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Business Etiquette - Tables For Two Or More

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A young banker from Smithville is in New York. It is his first trip.

You would like him if you could see him. Tall, sun-burned, clean-cut, well-dressed, thoroughly alive and interested in everything. He is a bit confused by the city but he is determined to learn everything that it has to teach him. He does not hesitate to ask questions but he likes to find out without, whenever possible.

He goes into the dining room of the great hotel where he is staying, and for the first time in his life is confronted with an array of silver on both sides of his plate. At home he always has a knife, fork, and spoon Iaid together at the right of his plate, by which you can see that he has not lived among people who place much emphasis on having food daintily or correctly served. He is not exactly prepared for this. When he left Smithville he was thinking more of his business connections than of what he was going to eat, and how. He is embarrassed because, like every sanely balanced person, he likes to do things as they should be done, and not just blunder through them. There is no one he can ask except the waiter, and the waiter seems such a superior person that he is afraid to ask him (though it would have been perfectly correct for him to do so). He gets through the meal the best way he can and finds that when the ice cream is brought the only thing he has left to eat it with is a slender fork with a long handle and three very tiny prongs. He knows that he has tripped up somewhere along the line, but he asks the waiter to bring him a spoon (he should have asked for a fork) and goes ahead.

The next day he is invited out to dinner with a man who has all of his life been accustomed to first-class hotels and restaurants and the dining tables of wealthy and cultured people. He is somewhat older than our young banker and he has had a great deal of experience in entertaining men who have come into the city from small towns. He is thoughtful, sympathetic, an excellent host. He leads the way into the dining room (though they stand together in such a way that it seems that neither is leading) and chooses a table. This nearly always means accepting the one the head waiter indicates, though it is quite correct for the host to suggest the table he would like to have.

"Does this suit you?" he asks the young banker before they sit down.

It suits him exactly. He says as much. "Now, what will you have to eat?"

The waiter has given him a menu card, containing, so it seems to the young man, a million things that he might have. A dinner served in courses was something beyond his knowledge until the night before, and the dinner then was table d'hóte instead of a la carte. He flounders through the card and is about ready to thrust it aside and say, "Just bring me some ham and eggs" when his host sees his predicament.

"Blue Points are usually good at this time of the year," he says. "Shall we try them?"

The young man has not the remotest idea what Blue Points are but he thinks it will be very delightful to try them.

"What kind of soup do you like?" the host continues when the waiter has departed. "I see they have vegetable soup and consomme."

The young man clutches at the familiar straw. He will have vegetable soup.

Throughout the meal the host makes comments and suggestions and guides his guest through to the end, and does it so graciously that the young man from Smithville is not aware that he is doing it, and feels that it is all due to his own quick observation that he is getting along so well. No business man is a perfect host until he can accomplish this.

Our young man knows already that one should sit up at a table and not lean forward or lounge back, that he should not take large mouthfuls and that he should not snap at his food, that he should eat without noise and with great cleanliness. He knows that his napkin should be unfolded (it should be unfolded once and not spread out) and laid across his lap, not tucked into his collar or the top of his vest. He knows that he should not eat with his knife.

He has never seen a finger bowl before but he has heard of them, so that when one is placed before him he knows that he should dip the ends of his fingers into it and dry them on his napkin. He has also heard that toothpicks are never used by gentlemen, at least in public, and he is not surprised when he does not see them.

He has read somewhere that when a knife or a fork is dropped to the floor he should not pick it up himself but should allow the waiter to do so, and that the waiter should be allowed to clear away the damage when something is upset on the table. He knows that long apologies are out of order anywhere, and he is not likely to say anything more than "Excuse me" or "I beg your pardon" if he should by a clumsy movement break a glass or overturn a plate of soup.

But he does not know about the various knives and forks or about how courses are arranged, and he does not know about tips.

It is correct for him to explain to his host, just as Pip did when he was dining for the first time with Herbert Pocket, that he is unused to such things and beg him to give him a few hints as they go along. But it is less embarrassing to consult a book of etiquette about fundamentals and to pick up the other knowledge by close observation.

He discovers—our young friend uses both methods—that knives are laid at the right of the plate in the order in which they are to be used, be-ginning at the outside, and that the spoons are laid just beyond the knives in the same order. The butter knife (which rarely appears at dinner time) is usually laid across the little bread plate at the left of the dinner plate. Forks are placed at the left of the plate in the order in which they are to be used, except the oyster fork, which is laid across the knives or else is brought in with the oysters. The steel knife is for cutting meats. The flat fork with the short prongs is for salads.

Salads are always eaten with a fork. It is sometimes not very easy to do, but it is the only correct way.

This is the general standard, but there are deviations from it. Nothing but experience in dining—and a great deal of it—will teach one to know always what fork or what knife or what spoon to use when the table service is highly elaborate. The best policy for a stranger under such conditions is that of watchful and unobtrusive waiting.

