Every now and then I get asked a new question. It happened yesterday at a corporate seminar I was delivering. This time it had to do with table manners.
“Is it ever okay to lick your fingers while at a business lunch or dinner?”
I had to pause before I answered. Certainly, I’ve licked my fingers when eating certain foods. Chicken wings came to mind almost instantly. Same for ribs. In fact, as I considered possibilities, I realized there are a number of finger foods that have sauce on them and, when I’ve eaten them, I may have quickly licked the sauce off my fingers rather than mess up a napkin, perhaps even a nice linen one.
I give advice about eating all manner of foods that are messy in some way. Take lobster for instance. I don’t recommend ordering lobster at a business meal unless you’re visiting a lobster house where the expectation is you’re going to eat lobster. And, yes, in that case use a bib, and prepare to dig in. It’ll be somewhat messy but delicious. As long as others are also ordering the same and doing the same, ordering lobster would be okay. Aside from at a lobster joint I wouldn’t recommend ordering a hands-on lobster meal. You don’t want to be the only person eating with your hands while everyone else is using a knife and fork.
Here are three suggestions for ordering food when you are a guest at a business meal: order something medium in price, easy to eat, and know what it is. Lobster flunks two of those three pieces of advice.
What about bones? A loin lamb chop, for instance, is delicious, but there’s really not much meat in that little center piece of the chop. When all you can do is use a fork and knife, some of the best-tasting morsels will get left on the bone. Certainly, it would be a shame to leave it un-nibbled. But, when you’re a guest at a restaurant or someone’s home, I recommend you don’t pick it up with your fingers unless your host spots your dilemma and gives you the go ahead, perhaps as he politely picks his up, too. As the host, it’s your duty to observe the situations arising at your table and your prerogative to lead your guests by giving them the okay (or not) to relax the norms of table etiquette and to enjoy nibbling the chop bone. If you get the go ahead, nibble as neatly and tidily as you can
And that brings us back to licking fingers at a business meal after holding a lamb chop bone or a chicken wing or a spare rib or other finger food. Don’t do it. Instead, wipe your hands with your napkin and ask for a clean one if it gets messy. Then, at the end of the course, excuse yourself to the restroom to wash your hands.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected]
Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.