Being an observant diner and picking up on cues from your host will enable you to avoid 95 percent of the embarrassing situations you could find yourself in. Simple things like waiting to eat until you see others eating and using the utensils others are using will enable you to "wing it." However, this constant observing and following does not allow you to relax and enjoy the evening.
And don't talk with your food in your mouth, either.
Yes, we still have a problem with men chewing with their mouths wide open. And if you have something to say, refrain from filling your mouth the moment before. In order to recover if expected to speak, only put a single bite in your mouth at a time — the days of stuffing your mouth with as much food as it can hold are over.
You shouldn't be leaning over your food, shoveling it into your mouth with a distance traveled of only six inches. Instead, sit straight, balance a single bite on the utensil of choice, and bring it directly to your mouth. And never drink from your soup bowl.
As the Boy Scout motto goes, be prepared. RSVP within three days of receiving an invitation, or if no invitation was sent, ask what to expect and how many people will be in attendance. Dress to the level you feel appropriate for the occasion. It shows respect to the host and chances are you'll be making important first impressions. That means leaving the suit at home for that casual get-together with friends, and never wearing jeans or khakis to a business luncheon.
If you are visiting a person's home, consider bringing a small gift such as flowers in a vase or a bottle of wine. If the meal is being hosted by a close friend, find out how you can help make their life easier — perhaps by bringing a dessert. Arrive on time, but not more than 10 minutes early, as last-minute preparations are always underway on the host’s end.
Placing your elbows on the table while the meal is in progress should be avoided; however, there is nothing wrong with putting them on the table during a conversation between meals and during coffee or tea.
Reaching, on the other hand, is never allowed. If anything is beyond your normal reach (meaning you have to rise from your seat to get to it) or is within another's personal space, always ask the person closest to pass the item you need. And if something spills? First, deal with the item spilling and next, do what you can to assist the host with the immediate cleanup. And then forget about it and enjoy your meal.
If you haven’t tried it, how do you know you won't like it? Always try to take just a little of all dishes offered; sometimes that little stays on the plate after a single bite, but at least the host was not offended.
If you have dietary restrictions, notify your host beforehand so that they can make special arrangements. I recently hosted a dinner where a number of the guests were fasting for Lent. Although it required a little extra work, my wife and I were more than happy to accommodate our guests' diet restrictions. If the event you are attending is large and the host is not easily accessible, you may want to eat well the meal before in case you are forced to eat light that evening.
That means turning the cellphone off, or leaving it in your bag, and enjoying the moment. Do not put it on silent, as nothing says, "Our conversation is less important than some random call," than you peeking at your cellphone every five minutes. You can live without Twitter and Facebook for a night.
These small words are magic and should be used liberally.