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Etiquette School

Dinner for Schmucks


Never exceed two glasses of alcohol or the host's own consumption. When drinking wine, hold the glass by the bowl, not the stem, to reduce the possibility of spillage. And don't clink glasses during a toast—it's unnecessarily loud and "just not the thing to do," says Napier-Fitzpatrick. More important, don't ever lift your glass if you're being toasted until after others do. "It's like nominees clapping for themselves at the Academy Awards," she says.


The globally friendly Continental style of eating asks diners to keep both fork and knife in hand and to eat off the back of the fork. The less refined American style—switching the fork from the left to right hand after cutting—will do fine, but place the fork at 4 o'clock on the plate and the knife at the top, blade facing you, while idle. To indicate you're finished, place the fork and knife together across the center of the plate at either 3:15 o'clock or 10:20 o'clock.


In general, Napier-Fitzpatrick suggests, avoid foods such as roast chicken on the bone that are hard to eat gracefully. If you must, however, there are ways to tackle complicated dishes with élan. For oysters, always use a fork—"No slurping! Never," she says. Hamburgers should be cut into quarters. Lobster should simply never be ordered: The bib will make you look like a buffoon. Afterward, if necessary, repair to the restroom for intensive oral spelunking.


The host should pay for everything, says Napier-Fitzpatrick, including the coat check and valet. Take cues from the host as to whether to order an appetizer, dessert, or drink. If you're the host and are not eating much, make it clear to your guest that he or she can order whatever they like. If you want to tip the maître d', pass him a $10 or $20 bill folded in quarters after the meal (lest you look like you're bribing him). And never, ever take home leftovers.

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