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Minding Your Date’s Manners


Meeting someone for dinner? Etiquette experts explain how simply observing your date’s table manners can help you decide whether you’ll be left hungry for more... or ready for the check.

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

hew with your mouth shut. Put your napkin in your lap. No elbows on the table.

You can probably hear your mother in your head every time you sit down to a meal…especially if there’s a date sitting across the table from you. But did you know that there are many other mannerisms on display that can reveal clues about your personality (and
This can indicate a certain level of poise and sophistication in your date.
your date’s) that go far beyond basic table manners? It’s true! While bad table manners are typically a top dating turn-off, if your date passes the basics of decent behavior (i.e., not speaking with a full mouth or tucking a napkin into a shirt), go ahead and start gleaning even more about this person by minding your date’s manners in dealing with these silverware-based situations.

Observation 1: Knife and fork finesse
There’s no doubt that even the most sophisticated of human beings can occasionally get confused about which fork to use. But the road to reading your date has less to do with proper utensil selection and everything to do with how it’s handled: “If your date holds a fork like a spear and wields the knife more as a weapon than an eating tool, it may be a sign of hidden aggression, so be wary of future blow-ups,” says Suzanne Zazulak Pedro, a certified Executive Coach, Etiquette Consultant and coauthor of Executive Etiquette Power (www.theprotocolpraxis.com). “On the other hand, if your date selects which piece of food to eat and then gingerly spears it, this can reflect an anal-retentive nature.” In other words, if go-with-the-flow is more your style, you might choose to be wary of either of these gripping techniques in your date.

“Also check and see if your date puts forks and knives in the four o’clock position when he or she is through with the meal,” suggests Faye Rogaski, founder of www.socialsklz.com, which holds classes for children and adults in NYC and Westchester on modern-day manners and etiquette. “This can indicate a certain level of poise and sophistication in your date, but it could also mean that your date was raised to be very traditional.” In other words, your date might be checking out your table manners, too!

Observation 2: Ordering tactics
Somewhere between sitting down and making small talk, the issue of what to order inevitably arises. While choosing your own entrée, pay attention to your table mate’s selection style and you could learn a lot about your date’s personality. “If your date orders as soon as the waitress comes over, it means this person wants to be in charge, moves quickly, is all about getting stuff done, likes things done a certain way and could be a compulsive worker,” says Angel Tucker, a Certified Human Behavior Consultant and Founder of www.personalityprofiles.org. “However, if someone doesn’t even look at the menu until the waitress comes over, it indicates that this person loves to be the life of the party, entertains others, is forgetful in nature, doesn’t like a lot of details and will likely talk the ear off the waiter or waitress while not realizing there are other customers’ orders to take,” says Tucker. The good news with the latter type is that you’ll likely enjoy your conversation together even more than your food.

So, what other traits does Tucker say you’ll be able to spot tableside? If your date must analyze, categorize and break down the entire nutritional content of each item before ordering, this person may appear cold or stern on the outside, but is probably highly intelligent, a perfectionist, moves slowly, is skeptical of what others say and likes to verify information before making decisions. If your date can’t decide what to order or even asks you to pick something instead, this person is someone who struggles with decisions (obviously) and multitasking, but is also likely to be very caring, wants to feel appreciated, loves spending quality time with others and will probably be a very friendly date who asks you lots of personal questions in order to get to know you better. And what about the guy who orders for his date after she makes her dinner selection? “While seemingly old-school and perhaps even insulting to some women, this is simply a sweet act that goes back to the days of chivalry,” says Rogaski. “However, actually selecting a woman’s dish and presuming her preferences without discussing it together first is a no-no.”

Observation 3: Primping and cell-phone behavior
When a date is more interested in making out with his or her cell phone than with you, it might be time to drop the signal. “If a cell phone, briefcase and documents are scattered on the table, the subliminal
You might also take a glance at your date’s place setting.
message is that it is business over pleasure for your date at any cost,” says Pedro. “These objects create distance between you and your date, when you want your date’s interest to be focused on you and not the next stock tip or email.” It’s been shown time and again that workaholics are not good prospects for committed relationships, so unless you don’t mind playing second fiddle to your date’s career, this could be a red flag. The same thing goes for dates that turn the dinner table into a vanity mirror. “Applying lipstick at the table and primping is not only in poor taste, it also indicates that this is someone extremely concerned with appearances,” says Rogaski. “Makeup and any beauty rituals should be kept inside the bathroom.” If you prefer a more low-maintenance date, you’re probably not a good match.

Observation 4: Condiment and cocktail consumption
Does your date immediately apply salt and pepper or place other condiments on served food without tasting anything first? Barring some kind of sinus/taste issues where someone needs extra spices in order to savor a meal (which is rare), other possibilities could be at play. “This can indicate you’re dating someone with a superiority complex,” says Pedro. “It reeks of ‘I know better than the chef’ but it could also allude to control issues. It also displays a lack of trust in others.”

Cocktail consumption can also tell you things you might not otherwise notice. Ordering too many could mean that your date’s just nervous, but it could also indicate an inability to enjoy oneself in unfamiliar situations. “A willingness to lose control is not attractive, but it does speak to a need for attention and/or the possibility that someone is too rigid to ‘let go’ without imbibing alcohol first,” notes Pedro. “This portends future problems down the road.” If you’re afraid that your date is downing drinks at an alarming rate, try switching to coffee and see if your companion follows suit. You’ll find out quickly if it’s nerves or a party-all-the-time attitude that’s driving your date to drink.

Observation 5: Interacting with the wait staff
You can learn a great deal about your date’s people skills by watching his or her interactions with the “hired help.” Does your date bark orders like a military officer in command or is your date gracious and appreciative of others, regardless of who they are? “When someone makes another person feel irrelevant and takes advantage of his or her station in life, it can mean that this person has self-esteem issues; belittling others is simply as a means of elevating the insecure person’s own feelings of self-importance,” says Pedro. By observing your date’s behavior over the course of your dinner date, you can figure out for yourself if this is what’s really going on. The bottom line is that someone who doesn’t treat staff well or is super-demanding is also likely to be equally critical or demanding of a romantic partner. People who show respect toward their servers are more likely to exhibit grace and empathy towards others in general, regardless of the situation or circumstances involved.

You might also take a glance at your date’s place setting. “Is it neat as a pin, or does your date constantly rearrange the silverware and clean up the crumbs — even to the point where it’s helping the wait staff do their jobs?” says Pedro. “If so, your date may have an obsession with cleanliness.” But it could also indicate a need to be considerate of others, since your date’s attempting to leave little to no mess for the staff once dinner’s finished. The good news here is that dates like this likely keep their homes cleaner than a messy eater would, which may be appealing to you (if you’re ever invited over, of course).

Manners aside, the most important thing to notice on a date is how well the two of you click. But if you’re thinking of extending a meal into an after-dinner aperitif (and beyond), paying attention to these clues could help you determine whether you’re still hungry for more long after dessert has left the table.


Kimberly Dawn Neumann (www.KDNeumann.com) is a New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Maxim and more. A frequent contributor for Match.com’s Happen magazine, she’s also the author of The Real Reasons Men Commit and Sex Comes First as well as the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com.
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