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Dining Etiquette

History shows us that having poor etiquette while dining at a fine Cairns restaurant results in eternal shame and damnation. It seems so unjust because there is no state-created legislation defining etiquette rules or penalties, yet we are all bound by these conventions. And in addition, restaurants have widely varying levels of etiquette expectancy. It's all so damn confusing!

Well fear not, fellow Cairns Diners. Your humble scribe has been a victim of etiquette expectancy in the past and I am keen to share with you my tips for successful dining behaviour. The fact is table manners are an important part of making a favourable impression to your fellow diners. Even if you are dining with people you know very well, such as your family, you still need to uphold your table manners. The most important scenario for table manners is when dining with a prospective employer or with business associates. Your table manners will speak volumes about your professional ability and overall personality.

Lets start with the cutlery. The failsafe rule is to start from the outside and work your way towards the plate/bowl. Finding more than one set of knife and fork at the table is rare in restaurants priced under $40 per main, but it could happen so it's best to be prepared. When you have finished eating, lay the knife and fork (and spoon if it has been used) diagonally across the plate with the butt end of the cutlery angled towards your body. Once you have used a piece of cutlery, never place it back on the table. Any unused silverware is left on the table.

Now onto the napkin. For an item with such a thankless task, the napkin is surprisingly important. When you arrive at the table, your waiter or waitress may unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. If not, you should do this yourself as soon as you sit down. The napkin remains on your lap throughout the entire meal, unless it is required to gently wipe the edges of your mouth. If you need to leave the table during the meal, place your napkin on your chair so the other diners aren’t forced to look at it. When the meal is over, you should place your napkin neatly on the table to the right of your dinner plate. Don’t scrunch it into a ball and wedge it under your plate - just lay it down beside the plate.

When you have finished your meal, leave your plate where it is in front of you. Don't push it forward or stack up other finished plates like you may do at home.

But the big fears when eating in Cairns restaurants usually emerge in an unusual form. Here are my tips.

  • Chunk of gristle/fat that you can't eat - This happens to us all at some stage, and is a major pain in the butt. It could be cartilage from a chicken leg, fat from a steak, or stringy pork skin. The best procedure in the event of gristle unchewability is to pretend you have eaten it, then raise your napkin to your mouth in a dabbing motion and gently deposit the gristle into the napkin. Then fold the napkin and place it back on your lap. Sometimes this action will be noticed by other diners at your table so it’s best have the ability to joke about it afterwards.
  • Use of hands - The use of hands during dinner is a matter of intense debate, and often comes down to personal taste. In high class restaurants, it is rare you will be served food that can't be eaten with your knife and fork only, but there are always exceptions to the rule. The general decree is that fingers should NOT be used for any food that can be eaten with a fork/spoon. If you can eat it with a fork, then do so. But if food presents a difficulty for knife and fork handling, using your fingers is acceptable. For example, chicken drumsticks, chips, bread and pizza. When you use your fingers, try to use only one hand and not both. Also wipe your hands completely clean with your napkin when you have finished eating.
  • Salad or Garnish? - Not sure if the lettuce leaves and parsley are a small salad or a garnish? It's fine to eat the lettuce leaves, but don't chow down on parsley or other small items. If you are in a real bind, feel free to leave it alone completely and ignore the greens.
  • Placement of handbag - Don't hang it on the back of your chair. All bags and motorcycle helmets should be placed under the table next to your feet. They should be out of the way of other diners' legs.

Other commonsense tips include:

  • Always say please when asking the waiter or waitress for something, and say thankyou when it is delivered. Do not be rude to the waitperson – this is very unattractive and unnecessary, even if you believe the service is lacklustre.
  • If someone asks you a question while you are in mid-chew, just smile (mouth closed) and swallow your food before you reply.
  • In high-class restaurants, you should keep your elbows off the table. But in a more casual restaurant, leaning on the table to get relaxed is fine.

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