Business Dinner Etiquette: American vs. Continental Style Dining

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Business Dinner Etiquette and Dining

I’ve noticed more and more during meetings where food is served, some of my colleagues are eating with their utensils in both hands. I was taught to hold my fork in my right hand and place my left hand in my lap. Have the rules changed? – Sarah

It sounds like you are referencing another style of dining known as ‘Continental Style’. For those of us raised in the States, we were taught to eat our food ‘American Style’, which is what you are describing; fork in the right hand and left hand in your lap. When sitting down to dinner in Europe with the locals, pick up your silverware, and dig in using the good old-fashioned ‘American Style’ – and they’ll look at you as if you’ve fallen off the turnip truck. They’ll be wielding a fork in one hand, a knife in the other, using them in tandem like Freddy Kruger, all while keeping their hands above the table.

Today we are such a multi-cultural society, and with the evolution of technology and a more global business world, our cultural boundaries are becoming more and more blurred along with our dining styles. It’s good to know the intricacies of both so you’ll be well versed and feel confident no matter whether you’re dining with Americans or Europeans, or your find yourself stateside in the Midwest, South, or a Metropolitan city. You will easily be able to adapt according to the situation.

American Style Dining

There are three easy steps to master American Style.

  1. When cutting food “American style,” the fork is held in the left hand, and the knife in the right hand. The utensils are held as if they look like extensions of your pointer finger on each hand. Avoid gripping and stabbing your food like a Neanderthal. With your fork, ‘politely poke’ the piece that will end up in your mouth. Now taking your knife just behind your fork, gently push down, then back and forth to cut your food – try to avoid looking like a lumberjack.
  2. Before placing food in your mouth, the knife is placed to ‘rest’ on the dinner plate (diagonally across the top portion of the plate) and the fork is transferred to the right hand and you place your left hand in your lap. The left hand is not to be seen again until it is needed to perform its duty as mentioned in step #1.
  3. The food that is positioned on the fork is chauffeured by the right hand into the mouth. Eat and repeat…. Cutting one bite at a time.

American Style is often referred to as “zig zag” style since the fork is constantly changing from the left hand to the right. 

Continental Style Dining

To master this style, you’ll start by cutting the same way as you do in American Style, but the transferring of the food to the mouth is were it gets tricky.

Some basic rules to remember for Continental style dining: The fork (tines down) is held in the left hand (for eating) and the knife in the right (for cutting). They are used together – in tandem. One does not work without the assistance of the other. The knife also acts as a “support” system to assist placing small items of food safely on the fork (instead of a sneaky finger). Continental Style, both hands remain above the table at all times, holding the fork and knife in your left and right hands, resting your wrists on the edge of the table. You only lay your silverware down in its resting position when you need to take a drink, tend to your bread, or when another duty is required of your hands.

  1. See Step One for American Style – cutting is the same for both American and Continental style dining.
  2. Transfer the food that is positioned on the fork directly into the mouth by the left hand – tines remain facing down. Food is either placed onto the tines by ‘politely poking’ or gently resting the morsel on the back of the tines. In some cultures, it is acceptable to turn your fork to scoop. Eat and repeat…. Cutting one bite at a time.

Next time you watch any of the reality show TV cooking contests, you might notice the judges eating ‘Continental Style’. It takes a bit of practice, but once you master the concept, I think it makes complete sense and is much easier and more efficient than ‘American Style’. Plus, it’s great for those international business dinners.

Do you have questions about etiquette in the workplace? Leave a comment and you might be featured in a Monday Manner segment on Blogging4Jobs! 

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