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Wining and dining


Dear Hilka,

What a predicament! There I was at lunch with a high net worth client, and I dropped my fork. I bent down to pick it up, but my napkin slipped off my lap. So, there I was with my hair all messed up from bending down and with a dirty fork and a dirty napkin... and with a client giving me this weird look. What did I do wrong? How would you have handled the situation?

Down But Not Out

Dear Down

WHEN you're in a restaurant, leave anything that you dropped on the floor. If it is in the way and could pose a hazard to someone walking by, then discreetly kick it to the side before calling the waiter over to replace the errant article. Your job is to keep your focus on the client, not to go crawling around on the floor.

Now, if you were at a dinner party in a private home and there were staff serving the meal, you would ask the server to bring you a clean fork, napkin or whatever, just as you would in a restaurant. If, however, there is no staff, don't disturb the hostess unnecessarily. Pick up the stray item as discreetly as possible and carry on. If others notice, make light of it and change the topic of conversation. Don't ask your hostess to replace the errant item; you may embarrass her if she only has a limited number of place settings. Anyway, the host and hostess should be focusing on their guests, not running around attending to the carelessness of one individual.

If you drop something at a cocktail party, nudge it to the side with your foot if possible or leave it if it won't cause an accident. If someone could slip or hurt themselves, call one of the waiters over to attend to it. If you are in a private home, pick it up discreetly... especially if it is food that could ruin the host's flooring. Don't be like the (uninvited) guest of a guest at one of my cocktail parties a number of years ago who dropped a lit cigarette on my white wool broadloom and thought it more seemly to stub the cigarette out than to pick it up. As hard as it was for me to smile throughout that incident, that's how easy it was for me never to invite either of those guests again.

* * *

Dear Hilka,

I recently took a client to lunch in an upscale restaurant, and halfway through the meal he used his napkin to blow his nose. I was revolted and didn't know what to do. What would you have done?


Dear Repulsed,

IN the last year or so a number of people have pointed out this truly disgusting trend, that an increasing number of men are using their table napkin to blow their nose. Unfortunately, when you're confronted with a situation like this, you would be committing a worse offence by pointing out someone's rude behaviour. And, it could cost you the client. The best way to handle repulsive behaviour like that is to smile graciously and act as though nothing were amiss. Or, were you to feel so bold, you could offer the offender a tissue... ever so politely, of course. And, in future, you might want to reconsider taking that client out to dine. If compelled to do so, try to downscale the establishment you chose to spare yourself some embarrassment, if not repulsion. That said, never, ever should anyone use a table napkin to blow the nose. In fact, even using a handkerchief or a tissue at the table to blow, rather than to blot discreetly, would be offensive. If you must do so, excuse yourself and go to the lavatory.


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