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Banquets, buffets and how to avoid looking like a buffoon

The Holiday season is fast approaching. There will be banquets, buffets and buffoons to navigate around. Just to make sure you are not one off those buffoons, VIP protocol has come up with ten easy steps to make you look like you have just stepped off the set of Downtown Abbey and yet not appear too snobby!

EAT BEFORE YOU GO! This is probably the most important thing to remember. Sometimes guests will hold off eating all day because they are going to a “big feed” in the form of a buffet dinner or a four course dinner later that day. 90% of the time these dinners are not served on schedule. If you arrive starving, have two drinks and then have to wait another 30 minutes before dinner is served, things can easily go sideways. Grab yourself a yogurt bar, or a Coffee Crisp on the way. You will be thankful you did!

Introduce yourself. At the banquet table, be sure to introduce yourself to the people around you, or better still introduce yourself to everyone seated at your table. Simply, around the table and shake everyone’s hand saying your first and last name clearly and with a smile. Note: when handshaking men should ALWAYS stand, women may remain seated if the event is a social event but they should stand if it is business event. Older and handicapped people may remain seated.

Take queues from your host

If there is a host at your table (someone who has invited you) then wait until the host takes their napkin first. If there is no host, wait until everyone is seated and then put your napkin on your lap. Do not start eating first unless you are the host, just keep your eye on everyone else and follow suit.

No fiddling. Confidence.

Do not fiddle with anything on the table before the meal starts. Touching the glassware or silver ware may imply you are nervous or impatient.

Place cards Sorry but you must sit where you are designated. No switcheroos! Your host has put great consideration into who should sit here. If you are seated beside an introvert and you are an extrovert, your host knows that you will be able to carry a conversation with the quiet guest. Consider yourself complimented.

Nothing on the table

Nothing should go on the banquet table except the place settings. Ladies, your little handbags should go on your chair behind you or on your lap. Cellphone and keys should stay in your pocket- never on the table. (Hint for the ladies: a banquet is not place to bring that saddlebag of a purse with you! Keep your handbag small.)

"Is this my bread plate or yours?”

Think fancy car! BMW. Your Bread plate is on

your left, your Main plate is in the middle, and Water/wine is on your right! NEVER ask the person if a bread plate is yours or theirs-they will know for sure you are out of your league!

It’s a buffet. When can you start eating? You do not have to wait until the entire table is back from the buffet line, you may start eating when half of the table returns with their dinner. It is always a good idea not to be the first to take a mouthful. Let someone else start first

Not drinking wine? Do not tip the wine glass upside down on the table, instead discreetly place your hand in front of the wine goblet as the server is preparing to pour you some wine.

Leaving the table If you must leave the table for personal reasons, simple say excuse me (no more explanation is necessary).

You should not leave the table in the middle of a course. Wait until between courses.

Leave your napkin on the chair when you leave, never leave a used napkin on table until the very end of the dinner. After the meal is finished, leave the napkin on the left side of your plate.

Finished eating?

Do not push your plate away from you when you are finished. This makes it very difficult for the wait staff to remove it.

Small bites, small talk

Be sure to talk to the guests on your right and left, and remember to take small bites in case one of your dinner partners asks a question just when you have taken a bite.

Happy Holidays and happy dining!

Jeannie Vaage, Etiquette Consultant, VIP Protocol
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