In terms of making a good impression, how we eat speaks volumes. Unfortunately, in today's hectic world, dining etiquette sometimes gets put on the back burner. Diane Craig, the internationally respected president of Corporate Class Inc., is trying to change this. Her mission ?is to teach us how our actions in social settings - from business lunches to informal gatherings - affect the image we project.
Diane grew up in a large French-Canadian family where meals at home instilled an appreciation for good food and gracious behaviour. She honed her skills through training and accreditation at The Protocol School of Washington, and holds university certificates in Intercultural Studies.
A lot of entertaining seems more casual now. Does etiquette still matter?
Research shows that for most encounters, people are judged 93 percent of the time by how they look and act. Good manners are not old fashioned. In fact, some longstanding rules of etiquette are still very relevant, such as the obligation of a host to introduce guests at a small dinner party. Etiquette helps us behave in ways that are not offensive to others. While the specific rules, like social customs, are constantly evolving, knowing proper etiquette gives one great confidence in many social situations.
How would you characterize the role of a host?
Simply put, in any situation, the host's job is to make everyone feel at ease. In the case of a business luncheon, the host should give off cues that advise others whether they should order both an appetizer and a main course, whether there will be alcohol consumed at the meal, and when the business portion of the meeting will take place.
What is the best way to handle food allergies and intolerances?
When issuing invitations, a host should always ask guests if there is anything they don't eat. If the host does not ask, a guest should speak up when accepting the invitation.
Any tips regarding menu planning?
If you don't know your guests well, don't try to be outrageously inventive. Avoid anything that may be tricky to eat, such as whole lobster, bone-in steak, quail, ribs or spaghetti. Similarly, avoid curry, lots of garlic, hot spices, and serve strongly-flavoured condiments or sauces on the side. If a guest appears unable to eat what you've served, apologize that the dish is not to their liking and offer them something else.
As a host, how should one order wine on behalf of a group?
If you are concerned about keeping the wine cost reasonable, point to several potential selections in your price range on the wine list. Your server or the sommelier should then be able to discreetly steer you towards an appropriate wine in that range.
What about host or hostess gifts?
You should always bring a token such as flowers, wine or chocolates. In the case of flowers, have them delivered earlier in the day or bring them in a vase so the host does not have to deal with them as you arrive. The host is not obliged to serve wine brought to the party but chocolates should be enjoyed that evening, either with dessert or coffee.
Are thank you notes obligatory? If you brought a gift and expressed your gratitude at the dinner, a phone call the next day is sufficient. If you've been treated to a restaurant meal, you should send a thank-you note within 24 hours, because you did not bring a gift to your host.
What's your take on gadgets at the table?
The only things that should be on a table, other than a centerpiece, are things to eat or tools that are used to eat with. Cell-phones, PDAs and little cocktail purses don't belong. I once heard a phrase that I enjoy passing along: "The meal or the deal, which is it going to be?"
Polish your skills:
Diane Craig and her team regularly offer their services as image consultants, including hands-on dining etiquette workshops, to individuals, businesses and the public service. These highly-rated sessions are both interactive and entertaining. She has also produced a comprehensive Executive Dining CD which demonstrates, with real mealtime participants, the dos and don'ts of dining and hosting. It even features a section where you can click on certain foods and find out how to eat them. Also available are special etiquette classes for children and teens. Call 613-799-2422 or visit www.corporateclassinc.com to learn more. You may also enjoy Diane's informative blog, available at http://corporateclassinc.com/blog.