or Continental-style is a personal choice. Whether left or right-handed, utensils go in the palms of the hands. Indexes stabilize the utensils on top while thumbs do so inside and the rest of the fingers grip the outside.

Food is cut with fork tines spearing down and the knife cutting outside of the fork tines. Food is cut once or twice before eaten.

In the American (also called Zig-Zag) style, after cutting, the knife is placed at the top of the plate with the blade facing inside the plate. The fork is then switched to the dominant hand and pivoted with the tines up, to facilitate conveying the food to the mouth.

In the Continental-style, utensils do not switch hands. It is my preferred method because it is less distracting and used throughout most of the world. Food is conveyed to the mouth with the tines down.

In both styles, wrists rest on the table.

6. Dinner table cues: Utensil and napkin placement may silently signal service.

Picture a traditional numbered clock on your plate. Indicate a pause, by forming an inverted "V" with the knife's blade inwards, and its handle between the four and the five. The fork goes on top of the knife, with tines down and it's handle will be placed between the six and seven of your imaginary clock.

To signal the end of your meal both utensils will be diagonally placed on the right of your plate. Your fork, with tines down, will slide along your knife with its blade in.

To signal a temporary absence from the table, place your napkin on the back of your chair. To indicate your departure, loosely fold it inwards, once or twice and place it to the left of your plate

7. Olive pits: Found in one's mouth, pits will exit the way they went in. Therefore, an olive pit will be tongued to fork and carried to the plate to be camouflaged behind a piece of broccoli or other food that will be left uneaten.

When in doubt about what to do, take a step back, observe your host, and follow his or her lead.

One last thing: make sure to send a thank-you note to your prospective employer to display your gratitude for the interview and the meal.

Good luck with your interviews and check back next week as I write about appropriate dinner conversation, food allergies, and difficult foods.

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