Holiday dinners – oh boy. For those of us who missed charm school in favor of hanging out at the mall or a movie theater, a formal dinner can be a major stressor. Just the idea of sitting down to a five course meal at your boss’s house, or worse your new love interest’s parents’ dinner table may make you head straight for the Tito’s. Well don’t! That would be considered impolite! Wine only!
That’s just one of the tips we received from Christofle Paris at their Boston outpost. Who better to give a dining etiquette lesson than the curators of “The Art of the Table,” an intimate dinner experience hosted by Christofle to share dining trends.
We visited the gorgeous Boylston Street location, where we were greeted by the poised Store Manager, Danielle Canty.
Christofle Boston Store Manager, Danielle Canty
Both Danielle and the store radiate Parisian style.
Just take a stroll by the window display and you’ll quickly catch on to the fact that the almost 200-year-old Silversmith house is up-to-speed with modern times. Designed by the well-known and very approachable Eric Roseff, a large mannequin, with some smaller companions, keep watch over suspended stunning jewelry, nestled into contrasting black sand.
We were excited to meet Eric at a Christofle event this week and inquire about his inspiration for the stunning display.
Fashionistas, you’ll love this! The glitzed-up life size doll is actually an antique Italian Mannequin Eric held onto from the old Boston Louis store. Eric aimed to showcase that while tradition abounds within the Chistofle brand, many of the products are actually highly stylized and cutting edge. And yes, there is a little bondage theme that hones that edge. We’re pretty sure Eric nailed it. (We hope he doesn’t mind that we inserted ourselves into the display. But, we couldn’t help it!)
We were surprised to learn that the brand known for silver flatware and housewares also sells lighting fixtures, stunning jewelry, and super cool gadgets, like this “Sphere” hard drive. How cool would that look on your desk?
We really shouldn’t have been surprised by the covetable jewelry intermingled with exquisite Lalique pieces, as the brand’s founder, Charles Christofle, actually was a jeweler!
For the right price, one can custom order anything in the store. And, although, most of us might bock at some of the price tags, like the above amazing $175K lighting fixture, there are many reasonably priced items. In fact, Jessica scooped up the chic Duo Complice leather and silver necklace and bracelet to put under her tree. Santa brings mommy presents too- right?
Another great idea for a gift, if there’s a martini lover in your life. One of the art deco styled martini glasses with a bottle of their favorite gin or vodka makes a perfect present!
We loved this everyday flatware, stored in a stainless Steel Egg. Part of the MOOD collection, the six person flatware set is dishwasher safe and the shiny elliptical capsule takes your flatware out of the drawer and onto the counter as a piece of art. We’re both hoping Santa might surprise us and leave this one under our tree!
After touring the store, ogling shiny trinkets and fine china, and speaking with the very knowledgeable Danielle, it was clear we came to the right place for our etiquette lesson. So, without further adieu here are a few tips to help you channel Kate Middleton rather than good old Uncle Eddy.
Never Go Empty Handed!
Always have a gift for your host/hostess, ESPECIALLY this time of year. A bottle of wine, specialty candle, bouquet of flowers, or an ornament are all perfect.
When to Sit
So, you look stunning in your best car-to-the-bar shoes. Despite how inviting the candle-lit dining room and chairs may look, you’re going to have to suffer in your stilettos until your host takes his/her seat. When your host is seated, that’s your cue that you can finally take a load off those gorgeous gams.
How well you know the other guests will somewhat direct the conversation. A great ice breaker is to start a simple discussion about the centerpiece. This time of the year, elaborate and festive table decorations are not uncommon. Just remember to be complimentary. Once the conversation is flowing, follow the same tips one gives to a child: listen, don’t interrupt, and think before you speak. We all know religion and politics are “off the table.” Talk about positive topics, and try to include guests who seem uncomfortable or nervous.
Or, at least the host’s napkin rules when you may use yours. Once your host’s napkin is in place on his/her lap, then you may do the same. You must also use the same napkin throughout dinner. And, never put your napkin on your plate, it’s considered rude, not to mention it’s messy!
Here’s a tough rule to follow, no drinks at a work event. Um, okay. We think we’ve seen enough holiday work parties at Boston hot spots this year to know this rule isn’t being followed. But, at the very least, no hard alcohol. Although, it is acceptable for a shot to be served with desert at the table. Never pour your own wine. Allow a server, or your host to pour for you. Pace yourself, and remember never to look like this:
This is a little more appropriate. 😉
Place settings can be intimidating. Which fork do you use? And what about that giant plate underneath all of the other plates? The giant plate is called a charger or under plate. It’s not informal for staff to remove the charger or for it to be used as a dinner plate. As for all of the different flatware, generally, start with the outer pieces. The salad and dinner fork should be on the left, and the spoon and knife on the right. A soup and desert spoon may be placed at the top of the plate arrangement. But also, depending on what is being served, may be put over the top plate.
In the early stages of dinner, there may be caviar or a bread bowl on the table. Be sure to pass from left to right, to avoid reaching over the food. Once the first course arrives, begin only after everyone has been served.
TIP: Never put butter directly on your bread. Instead, take a pat and put it onto your bread plate, break the bread, and butter it one bite at a time. We know this is a tough one given the lack of efficiency, but, it’s the bread and butter of dining etiquette. 🙂
If you’re at a work dinner where you may choose your food, stay away from any food that requires your hands. Soups are okay. Feel free to pick up the soup bowl and sip from it, especially, if it has handles. This is actually the proper way to consume soup!
Don’t Rush, But Don’t Dawdle!
Portion sizes of each course should naturally dictate how long it takes to eat. At one to two inches a portion size, you really shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes per course. If 30 minutes has quickly ticked off the clock, and you didn’t have a chance to eat because you were gabbing away, allow the waitstaff to remove the course to keep the flow of the meal moving.
You Don’t have to Clear your Plate, but…
Out of respect for your host, you really should at least try a bite of everything your served. If you managed to survive lima beans at age 7, you can handle a bite of ceviche.
Signaling your Done
There are a few different ways to let waitstaff know you are done with your meal. The traditional way is to cross your utensils over the plate.
Coffee and Tea
Typically, the tea and coffee should not be set up at the table, but rather at a nearby station. For coffee, put the sugar cubes in first and then the liquid. For tea, the order should be liquid, sugar, and then either lemon or milk.
When to Retire
Just as your host began the evening, follow his/her cue to end dinner. When your host stands, that’s your signal to move along to the next portion of the night. Be sure not to dart out the front door, but also be careful not to overstay. Departing an hour after dinner is a safe bet.
Tips for the Host
If you’re the big kahuna hosting the event, here are a few tips:
- Use your centerpiece as a conversation starter.
- No ice in the water; this will avoid a sweaty glass. Instead, ice may go into a pitcher with a blockade to keep the ice out of the glasses and the water cold.
- Don’t serve finger food at the table.
- Keep portion sizes from one to two inches to help limit the time of each course.
- When serving children, use the desert and salad forks as utensils.
- Keep the coffee and tea station off the table.
- If you are going to retire to the same location where you served cocktails and hor d’oeuvres, be sure to change the ambiance so your guests know they can stay.
We hope you found these tips helpful! The biggest tip we have is not to stress too much over table etiquette. Relax, be yourself, don’t chew gum at the table and you’ll be fine. 🙂
Many thanks to Todd Mazer for the amazing photography and to Danielle Canty and to Christofle Paris for their hospitality!
Happy Holidays and Happy Dining! 🙂
Kim & Jess