At the dining table, get comfortable with common etiquette Do's and Don'ts...
• Do wait until everyone is seated and served to begin eating or until your host gives the okay.
• Do take small portions when serving yourself. You can always have seconds.
• Do leave your napkin on your chair if you leave the table in between courses so no one will see the stains. The napkin is placed loosely to the left of the plate at the end of the meal.
• Do take small bites when eating.
• Men: Do tuck your necktie in between the second and third buttons of your shirt to avoid spills.
• Do remember that salt and pepper travel together, even if your neighbor asks for one or the other.
• Do try a little bit of everything to be polite unless you have food allergies, but never be shy about letting your host know if you're allergic to something!
• Do pass foods, bread, salt, and pepper to the right.
• Do serve food from the right and clear from the left.
• Do keep dinner conversation pleasant. Avoid topics that might make anyone feel uncomfortable.
• Do remember your posture at the table. Straight versus slumped, please!
• Don't place items on the table that are not part of the meal, such as keys, purses, and cell phones.
• Don't wave utensils around while eating or you could injure your neighbor.
• Don't rest your elbows on the table except when there is no food in front of you or between courses.
• Don't chew or talk with your mouth open at any time.
• Don't mix foods on your plate unless they're meant to go together, like ingredients in a stew.
• Don't reach across the table for anything. Instead, ask for it to be passed.
• Don't pick or floss your teeth at the table or in public.
• Don't use salt or pepper until you first take a bite of food. It may already have the perfect amount of seasoning.
• Don't lean back in your chair or you could break both the chair and your back.
• Don't speak in a loud voice at the table.
• Don't push your plate away no matter how anxious you might be. Wait until it is cleared by a waiter.
Good etiquette requires being able to handle yourself in any sticky situation.
So What If? . . .
• You drop a utensil on the floor. Don't pick it up and use it but ask for another.
• You spill something on somebody. Ask the waiter for help, as the spill might be in a "compromising" location.
• You have to sneeze. Turn your head to sneeze, but don't use your napkin. If sneezing persists, excuse yourself to the restroom.
• You want seconds. Never request seconds, but accept them graciously if offered.
• You have to use the restroom. Excuse yourself without telling everyone where you're going.
• You want French fries but they're not offered. Never ask for foods that are not offered by your host.
• You don't know when to put your napkin on your lap. The napkin goes on your lap the minute you're seated, without exception!
• You have bones or olive pits to remove from your mouth. They are removed in the same manner as they went in: with your fingers!
• You don't know where to put used sugar packets. On the edge of the dinner or butter plate.
• You finish dinner early. Wait patiently for others to finish before leaving the table.
• A bug pops out of your food. Ask for another dish without making a scene.
• Your guest is late. If a guest has not arrived at the restaurant after twenty minutes, it's okay to leave or eat without them.
• You need to make a phone call. Never leave the table for more than a few minutes.
• You have a visitor to the table. Get up and greet the visitor, although it's not necessary to introduce him or her to your guests.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the City & County of San Francisco and the founder of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Cornell University and Microsoft to Nordstrom, KPMG and Stanford Hospital. She has been quoted by The Sunday Times, InStyle Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. She has appeared on various radio and television stations, such as ABC, CBS, and Fox News. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.