Bob Pacanovsky has seen lots of elegant parties. His company, Robert J. Events and Catering, has orchestrated galas at Glidden House, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Hale Farm, the Akron Art Museum and more for a dozen years.
“After catering 5,000 events, I have seen it all. We see people exhibiting poor etiquette, poor behavior at dining events, and I don’t think they realize what could be the potential repercussions.”
This is busy season for bad manners.
“At holiday time, people may have a drink or two extra. So now they start acting differently. You know, we’ve seen people pick food right out of the chafing dish with their fingers and stand over the chafing dish while eating it. We see shrimp cocktail, which is a wonderful hors d’oeuvres, but there’s some people out there who think it’s their last meal on earth. So they’ll pile their plate with sixteen to seventeen shrimp. It just doesn’t look good.”
If anyone’s really looking.
But does anyone really care? Do you really have to be on your best behavior?
“I think we do. It depends certainly on the company event, but I think from the moment you walk in and introduce yourself and tell me who you work for, how you act for the rest of that dinner will be a reflection of not only you, but your company.”
Pacanovsky says you may never make it to the office party if you show bad etiquette before you’re start your job, at that final interview in a fancy restaurant.
“It’s really a test. Not only how do you act at the dining table, but how do you treat the wait staff? How do you treat the other people at your table? You could be the best. You could be the brightest. If however you don’t have those skills socially, you may not get the job.”
Employers send uncouth but otherwise valued employees to Pacanovsky for specific training on table manners. His seminar room is festooned like a banquet hall, with elaborate table settings, cutlery and glassware.
What if you are served something that is not at all appetizing? Is it going to be impolite to not eat?
“Yes it would be impolite, ” says Pacanovsky. “ You may not like it, but at least try it.
On the other hand it may be impolite to eat too much.
“Most definitely. At a buffet there’s no reason to take three chicken breasts unless they’re training for a football team and they have a game this coming Sunday.”
What about bodily functions? In some societies, to burp after a meal is considered a compliment. Not in ours, though, right?
“Correct. It is not in ours. There might be something that doesn’t agree with you. Please politely leave the table. You don’t even need to let your guests know where you’re going.”
He hasn’t heard employers complain about employees belching. More common are what he calls ‘the three S’s’: sawing, shoveling, and slurping. Even worse, he says, is talking with your mouth full.
“We think that we can move the food over to one side of our mouth and still talk. Well, it doesn’t work. Simply gesture with your index finger: ‘I want to answer your question, but I’m not going to answer it until I finish that food.’ Please do that. You don’t want food coming out of your mouth while you’re talking.”
That would be embarrassing. But is it such a big deal if you pick up the salad fork instead of the dinner fork?
“It can be certainly. Now what’s interesting is that no one’s going to tell you that you did that. But they keep it always in the back of their minds.”
If you’re at a dinner without a clue about which glass is yours, Pacanovsky recommends waiting to see what others do.
“The challenge of course there is they might not know the correct form of etiquette either.”
So he recommends taking his seminar or signing up your employees for it. Ignorance of the rules of etiquette, he says, can cost a company dearly.
“Thirty to 40 percent of business deals are done over a dining experience,” he says. “Conversely almost 45 percent of business deals go south because of a social faux pas at a dining setting.”
Etiquette seminars are a new part of Pacanovsky’s catering and event-planning business. But he sees great potential, especially with global organizations based in Northeast Ohio who need their employees to mind their manners when travelling abroad.