Fru Fru Food: Dining Etiquette 101

Recently I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon talking to some high school students from around Birmingham, Alabama on dining etiquette. The informal chat was in preparation for an upcoming visit to a fancy-smancy restaurant with fru fru food they would soon enjoy. I had a blast talking to them, sharing the bit of wisdom I know about etiquette and hearing their collective, adolescent gasps and “whaaaaaaaaaaaattttttttttttttttt?” when I said things like no asking for hot sauce when at an upscale establishment.


I love food, and I love the opportunity for a woman from Birmingham’s #35211 West End (Google it) to be able to experience and explore different cultures and cuisines from all around the world right here at home…until I make it around the world. Part of that, I am well aware, is being adaptable in all kinds of environments, especially those which are known for prices and presentations representing the finer things in life. What I wanted the students to know after talking with them is that they, regardless from where they’ve come, deserve to be in those kinds of atmospheres. They belong at the table. There’s no table too important for them not to be at. There are no people too influential for them not to be with. Heck, I believe they don’t just belong at the table. I see the head as their final destination. The same is so with us all. So many times gatherings are not about food. It’s about decisions, power moves, money transfers, career advancement, fund raising, connections and purpose being fulfilled right over an appetizer of escargot, a beautiful bowl of summer vegetable gazpacho, a perfectly prepared medium rare Cowboy steak, flanked with crab oscar asparagus or nestled atop sautéed swiss chard, truffle smashed potatoes, and a molten chocolate cake with your sip of choice.

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Yep, I ate this.

Practicing proper etiquette is not being fake or being a sell out. It’s not conforming or complying. It’s just taking small steps to enhance who we are to be prepared for where we’re going. We can’t complain about not being invited to the party if we don’t care to know what to do when we get there. So how do you do it?


Here are a few tips to help…

Food Matters

  • No talking with food in mouth.
  • Wait on host or head of table to start eating before you do.
  • Use napkins appropriately and place them over the chair (and not on the table) if you have to exit the table for a moment.
  • Use BMW when determining what’s what to eat regarding your place setting (Bread, Meal, Water).
  • Use appropriate forks and knives.
    • Slice, don’t bite. Then wipe.
    • Don’t slurp or loudly stir.
    • Put eating utensils down after enjoying each fork of food.
  • Avoid asking for hot sauce, requesting too many condiments, making too many special requests, ordering ribs, big, hot fried chicken bone-in breasts, spaghetti hot wings and other messy foods.
  • Repeatedly thank the chef, wait staff or hosts.
  • Do not clean your plate. (Save that ritual for home.)
  • No leftovers should be taken from upscale social functions.

Table Talk

  • Avoid: religion, politics, sports team talk, inappropriate jokes or other hot button topics of conversation.
  • Share the conversation (Don’t be a talking hog).
  • Plan to talk. Know what the topic of the event is and have conversation ready to share.
  • Know the organization or product you’re representing or supporting.
  • Take a deep breath and breathe, especially if feeling out of your comfort zone.
  • Don’t shy away for conversing.

Networking No-Nos

  • No recruiting for your next new job or personal business while on company business.
  • No name dropping when you really don’t know the name of the person you’re dropping.
  • Don’t forget to engage with the guests and attendees.
  • Don’t get stuck in one spot if it’s a floating event where mingling is happening all around.

Want more etiquette tips or a full-on group presentation around the table? Just ask. I’ll be happy to oblige.


Women, We Belong at the Table

Several years ago I was a “big sister” with the Big Brother/Big Sister program in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. I proudly carried that title for more than five years for one of the most life-changing little girls I’ve ever met. During one of our first outings together, which had to have been way back in 1997, I asked her where she wanted to eat. I had big plans in mind for us to dine on something tasty and a bit fancy. With a twinkle in her eye that rivaled the stage lights at a Beyonce concert she hollered, “Chick-fil-A!” Now, I’m a fan of Chick-fil-A, so please don’t get me wrong, but Chick-fil-A was an everyday thing for me and my thoughts were of a few nicer places where we could enjoy, relax, be treated royally and be exposed to the finer things in life. So I questioned, “Chick-fil-A?” She replied, “Yep, I’ve never been there. I’ve heard it’s real good, and I always wanted to go, but I’ve never been outside of Bessemer, except to come to West End.”  Y’all, my heart broke as I heard her words, felt her sincerity and was instantly humbled by what I’d been exposed to and had come to take for granted.


Again, no tea, no shade, no diet lemonade on Chick-fil-A. I “heart” Chick-fil-A, but there is so much more in life to discover other than what we are familiar with, what others have exposed or limited us to, what makes us comfortable or where we think we belong. And if the thought of broadening our horizons frightens us because it’s not what we’re accustomed to being that’s all the more reason to be broadened. So, on that Saturday, my “little” and I cruised down Highway 150 in my champagne colored Nissan Maxima with the sunroof open and we made that transitioning journey from Bessemer to Hoover (her first time in Hoover as an 11 year old), and we went to Chick-fil-A. She was in big signs, fast traffic, waffle fry heaven. From that day on, I purposely sat out to show her and share with her more and more and more because she deserved it. She was completely down with it. Over the course of our sisterhood we travelled. We visited local sites. We learned new things. We learned the history behind old things. We met new people. We even dined different places, some with fru-fru black or white table linen napkins because I wanted her to know she belonged at the table. We “turned up”, in a strategically planned, budgeted, and cultured kind of way, of course.


Fast-forward several years to today. I’m not sure what happened to my Big Brother/Big Sister little sister after she became ill and moved. I think about her often though, certainly during times when I question whether I belong at “the table”. I don’t mean the literal table, as I have no problem pulling up there. I mean more of the figurative table representing anything that’s new, scary, exciting, forecasted or unfamiliar for me, especially when it comes to business or civic matters as a woman regarding what I have to offer and what I deserve to receive. I reflect on how my little embraced all that was new until it became a part of her expectation. Never once did she put up a fight to stick with what was as if what was was the only way for her.

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I was having a chat with one of my best friends as we were discussing events. The topic of women being worthy arose. We both concluded that as women we are all worthy. It’s as simple as that, or at least it should be. Often it isn’t. It’s up to us to support one another and surround ourselves with others who can expose us to more until we make it to where we have belonged all along. Then it’s up to us to turn around and do the same thing for a “little sister” so to speak.


Sometimes life’s challenges, status changes, insecurities, financial barriers, unwise choices, educational and career obstacles and personal obligations would dare us to believe that Chick-fil-A is as good as it gets for us. Again, no tea, no shade, no diet lemonade, but we belong at the bigger tables too, whatever that table may be, however fancy or frightening it may be, and regardless of whomever has already been seated.  Women, we belong at the table. As a matter of fact, scoot over and make room for me in a comfy chair at the head of the table.

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