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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - We all indulge in less-than-perfect behavior in private but dining politely should be second nature - or should at least appear to be - if you are seeking to impress the boss or potential client.
Here are some top tips to ensure social -- and business -- success at the table:
* To start, your napkin should be spread out on your lap, never tucked it into the neck of your shirt even if you want to protect your Salvatore Ferragamo tie. Sit up straight and make sure your elbows aren't encroaching on your neighbor's space. Do not rest your elbows on the table or lean on them when eating.
If you are served a meal that is already on the plate, wait until everyone round the table has been served before starting. When group dining, offer side dishes around the table and hold them for the person next to you.
* Cutlery should be rested on the plate/bowl between bites. Never gesture with your cutlery, and don't scrape or clatter it noisily. Equally, it is bad manners to clank your utensils loudly against your teeth.
Depending on the formality of the occasion, there will be varying amounts of cutlery on the table. The layout should always be the same - fork to the left, knives and spoons to the right. Work from the outside inwards, course by course. Pudding utensils usually sit above the place setting.
* Eat at a relaxed pace and try to match your fellow diners. Keep your mouth closed and noise to a minimum. Never smack your chops. Talking while there is food in your mouth should be avoided at all costs - even when you have a conversational gem up your sleeve.
* Don't drink your wine too fast or ask for a top-up unless you are in very familiar company. Don't overindulge - there's nothing worse than a drunken diner, particularly at a business dinner. * Handling tricky foods?
Break bread rolls into individual bite-sized pieces. Break off a new piece for each mouthful, rather than dividing the roll into chunks in advance. Butter is placed on the edge of your side plate. Each piece, or mouthful, is individually buttered.
Soup bowls should be tilted away from you and the soup spoon pushed from the front to back to catch a mouthful. Tip the soup into your mouth from the side of the spoon; don't try eating with your spoon at 90 degrees to your mouth. Leave your spoon in the bowl, not on the side plate, when you have finished.
Squash peas onto the back of your fork rather than scooping them up from an upturned fork. Asparagus should be picked by the stem and eaten with the fingers unless it is a vegetable accompaniment to a dish, or covered in sauce.
Traditionally, spaghetti should be eaten with a fork only. Twist a small bundle of spaghetti around your fork by twirling it clockwise against the dish. Never make slurping noises but don't worry too much about the odd stray strand hanging from your mouth it's authentic.
To eat a whole fish on the bone, work down one side of the spine at a time, from head to tail, then lift the entire bone up and gently ease the flesh out from beneath. Small bones should be removed from the mouth with fingers and placed on the side of the plate.
Cheese on a communal board should be cut with the cheese knife provided. Round cheese must be treated like a cake: cut triangular portions. Never, ever cut the nose off a triangular wedge (such as Brie), cut slivers lengthways instead. * When you have finished, place your knife and fork together - with the tines facing upwards - bottom-center on your plate. When you leave the table place your napkin, unfolded, beside your plate. Don't forget to compliment the chef.
(Jo Bryant is the London-based etiquette advisor for Debrett's, the UK's modern authority on all matters of manners and behaviour. The opinions expressed are her own. Debrett's website is www.debretts.com)
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith