The Dining Deception

As a business student, I’ve had my fair share of etiquette dinners at which employers show you how not to eat like a heathen in front of them. Not because the content’s so demanding it necessitates hammering in from the start of freshman year; it’s more of a “how many free three-course meals can I sneak in before they start recognizing my face” kind of deal.

Hey. Some of us are born rich. The rest of us have to learn how to pretend to have class by scamming our way into free dinners.

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So maybe I need to find a more sustainable hobby.

The dinners are essentially sponsored networking opportunities with the employers sitting at your table. You chat about appropriate topics and wonder if there’s salad stuck in your teeth while the podium speaker rattles off handy dining etiquette tips usually in the form of “don’t ever do __ if you want to get hired.”

One of my favorite etiquette tips concerns how to eat cherry tomatoes in your salad. Cherry tomatoes are unpredictable in that they can squirt red in a five-foot radius if you’re not careful when stabbing or slicing or, god forbid, chewing.

How to Properly Eat Cherry Tomatoes

  1. Don’t.

Other Memorable Tips

  1. Form an “ok” gesture with each hand. Your left hand should look like a “b” and your right a “d.” This corresponds with bread on your left, drink on your right.
  2. You use silverware from the outside to inside.
  3. Don’t clean out your plate, i.e. don’t show up to dinner starving. Not particularly fond of this one, for obvious reasons. Leaving a bit of food on your plate for the sake of it is such a waste. If I were an employer, I’d probably have the opposite opinion, which is probably why I’m not an employer.
  4. Cross your fork and knife on the plate to indicate completion.
  5. If you’re temporarily excusing yourself from the table, fold the napkin and place it on your chair. Or to the left of your plate. It varies from person to person, so I guess if you’re unsure which your neighbors prefer, you can just suffer in silence.

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Naturally, having become so “experienced” in etiquette, I thought I’d seen it all.

I was out of town last weekend (hence no post) attending a regional business competition. My team was slotted first, at 9AM, so we just lounged around the rest of the day while the results were being tabulated. After we took too many pictures and stumbled through the career fair in the lobby, we made our way to the business luncheon.

Upon sitting down at the nearest round table, I was unnerved by the slab of chicken on my salad. There wasn’t anything wrong with the chicken, per se—I can’t say in any other scenario I’d be opposed to the unexpected presence of chicken—but now I didn’t know how to confront the ambiguity. Usually the first course would be a plain salad, but did the chicken make it the main course? Was I then supposed to use the salad fork?

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The kind I’m used to.

My teammate, of course, had more pressing concerns.

Teammate: I’m vegetarian.

Guy from Nature Nates: Is it a thing where you can’t eat what meat touches?

Teammate: Yeah. Culture and preference.

Me: They probably have a vegetarian option. I’d ask someone.

Teammate: Yeah, okay. Don’t they usually ask you first, though?

I conceded the oddity and looked around to find chicken on every dish within sight. A different teammate dressed her dish in zigzags, morose. A waiter (server?) came over and politely frowned, scooping up the dish and bowing out with a low apology.

Teammate 2: I’m… also vegetarian.

Waiter: *takes her plate* I will be out with the vegetarian option for you both.

Pause.

Guy from Nature Nates, to Teammate 2: Why did you dress the chicken if you weren’t going to eat it?

Me, thankfully in my head: So it’d look good for a night out.

Teammate 2: Well, I mean, I was going to just eat around the meat if there was no other choice.

I reached for the sheet of butter sitting in the middle of the table only to find there was no bread anywhere in sight. The guy from Nature Nates started to eat dessert, mousse in a wine glass. I blinked. What was going on?

The waiter returned with similar-looking salads in each hand. We thanked him, and he bowed. I thought about asking him my questions and then decided against it. I was out of my depth, clearly.

Teammate: Wait, this is…

Her salad was dressed—or, parts of it were, anyway. The undressed area was, suspiciously, in the shape of a slab of chicken.

I burst out laughing. All those business etiquette dinners hadn’t prepared me for this kind of situation; I guess the only solution is to go to more of them.


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20 thoughts on “The Dining Deception

  1. Your luncheon reminded me of a dinner I attended as a young up-and-comer seated at a table featuring an honest to gosh icon in my field. Trying desperately to remember the “rules for not making a fool of oneself at dinner with important people” I was doing fine at this mid-summer outdoor event until the entree came – ribs, with corn on the cob no less! That’s when you want to believe that some rules really are made to be broken.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “You use silverware from the outside to inside.” I feel like we all learned this along with Jack when we watched Titanic in the cinema five times in a row.

    To be fair if you’re having dinner somewhere that’s THAT shambolic, all ettiquette goes out the window. That’s what I believe anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s probably why I’m so uncultured; really missed the memo on Titanic, having only watched it once. All I remember is that sweaty handprint, which is only half as helpful. Also, “shambolic” is an epic word.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! That’s very thoughtful of you; I might steal that rationale so I can pretend to be both classier AND more considerate than I actually am. And no, this was just a business luncheon hosted by the competition to pass the time, so no one was really hiring. At least, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been to my share of business dinners but never for a job interview. In fact, I can’t even imagine a job interview involving dining. And the business dinners I’ve been to — mostly sponsored by advertising reps or held at business conferences where there’s no job hunting involved (at least explicitly) — bear no resemblance to 1950s cutlery-from-the-outside-in-Emily Post etiquette. But I applaud the concept of dining for free. :>)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently, the dinner is ostensibly their treat and attempt to get to know you but actually the “informal” second part of your formal interview. Pretty sneaky of them. And indeed–free food makes almost anything worth it. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You mean it’s frowned upon to tear a sugar packet in TWO? *gasp* How barbaric! This is hilarious, though. It’s a good thing I came to terms with my trashy existence a loooonngggg time ago, lol. And the fact they brought Teammate 2 the same plate that had had chicken on it when they had clearly stated they were vegetarian is so abominably rude… Well, it’s probably a good thing I wasn’t there, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, much of this is funny because it’s so snooty, but catch me stressing about all the rules anyway. Yeah, it’s like, did they really think we wouldn’t notice they brought back the same exact salad? Thanks for reading and for the follow<3

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I actually thought that first (but knew you didn’t mean it that way), so this made me laugh! Also, I think the need for structure when eating is understandable–just not so much of it(:

        Like

  5. I ate shrimp for the first time at some really high end party, not knowing that you actually don’t eat the tails. There I was crunching away on this thing.. wondering how the heck people liked eating them! Yes, classy fellow…am I.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually know people who eat shrimp tails, although I don’t know if that’s considered bad manners. Certainly would be a lot easier if you could just eat the entire shrimp, but I’ve personally never enjoyed the taste of plastic.

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  6. I love that tip about making the Okay sign with each hand…very useful and one I will definitely remember! That list of what is acceptable dinner conversation is so sad and limiting! I would love to see that updated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t believe I didn’t see this comment! I’m just realizing I missed a whole batch:( But yes, it’s funny in the tragic sense. I’ll let you know if they approve any more.

      Like

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