Attending a business dinner abroad? A quick guide on European dining etiquette

Are you attending a business dinner in France, Germany or Italy? Are you worried about the table etiquette? Sitting down for a formal dinner can be terrifying, especially when you do not know how to use the fork and the knife. But fear not, for this simple guide will walk you through the basics of dining etiquette in Europe.

Traveling overseas for work has become quite common. While the prospect of travelling to another country can be super exciting, the actual experience can be quite stressful, given that most of us aren't familiar with the local traditions and customs.

Dining etiquette is different in different parts of the world. You'd be wrong to assume that the whole of the Western world follows the same customs. The customs differ, within countries in Europe. To avoid a dining faux pas, go over these basic dining etiquettes, practised in Italy, France and Germany.

Italian dining etiquette

When you are meeting someone over a business dinner, in Italy, you need to keep the following things in mind. Italians generally start late but aren't in a rush to end the evening.

Be on time – but anticipate a late start

Follow the standard practice of arriving on time, when you have a business dinner to attend in Italy. You might have to wait, a while, before your Italian host or guest shows up. It is normal for Italians to be late by 15-30 minutes. So, be prepared for that.

However, since you'd be at the venue on time, make the best of your time, by brushing up on your Italian, with the bartender. Alternatively, make a mental note of the things you'll be discussing over dinner and the strategies you'd be using to be persuasive. It'll boost your confidence.

Slow down – eat slowly

Italians are known to enjoy their food and they eat at a leisurely pace, as compared to say, the Americans, who rush with their food. Be ready to spend a few hours at the business meal – sometime as long as three to four hours. So, don't expect to be done within an hour. keep this in mind, before fixing after the meal appointments.

Relish your meal and the company, along with the dining experience. The staffs at Italian restaurants do not rush customers; instead allow them to enjoy a leisurely meal, over lots of talks and good food.

Cut your pizza

No matter how you eat your pizza back home, in Italy, you will need to use the silverware, to cut it. Italians don't pick up a slice of pizza and bit into it. They cut it first and then use their hands to eat it. Also, pizza in Italy rarely comes sliced.

Go for espresso; forget about cappuccino

If you're ordering coffee in Italy, it will have to be an espresso. Italians are particular about their coffee. They like to savour their post-dinner coffee, usually espresso shots. Coffee served in Italy is heavy on sugar and milk. Lattes and cappuccinos are primarily consumed in the mornings or post lunch.

How the French eat

Eating at a French restaurant, with a French business partner, would require you to possess impeccable table manners. The French are very fastidious about table etiquettes. So, here's your guide on things to do, when dining in France.

Elbows and hands

You probably know the rule about elbows and hands. It is time to put the rule to practice when you are eating out in France. The elbows never touch the table – that is poor manners. And the hands must never go out of sight. It is not fine to let your hands rest on the napkin on your lap. Your hands must always be rest on the edge of the table.

The hands on the table rule date back to a time in history when people attacked foes with daggers. Hands were kept on the table to indicate the intention.

Use of cutlery

The French hold the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left. This is what is referred to as the 'Continental-style' of dining. Use the fork to hold down the food and the knife to cut it. Once you have the meat or whatever it is on your plate, use your left hand to fork it into your mouth. You may use just the fork, in case you're eating a salad. In which case, you would hold it in your right hand.

Don't hold the cutlery while making conversation. The cutlery should be placed on the plate, such that the fork and the knife lie crossed on your plate. Ensure that the knife lies under the fork. You place the knife over the fork when you are done eating, and it is a signal to the server to remove your plate.

Order food with care

French restaurants offer fixed menus and it is best that you do not ask for your food to be 'customised'. It won't go down well with either the staff or your host or business partner. It is best to stick with dishes that are on the menu and ones that you can eat, without fuss.

How's the bread eaten

The French love their bread, and if you don't know this fact, you would when in France. Unlike the US, where bread is served ahead of the meal, in a French restaurant, the bread is served with the main course or with cheese.

You'll also not have a side plate to put the bread on. It's fine to put it on the table on the tablecloth. Only very fine-dining places will place a side-plate, in which case, the bread goes on the plate. Don't worry about placing the bread on the tablecloth; you'll not be frowned upon. And remember, bread is always torn with the hand. You do not bite into the bread.

Keep your voice low

French restaurants are posh places that follow certain decorum. Talking loudly is looked down upon. Speak in a soft, subtle tone.

Dining etiquette for Germany

A lot of continental dining etiquette are followed in Germany. However, here is a list of practices that will make you fit in better.

Cut before you eat

When eating at a restaurant in Germany, use the cutlery the same way as you would in France - knife in the right hand and the fork in the left. The 'finger food' concept is not that accepted in the country and most foods are eaten with the help of silverware, even a pizza. Another important aspect of dining in Germany that you should be aware of is that they use the knife, to cut food, only when absolutely necessary. Whenever possible, they make do with the side of the fork, to cut through food. Keep that in mind – and use the knife only when required.

You'll need to ask for water

Don't expect to be served water. If you want water make a request. When you do so, expect mineral water, and it won't be free of charge. Regular or tap water is rarely served at restaurants you'll have to ask for it specifically. But, remember, it is scowled at, as it is looked upon as being tight-fisted.

Napkin rules

The dinner napkin perhaps creates the most confusion in people's minds. What do you with it when you leave the table, during the meal? In Germany, the napkin is left on the table, beside your plate and not on the chair. After, you've done eating, don't bunch up the napkin, instead fold it neatly and set it on the left of your dinner plate. You do the same whether it is cloth or paper napkin.

Passing dishes quandary

When passing dishes at the table, give the dish to the person seated to your left. If someone requests for the salt and pepper cruets, pass it directly into their hands, instead of sliding it towards them.

Finish what's on your plate

You must finish all the food on your plate. If you leave food on your plate, it indicates that it was not palatable and you did not enjoy the food.

Final tip

This article illustrates the basic dining etiquette to follow when dining in France, Italy and Germany. However, if you are still in doubt, follow your host – do what they do. Also, look over the shoulder of people sitting at your table, making cursory glances at other tables, to see what the other folks are doing and follow them

Once you master the basics of table etiquette, you can focus on the other important events happening – the delicious meal and the conversation. Bon Appétit.

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Author: Natarajan14 Nov 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 1

A practical article with good insight into the dinner etiquette. In Italy, if the meal goes on for 3-4 hours, it would often include soups, appetisers, main course with a side dish and then dessert. If we cannot eat so much, can we leave behind some or can we avoid ordering one course? Wine forms an important part of the meal, so is the wine order taken care of by the host or it is for after the completion of the meal?

Author: Juana16 Nov 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

Most Europeans will drink wine with their meals, but in Italy, it is not uncommon to find people ordering a bottle of mineral water with their food. Sparkling water is a good choice, for anyone who does not drink alcohol.

Wine orders are normally given before the meal begins. It is the host's responsibility to order the drinks. If you are new to the Italian dining experience, it is best to let the host decide, on what to order. You would not want to make a faux pas ordering the wrong wine with your food.

Do not be in a rush to finish your meal or the wine. Savour both, as you enjoy the company, the conversation and the ambience.

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