Let’s be honest. No one ever wants to look foolish at a classy social event, whether it’s anything from a wedding to a cocktail party, but so few of us take the time to learn the rules of proper etiquette.
Most of us aren’t exactly prim and proper Downton Abbey characters, and wouldn’t even know where to begin in learning how to present ourselves at a formal event.
So where do you begin? Well, to get you started, I asked around to find some basic etiquette tips that people often overlook.
“One of the reasons stemware is called ‘stemware’ is so that they can be held by the stem," explains James Harries, founder of The Hospitality Training Company. "This just allows you from altering the temperature of the wine.”
It’s also a great idea to hold back a little bit on the champagne during those toasts at a wedding.
“There usually is the first toast by the father of the bride," says Harries. "but then of course when people have had a couple, they want to add to the experience… it’s a great idea just to take a very small sip to be polite. It’s always polite to raise your glass and raise it to your mouth.”
But perhaps the most useful tip is also the most simple: Just wait!
“People get confused with what glass to pick up and which silverware to use," admits Harries. "When in doubt, wait. It’s always a great idea to observe people around you, so you don’t necessarily be first or you can ask someone how they enjoy their soup or if they enjoy a particular type of wine, and watch what they do.”
But many of us have gone our whole lives without worrying about etiquette, and are wondering why we should change now. So what can we gain from learning proper etiquette skills?
Harries explains, “Knowing what to do, what not to do, just helps you enjoy a situation so you’re not nervous, you’re not reluctant, or you’re not worried about doing the wrong thing. Knowing the right thing to do helps you avoid doing the wrong thing to do.”
So the next time you attend a major event, keep in mind a few of these handy tips: Stemware has stems for a reason, there’s probably someone nearby who knows more than you, and please, take it easy on the champagne.
Other helpful tips from James Harries include:
1. If you have a food allergy, let your host know ahead of time so that they can make prior arrangements with the chef.
2. When enjoying soup, a general rule of thumb is to sweep across the bowl to the far side. This allows you to clear any drops on the far side of the bowl to avoid dripping on your lap.
3. To signify you're done with your meal, you should place your silverware together and lay it on your plate, either at 6 o'clock or at 3 o'clock. If you're still enjoying your meal but need to leave the table, you can cross your silverware on the plate.
4. At a crowded table where you are unclear which place setting is yours, you can always find your glassware to your right and your bread plate to the left.
5. If you need to leave the table for a bit, a good rule of thumb is to fold your napkin to a triangle and place it to the right of your plate.
6. Generally, try to avoid picking up food with both hands. A chicken bone, lamb bone or small hors d'oeuvres can be picked up with one hand allowing the other hand to hold the napkin.