Fireside Chat: Social Etiquette and Table Tops

Have you ever noticed that there are never enough table tops at a reception and the ones that are there are always taken? People lay claim to them as if they were staking a claim on a gold mine. Well, table tops are valuable and few in number for a reason. The idea is for us to mingle with food. The organizers want to ensure that we don’t become squatters in one place, but rather circulate and network.

Yep, you have seen me make that mad dash and stake claim to one of the tables.  Why? It’s all because of toothpicks and my lack of ability to juggle a plate of food while trying to carry on an intelligent conversation.

How good are you at juggling? Some of you have to be better at it than me. I could do with some practice. Although it seems that with all my years as a Dean, and the many informal and formal receptions and events I have attended, you would think that I have mastered the skill of balancing food plates, drink glasses, and napkins. (A skill not taught in graduate school, perhaps it should be).

It seems that every time I go to a reception I am trying to balance a drink in one hand and a plate of food in the other with a napkin. It never fails. I am doing a great job balancing and then someone comes up to me.  They introduce themselves and extend a hand to shake. Now what? I’m still looking for that magic recipe or dissertation on “How to succeed at a reception with food.” If you find a good source, let me know.

Ever notice that the server with tray of the most delicious appetizers always approaches you. Then you spot it – the toothpick- speared through the cheese cube or something wrapped around a water chestnut, or my favorite – chocolate covered strawberries.

It’s over before it begins. I just give up. It’s just too hard a task for me. It’s not that I don’t want the appetizer. I love food – but it’s the balancing of multiple plates in my hand and those little decorative “party” toothpicks.

What do I do with the toothpicks when I am finished eating the appetizer? If I succumb to weakness and select a food item off the tray with a toothpick and enjoy eating that tiny food morsel – Now what? What do I do with the toothpick?

As women, we are at a disadvantage. No pockets. No pockets in jackets, no pockets in slacks, no pockets anywhere. What were the designers thinking? We need pockets to store those toothpicks.  That’s one place I could stash that toothpick, but then again, I don’t want to get home and find a pocket full of toothpicks.

Ever notice the server with the tray is never to be found again especially when you are ready to “give back” that little toothpick?

So what do you do? What are some best practices for handling toothpicks, juggling plates and glasses, and laying claim to a table top?

Here are five effective strategies that I found to be effective.

  1. Eat before you attend a reception, so you only have one hand holding the glass; keep it in your left hand so your right hand is available to shake hands.
  2. If you can prearrange with your colleagues that one of them or you lay claim to a table top. Do so and do it quickly and with gusto! The table top can serve as your staging area. You can deposit your toothpicks wrapped in a napkin and leave it on the table. The table top can hold your glass, plate and you can be hands free. This allows you to move about the room and mingle without food or drink.
  3. What if the table tops are taken? This strategy always works for me. Find a table top that is not too crowded. Approach slowly, stealth fully, and with a smile. Ask, “May I set my glass here?” The answer will always be a “yes”. So, squeeze in and claim your space. The wrong question to ask is “Are you saving the table?” Because even if they are not, they most likely will say “yes”.
  4. Focus on food first, but not food and drink. Best always to make sure you eat before you drink.
  5. Finally, and most importantly, focus on networking and give up the food. Networking is the reason you are there. While I know we have been trained as graduate students (my generation too) to follow the food, you really want to use this time wisely and network.

Next time you see that delicious speared appetizer and an open table top, I know you will have a plan with the end in mind before you engage!

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drmgrasso

My experience as the chief academic officer and administrator charged with providing vision and leadership in planning, guiding, and coordinating all aspects of graduate education from admission through graduation at two major research universities provides the foundation for our fireside chats.

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