Which Fork Do I Use?

01 June 2015 Written by  By Rosemarie Burns, With Linda Reed
Published in June 2015 Articles

The two of us wrote a book called Which Fork Do I Use? with the tagline, “Comfortable and Confident Dining.”

The book incorporates information on how to behave in appropriate ways when engaged in any event that requires the reader to conduct him/herself in a gracious and mannerly fashion. It provides detailed instructions enabling the reader to shine either in the role of guest or host.

Previous generations were much more conscious of the rules and requirements of mannerly behaviors because these were commonly taught at the family dining table when the members typically gathered for mealtimes. The tradition of the family meal largely vanished with the Baby Boomer generation, when both parents usually worked and children’s schedules were filled to overflowing with extra-curricular activities. There was not time for family members to gather for meals. Breakfasts were often consumed while dashing out the door, lunchtimes were cafeteria or fast-food experiences, and evening meals were eaten on the run, or consumed while sitting in front of the television set. Of course, the children of those busy baby boomers, the millennials, are now eating a pizza or burger with their buddies, or munching down a hot pocket while engaged in smartphone chats and text messaging.

Members of our on-the-go culture typically ignore good table manners until suddenly confronted with a situation in which they must either quickly learn how to properly conduct themselves or look foolish. That’s where we come in.

Teaching Table Manners
Linda and I are both certified etiquette consultants, graduates of the Protocol School of Washington in Washington, DC and have been teaching etiquette classes for 25 years. We both are certified in eight areas: Children, Teens, Adults, Social, International, Tea, Business, and Young Adults. Our clients include a number of businesses including Fortune 500 Companies, hospitals, medical professionals, universities, country clubs, as well as offering personalized instructions in dining skills in private homes for people like Margaret Lesher. Everyone needs the etiquette skills that we impart. Fortune 500 people understand the importance of being able to handle eating utensils when interviewing customers and clients over dinner or even a lunch. We instruct them on behaviors that make an impression down to such things as not using salt and pepper before tasting.

Our services are in demand because, for example, top-level managers at places like PepsiCo and Chevron are in the public eye. It is essential, therefore, that their manner of conduct and deportment make them appear to be the people of good breeding and good taste that their audiences, business connections, and even competitors might imagine them to be. Committing some obvious social faux pas will reflect badly upon themselves. Doing such things as eating with their mouth open, begin eating before the hostess starts, or using the wrong bread plate will make them appear buffoonish; unfit to socialize with people of refined taste and manners.

Linda and I are hired by some important organizations because they realize that the behavior of their members, whether good or bad, will reflect on the organization itself. For example, we have conducted etiquette classes for the members of the University of Oregon Basketball Team. The school recognized that the players often appear in the public eye as ambassadors of the school. The night before one of their games, the players might have dinner together in one of the local restaurants. Adoring fans will initially be thrilled to see them. However, their subsequent opinions of the players and the team — and, by extension, the school itself — will be indelibly influenced by the behaviors they observe during those few moments in that restaurant. When we begin our training, we encounter some athletes who had never eaten a formal dinner before in their lives. They not only lacked appropriate social skills, but had no idea that there even existed specific behaviors to be followed when dining in public.

Not only does the behavior of a basketball player reflect upon the way a school is perceived or the table manners of a corporate executive reflect the quality of the company, but the public behavior of a child or young person reflects positively or negatively upon the quality of his/her upbringing. Therefore, a number of baby boomers are relying upon Which Fork Should I Use? for instructions on teaching their children the table manners they previously had no time to teach and, in many cases, had never really mastered themselves. They use our book as a template for such things as what forks are good for, where they should be placed, and which direction to pass the food. We have dining tutorials that cover ancillary skills such as hand-shaking and introductions. People will judge you by your manners. We teach such simple but essential skills as looking a person directly in the eye when shaking hands. Doing so can vastly increase the effectiveness of that brief encounter.

Which Fork Should I Use? covers much more than the do’s and don’ts of table manners. We promote home entertaining by providing soup-to-nuts directions on setting the table and serving food to guests for any occasion from hosting a simple breakfast or informal luncheon with friends to an elegant reception or formal six-course dinner for a dozen people. We also provide answers to such essential questions as, “On which side does the water glass go? The salad? The wine glass? The dessert fork?” (Hint: the dessert fork doesn’t always go on either side.) We not only provide details about setting the table, but include alternative styles of food preparation and service including fondue parties and sushi. The book is complete with diagrams for setting the table in 14 different styles plus the key to silent signals, standards and templates for invitations, menu cards, place cards, and thank-you notes. The book is lavishly illustrated with 400 color graphics.

The book is the product of a vast amount of experience and research. It took Linda and me four years to ensure that it would be complete and accurate. It all sounds complicated, I know, but in fact Linda and I employ a Keep It Simple model so that nothing is ever more difficult or involved than necessary. Every dining experience should be fun. The book tries to ensure that they are.

Back Story
Linda and I live in two different states — I’m in California; she lives in Oregon. We met while attending the Protocol School of Washington. Linda attended the school because she had previously been asked to make a presentation on dining etiquette by a local woman’s group. Linda had been raised on a farm and had been exposed to fancy parties hosted by the area’s wealthy wheat ranchers. However, “We were just plain farm folks,” Linda said. She tried to educate herself and hosted the class, but didn’t know where the expertise resided. She saw an ad online for the Protocol School of Washington, and signed up for her first training. “That changed my life,” Linda said. She loved the comfort level that the training supplied, enabling her to not be nervous at formal events because she finally knew what she was doing.

Linda’s experience has become an important part of our business because we know that sometimes people are reluctant to accept invitations to dine at the Captain’s Table while on a cruise or are nervous about attending formal weddings for fear of committing some terrible social gaffe. The book and our classes make people comfortable in such situations.

I have always been interested in entertaining. At one time, I was owner of three separate yogurt businesses with 54 employees. I wanted to teach them better manners and customer service so I implemented etiquette training in my own business. When other people discovered what I was doing, they began to ask me to share my expertise. I eventually became a full-time etiquette consultant and seemed to be surrounded by people who wanted to know the do’s and don’ts of fine dining. Like Linda, I found myself engaged with people who were asking for advice and instructions on etiquette and behavior. We discovered that some people who live in sophisticated homes with beautiful dining rooms can be as baffled as everyone else about hosting a dinner party and dining with fine manners. I certainly enjoyed the challenge of helping people master the requisite social skills. They enjoyed the learning. Training sessions turned out to be fun experiences for all of us.

Linda and I first met at a lunch while taking classes at the Protocol School of Washington. In spite of the distance that separate our residences, we hit if off immediately with the result that, in 1998 we formed a business partnership called Burns & Reed Enterprises with a “Manners Simply” DBA. Ours is a virtual company with no central office location. Linda operates from the home office in her Eugene, Oregon residence and I from my Danville home. When putting on events, we meet at the particular locations. Otherwise, we communicate by text messages, Skype, and hours of phone conversations.

Which Fork Should I Use? not only covers a popular area of training, but it is something Linda and I have been doing throughout our own lives. We are both following the principle, “Do something you are passionate about.” This is what we like; this is what we are good at. Part of the fun in this business is when things go wrong. Linda has made early arrivals clean the bathroom. I once went into our kitchen just before serving a fine meal and discovered our family dog crouching beneath the table while consuming the prime rib. We ordered Dominos. We no longer have the slightest inclination to panic or become upset about such things, because they end up becoming our best stories.

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