I know some of you think I'm too hung about this. I know this is irrelevant to your worth as a lawyer and a human being. But to me, bad table manners are inexcusable. In this competitive market, you can't afford to make mistakes—even if it's as superficial as how you should twirl your pasta.
So here's my encore post from last year on how to handle an interview meal.
While dining at New York's Casa Lever recently, I spied a summer associate at the next table. He was with two older lawyers--who appeared to be partners. They were chatting away about the personalties at work and the summer arrivals. Nothing earth-shattering, but I thought this guy more than held his own. He talked about everything from his Midwest childhood to the political situation in the former Soviet Union--all with remarkable poise and ease. He seemed smart in a nonshowy way.
He got my vote for an offer. Until the waiter brought the food to the table.
He had ordered pasta (tagliatelle Bolognese, I think)--a fine selection, since Casa Lever is now an Italian restaurant. But once everyone was served, he picked up his fork and knife and quickly slashed the pasta into a series of bite-size servings.
I don't know how his companions felt about this display of efficiency, but I was horrified.
Yes, it's that time of the year again--our seasonal refresher on table manners. Though I wrote about business meal etiquette last year, it bears repeating--especially with you summer associates running loose. So here's my latest list of table etiquette:
1. Know the BMW rule: Bread plate to the left, meat in the middle, and water to the right.
2. Start with utensils farthest away from plate (usually the salad fork).
3. Do not clutch utensils as if you're about to chant, "We want food!" Instead, hold spoon and fork as you would a pencil. (See Corporette for in-depth discussion on this.)
4. Keep your napkin on your lap. But if you need to excuse yourself during the meal, always place your napkin neatly on your chair. When you leave the restaurant, put it on the table.
4. Don't precut your food. Of course, you should cut that giant piece of lettuce or that juicy T-bone steak--but do it one bite at a time. As for pasta, just twirl it onto your fork and eat it. (It is also not necessary or cool to twirl spaghetti against a spoon like they do in The Godfather.)
5. Don't talk with food in your mouth. I don't care if someone is defaming your mother, wait until you've swallowed your food to defend her honor.
6. If you drop a fork or knife on the floor, leave it and ask the waiter for a replacement. If you drop your BlackBerry or cell phone, only pick it up if it's easily reachable--otherwise, ask for assistance. Under no circumstances should you scurry under the table like a busy rat.
As for the social aspects of an interview lunch or dinner, Sally Abrahms, who's written on etiquette, offers this suggestion: "Ask the partner questions about his/ her practice and show extreme interest. Allow him/her to tell war stories about cases or deals they've worked on."
So what shouldn't you talk about? There are the usual taboos--like religion and politics--unless you know you share the partner's allegiances, in which case those subjects could give you a big boost. Abrahms also warns about asking about money or hours : "That will be construed as the candidate is concerned about how much she will make or how hard he will have to work." And we certainly wouldn't want the firm to know we care about those things.
What's your pet-peeve about the way people behave at a business meal?
Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.
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