Let’s Have Some Manners

March 25, 2014 Updated: March 23, 2014

As a businesswoman I meet a lot of people, dine with many people, and generally have a bird’s-eye view of our culture. And it never ceases to amaze me how few people (both men and women) have manners, or know anything about etiquette. Good manners oil the gears of human behavior. They make it easier for us to get along and achieve success. So, let this column be a primer.

It used to be that when dining in a fine restaurant, a lady never spoke directly to the waiter; she gave her order to her escort and he gave it to the waiter. That’s over. I officially give you permission to speak directly to the waiter. In fact, if you are hosting a business lunch or dinner, it’s mandatory.

When you are hosting a meal, use a credit card, which is easier than cash. As the hostess, you can suggest certain menu items to your guests. If you are a guest, never order the most expensive thing on the menu. Take your cue from the host. Do not order anything that is messy to eat. When eating bread or rolls, do not butter a whole slice. Break it off into bite-size pieces.

As a guest, when you return to your office send a thank you email. As a frequent hostess, I send my guests an email telling them how much I enjoyed it.

When you meet a man, if he extends his hand, shake it. What else are you going to do? Kiss his cheek?

If you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, always bring a present. Bring cake, cupcakes, candy, flowers, wine. But bring something. And you must send a thank you note, which used to be called a “bread-and-butter” note in a more charming era.

Don’t say anything offensive. This should go without saying, but it’s amazing how many people never read the owner’s manual warning “make sure brain is in gear before opening mouth.”

You will probably never be faced with this, but if you are seated at a dinner table with an array of many spoons, knives, and forks, don’t panic. Just watch your host and do the same. Incidentally, you’re supposed to start from the outside and work your way in.

At table, don’t lean your elbows on the table, please. And when making a point, don’t wave your arms wildly. The glass you knock over could belong to the very person you are trying most to impress.

If you are asked if you would like a glass of wine and you would, order a glass but only if you can handle it. If a couple of sips make you tipsy, abstain and say you’re driving or make a joke.

Actually, good manners are merely common sense. It is all about making the other person feel comfortable. Knowing a few simple dos and don’ts is not limiting—it’s actually liberating because it provides a comfortable framework for good behavior. The rest is then up to each one of us to assert our individual charm and imagination to make a dazzling impression.

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity agency in Manhattan. She may be reached at silverbergm@mindspring.com.