To ensure you are just that at a fancy a** restaurant, etiquette czarina Sabira Merchant debates the merits of `pushing away your soup' and putting finger to bread
Etiquette trainer and theatre personality Sabira Merchant is caught up these days playing Her Majesty The Queen in The Buckingham Secret. It's a role that, she smiles, "seemed to be written for her."
You can't argue that one. Poise, after all, comes naturally to Merchant, who has devoted decades to correcting speech and diction. Aside of offering lessons on how to bite your Vs and whistle your Ws, Merchant has trained politicos, beauty pageant aspirants, multi-national corporates on fine dining decorum.
"Most of them," she shares, "are admittedly quite flummoxed on seeing an array of forks and knives. They don't know where to begin."
During an afternoon spent leisurely over a four-course meal at Indigo, where SoBo's swish set are happy to dine, she shares a primer that's sure to catapult you to respect among the posh.
DITCH EVERYTHING CASUAL
Keep denims, sneakers and slippers for a day at the diner. Your look should be a shade formal but not stuffy. Ideally, men should be jacketed, and choose formal trousers. Women can pick between a dress, formal skirt, an elegant saree or a dressy salwar kameez with slight jewellery.
ARMS OFF TABLE
Draw your chair close to the table but not so close that you lean in. Keep it at a comfortable distance. Whether it's a business lunch or a fancy dinner with friends, don't rest your elbows on the table. It plays truant with your posture.
BAGS BEHIND BACK
Never dump your handbag on the table or hang it on the chair; it interferes with the ambience and disrupts service. At posh restaurants, they could offer you an upholstered stool to seat your bag. If they don't, place it at the back of your seat.The other option is to carry a handbag hook or keeper. Attach it on the table, and you are set.
KEEP IT FACE-TO-FACE
The conversation must remain face-to-face, with no distractions from the virtual world. Never take a phone call while at the table. Or text, Instagram and WhatsApp. It gives others the impression that you aren't interested in the meal, or them.
Phones must be put on silent and placed inside your handbag, not at the table. Your phone is not a statement accessory.
UTILISE THE SERVIETTE
As soon you make yourself comfortable, reach out for the serviette. Do not tuck it into your collar like a bib, unless you are a geriatric or on the aircraft.Place it open and on your lap. This indicates you are ready for the meal. The serviette is offered for a variety of reasons, just like the side plate, also known as a quarter or a B&B (bread and butter) plate. You can use the serviette to sneeze into or pat your lips after a course. When not in use, place it on the side plate.
BREAK BREAD, DON'T CUT IT
Always ask for the bread to be passed to you. Do not reach out for it. Do not use the butter knife to cut through it. Remember the adage, break your bread? Gently break it and use the blunt knife to butter it.
PUSH THE SOUP AWAY
The soup spoon sits at the extreme right of the plate; the butter knife on the left. Spoon the soup -in this case, roasted chicken & mushroom soup with kaffir lime -away from you; never towards you. This ensures less spillage. Do not slurp or blow into the spoon to cool it. Never dip the bread breadstick lavache into the soup. Break a small piece, butter it if you like, take a bite, and follow it with a spoon of soup. Once done, place the spoon, top up, to mimic the clock's hand at 6.30. It means you are done with the course. If you are eating a heavy, seven course meal, your soup will be served in a demit-asse (French for half a small cup).
MATCH WINE TO MEAT
Whites go well with lighter food and fish while reds are better suited for steaks and lamb dishes. Always glance at the bottle, speed read the label and check for the date -it indicates the year the grape was picked. Allow the server to pour you a little in your glass to taste. White wines should be consumed chilled, while reds can be enjoyed at 16 to 18 degrees centigrade. If you don't fancy wine, stick to plain-bottled or sparkling water (club soda).
Not talking while eating is a misnomer. What's rude is to be consumed by your meal.Take care to speak to the person on your left and right. But never speak when your mouth is full. In between courses, a fine dine restaurant will serve you sorbet or a frozen dessert, to cleanse your palate. Go with it. In the eventuality that a food particle gets lodged in your teeth, raise the index finger, relieve it, apologise and continue. Never point towards your mouth.
RESPECT THE FLAVOURS
No calling for juice, mocktails or cocktails with your meals.At a fine dine restaurant, the chef has gone to great lengths to get the dish to taste exactly how he wants you to savour it. A fruit juice mocktail cocktail will interfere with flavours. Go prepared to eat what the establishment serves. Only if you are vegetarian or vegan, can you mention so to the steward.Otherwise, it is assumed that you eat everything. You'll always be served red wine with your meal. Enjoy that, or stick to water.
KEEP THE END FRUGAL
Post dessert, you are likely to be served espresso or coffee with petit fours (small savoury or confectionery bites). Don't stuff them whole in your mouth. Take gentle, small bites.