The dinners that business men choose for themselves are rarely divided into numerous courses. Often they have only two: meat and vegetables, and desert. The regular order for a six-course dinner is: first, an appetizer such as oyster cocktail, grapefruit, strawberries,or some-thing of the sort, followed by soup, fish, meat and vegetables, salad, dessert, cheese and crackers. One or more of the courses is often omitted.

The rule for tipping is universally the same: Ten per cent. of the bill.

Suppose the eases had been reversed and the man from the city had been in Smithville to take dinner with the young banker.

Ile is not accustomed to seeing all of the food put on the table at one time, nor to having to use the same fork throughout the meal. But he is a gentleman. He adapts himself to their standard so readily that not one of the people at the table could tell but that he had always lived that way.

The young banker is a gentleman, too. When his friends from the city come to visit him he gives them the best he has and does not apologize for it. He does not begin by saying, "I know you are used to having better things than this but I suppose you can stand it for one meal." He simply ushers his guest into the dining room as cordially and with as little affectation as if he were the paying teller of the Smithville bank. No one need ever apologize when he has done or given his best.

It is interesting to know that the standard of our young banker is growing higher and higher all the time. He likes to know how the people who have had time to make an art of dining do it and to adapt his ways to theirs whenever he can.

It is a grave mistake for a business man to feel that he must entertain another to the standard to which the second is accustomed. A poor man who finds himself under the necessity of entertaining a rich one should not feel that he must do it on a grand scale if he has been so entertained by a rich one. Aside from the moral question involved the great game of bluff is too silly and vulgar a one for grown men to play.

But business men play it and their wives join in. Suppose Mrs. Davis, whose husband is an assistant of Mr. Burke, wishes to invite Mrs. Burke to her home to dinner. She and Mr. Davis have been formally entertained in the other home, and the dinner they had there was superintended by a butler and carefully manipulated by two maids. Now Mrs. Davis has no maid, her china is very simple, and the food that she and her husband have, even when they entertain their friends, is plain and whole-some. Should she, for the great occasion, hire more beautiful china and engage servants? Should she draw on the savings bank for more delicate viands?

To begin with, Mr. Burke knows exactly what salary Mr. Davis gets. He knows whether it will warrant such expenditure. Will it make him feel like placing more responsibility on his assistant's shoulders to see him living beyond his means? Is it not, after all, much better for people to meet face to face instead of hiding themselves behind masks? The masks are not pretty, and in most cases deceive only the per-sons who wear them.

Men who are friends in business often like their wives to be friends as well. It is many times possible to bring about a meeting at the home of a common friend, but when this is not convenient, one of the women may invite the other. If the invitation is to dinner, it is not correct for Mr. Gardner to invite Mrs. Shandon even if he knows her and his wife does not. The invitation should go from Mrs. Gardner and should be addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Shandon. If the invitation is for tea, Mrs. Gardner simply invites Mrs. Shandon, and the nature of the invitation depends upon whether the affair is formal or informal.

As to which of two women should proffer the first invitation there might be some discussion. Usually it is the wife of the man whose position is superior, if they both work for the same concern. It frequently happens that a man whose position in business is high is married to a woman whose social standing is not of corresponding importance. Perhaps such a man has a subordinate whose wife is a social leader. In this case which of the women should extend the first invitation?

Most women of eminent social rank realize and appreciate the fact thoroughly. The social leader knows that the other woman might be embarrassed and hesitant about inviting her to her home. If she does apprehend this it is only gracious for her to extend the first invitation herself.

In small towns the rule is for the old residents to call upon the new, and the wife of a business man who has recently established himself in a community must wait until the women who live there have called upon her before she begins to entertain them.

In large cities where it is impossible to know everyone this rule is practically disregarded, and business men invite one another and ask their wives to do the same according to the way convenience and chance make most natural. Women whose husbands are longest in the employ of a firm, or whose husbands hold high positions, as a rule call first on the wives of newcomers or subordinates.

It all comes to the same thing whether it is in a city or a small town or the country. Those who are already established in the neighborhood or the business extend the right hand of welcome and good fellowship to those who are not.

In order to bring their employees together socially most big houses now give various entertainments such as picnics, parties, dances, and banquets. They are in no way different from other entertainments of the same kind so far as the etiquette of behavior is concerned. Formal dances and banquets in the evening require evening dress just the same, except with that very enormous group (to which most of us belong) who do not own evening dress. This does not mean that evening parties must be foregone by this group or that they should hire gala attire for the occasion, but simply that the men wear their business suits and the girls their "Sunday" dresses. It is just as correct, it is just as much fun, and it is infinitely wiser than giving a dollar down and a dollar a week for a decollete gown or a swallow-tail outfit.

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