Cheat Sheet

Etiquette For Dummies

Practicing proper etiquette means knowing the mechanics of dining, the correct amount to tip for a service, giving a gift graciously, and traveling with ease while exercising good manners.

Etiquette Tips for Dining

People usually think of the mechanics of eating when the word etiquette is mentioned and for good reason. Dining is one common area where rough edges show. To keep social and business dining situations less stressful here are some etiquette quick tips:

  • Always introduce yourself to those around you at the table and talk with those on each side and across from you.

  • Sit up straight at the table with your feet flat on the floor; it makes a good impression. If you must cross your legs, do so at the ankles. And keep your shoes on!

  • The meal officially begins when the host unfolds his napkin. This is the guest’s signal to do the same. The napkin remains on your lap throughout the entire meal and should be used to gently blot your mouth.

  • You can start eating when your host starts eating. If the first course is brought to the table in twos or threes and not everyone has food yet, don’t begin to eat; wait until all the people around you have been served the first course, and then begin to eat together. Sometimes the host may encourage you to “Go ahead, please don’t wait.” In this case, beginning eating is perfectly fine.

  • Use the utensils farthest from the plate, working from the outside in. Remember the rule of solids to the left and liquids to the right. All properly set tables have glasses to the right (liquid) and solids to the left (bread and salad plates).

  • Never cut your food into bits all at once; cut only two or three bits at a time. Take small bites and always remember to chew with your mouth closed — and don’t talk while you have food in your mouth.

  • When you’re not eating, keep your hands on your lap or with wrists resting on the edge of the table. Elbows on the table are acceptable only at the end of the meal when no food is on the table.

  • If you must leave the table during a meal for any reason, do so with as little interruption to others as possible. Politely and quietly excuse yourself, lay your napkin on your chair, and leave without fanfare.

  • After the meal is over, the host signals the end of the meal by placing his napkin on the table. You should follow suit by placing your napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate, with no soiled areas showing. Don’t refold your napkin, wad it up, or place it on your plate.

How Much Should You Tip?

In the United States, tipping is a voluntary practice in most places and is based upon your experience of a service or meal. Knowing how to tip gracefully is an important skill in etiquette. Here are some tipping suggestions:

  • If you’ve received excellent service and food, you should tip 15 to 20 percent of the before-tax amount of the bill.

  • If a wine steward or sommelier gives you special help selecting wine, tip equal to 15 percent of the price of the wine.

  • Give your barber or hairstylist a 15 to 20 percent tip if you’re having a cut, color, or perm. If you have a separate colorist and stylist, each person should receive 15 to 20 percent of the cost of the particular service that she provided. If you’re having your hair set or washed and blow-dried, a 20 percent tip is sufficient. If other people in the salon help you (for example, if a junior assistant washes your hair), tip each person a few dollars for her service.

  • If you have a manicure or pedicure, tip the manicurist a minimum of $3 or 15 percent of the cost of the manicure or pedicure.

  • If a doorman carries your bag, give him $1 to $2 per bag. Give a doorman who hails you a cab $1.

  • If a bellman arrives at your hotel room with your luggage, tip him $2 per bag.

  • For a concierge who gets you into a fashionable restaurant, tip $10 to $20, or if the concierge gets you into the opening night of a popular play or opera, tip $20 per ticket.

  • Tip the parking valet who retrieves your car $1 or $2.

  • Give your hotel maid $3 per night.

Tips for Gracious Gift-Giving

Deciding on a gift for someone is a personal choice. Research and thought will make selecting a gift easier and more appropriate for the person and occasion. Remember the spirit of giving is what matters! Consider these gift-giving guidelines:

  • When selecting a gift, consider the person’s hobbies and interests. A bit of research and thought can make the gift-selection process a whole lot easier.

  • Pull together a list of gift ideas and roughly how much you want to spend. Many stores are online, so you can search the Internet for ideas and prices before you go shopping, or you can always buy online.

  • Unless you’re absolutely sure of the person’s tastes, purchase gift certificates or gift cards in lieu of clothing.

  • When searching for a gift for a family, consider any of the following:

    • Photo album

    • Travel journal

    • Cookbook

    • Tickets to a sporting event, concert, or play

    • How-to DVD or book for a new hobby

    • Gift certificate to a family restaurant or favorite store

    • Book on CD

    • Plant

    • Food gift basket

  • For a friend who is hosting a party, send a floral arrangement that complements her home and send it the day before or the day of the event.

  • Some of the best gifts can’t be purchased at any store. Perhaps you have a skill or talent that you can use to create a painting, a handicraft item, or a piece of pottery.

  • Giving a material gift isn’t the only way to go. The gift of your time for volunteer work or for helping out a friend or neighbor is also a form of giving — and one that may be appreciated more than a material item.

Tips for Traveling Gracefully

World travel can be quite stressful — even before you leave your home! Follow these travel tips to make your trip as enjoyable as possible and keep your manners intact:

  • Every courtesy should be afforded when traveling, especially abroad. Remember the adage of “when in Rome.” Always be respectful of your differences, others’ customs, culture, and religion. Always dress appropriately.

  • Be polite with all passengers and always be considerate to your traveling companions. Offer them your best smile and don’t lose your temper, no matter what. If you want to maintain composure, be as flexible as possible and don’t take rude incidents personally, even when you may be pushed and shoved! Practice patience.

  • Make sure you have your travel documents in order. Always bring proper identification and, if traveling internationally, your passport, visa, and inoculation documents (if required).

  • Leave your valuables at home in a safe. Purchase a slender wallet that hangs by a cord around your neck, under your shirt. Keep your passport, credit card, and large bank notes in that wallet.

  • The best way to keep from suffering stress and anxiety while waiting to check in at an airport, railroad station, or bus terminal is to allow about twice as much time as your first impulse dictates. Use that same expansion of time at the other end of your journey. It can take a lot of time to gather your belongings and leave an airplane or train station.

  • If you or your travel companion has any special needs, be sure to provide details to the airlines, hotels, or cruise ship before traveling.

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