A student asked me recently whether there was anyone available locally who might offer training in dining etiquette. A great question and one that reminded me of how often the consumption of food plays a significant part in recruitment and career development events and how much of ‘doing business’ and client relationship management involves providing or receiving hospitality.  But increasing numbers of us are becoming habitualised to convenience foods (and the associated health hazards) and are becoming food etiquette illiterates; even basic table manners are fast becoming a lost art. Is this a problem, some of you may ask? Well, actually it is.  Do you really want to display eating behaviours that others may find uncultured, distasteful, and embarrassing?  

There are also the broader behaviours around being ‘a guest’ and consciously savouring the consumption of the food that your hosts have provided for you. The etiquette around food is, in part, an acknowledgement of the efforts of your host and the chef – on such occasions eating is more than a simple re-fuelling of your body and you should be able to adjust your behaviours to reflect this.   An old friend from my university days used to insist on turning a lunch of ‘a sandwich and a cup of tea’ into an opportunity to dine with napkins, tea from a teapot, fine bone china, silver teaspoons and bite sized, crust-less sandwiches. Lunch felt like special occasion.

A short while ago I was meeting with a friend who having ordered a glass of wine noted that the bottle was already three-quarters empty. He asked when the wine had been opened, the barman didn’t know.  Wine opened for longer than 3 days is likely to have lost the characteristics that are prized and may even have oxidised, becoming undrinkable. Working in the diplomatic sector, he had an expectation of service and insisted on tasting the wine first.  My point here is that dining etiquette isn’t just about which silverware to use and the mechanics of consumption; it’s also understanding what you can and should expect in relation to service (particularly when eating out) and expecting your host to take pride in observing standards and providing an enjoyable guest experience. 

It will be interesting to whether the rules of dining etiquette apply at Prince Charles forthcoming 64th birthday celebration BBQ here in NZ.  As New Zealanders we often take pride in denigrating tradition, formality and occasion, and yet, with a degree of contrariness, we also welcome opportunities to ‘mingle’ with the culturally and socially privileged; and mingling usually involves eating.

So, what was my answer to the student’s question? Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anyone here in Wellington (if you know of anyone let me know) but I came across an excellent series of videos on the net that I think does the job very nicely…


 If you would like printed material this is excellent…


When you’re ready to test your knowledge, try this quiz…


 …and finally if you are interested in dining etiquette around the world, have a look at this…


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