Set for success

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 30, 2013

Call it a job hazard but dining etiquette specialist Geoffrey Delhaye cannot get work off his mind, even when he is having a meal.

It has become second nature to him to examine the crockery to see if they match, how well made they are and what has been set out.

The 28-year-old Frenchman, the international marketing and development manager for kitchenware brand Guy Degrenne in South-east Asia, says it took a bit of getting used to when he moved here about two years ago.

"The first few months that I was here, I would judge a bit because the table was not set. Or sometimes I would tell my girlfriend to sit up straight at the table," recalls Mr Delhaye, who is dating a Singaporean. "But I've been learning not to point it out so much because it is a different culture here."

Being proper at meal times, from having the right table setting to entertaining the guests, has been ingrained in him since he was three.

Growing up in Cambray in northern France, Mr Delhaye, whose father was a businessman and mother helped with the family's supermarket business, was often tasked with setting the table and taught how to behave, even if it was just a casual meal.

He says: "If you're slouched over or propping up your head with your hands, your parents would send you to your room without any dinner."

He will hold three workshops on how to entertain during the World Gourmet Summit here next month.

While he does not have any official certification, he picked up the art of dining etiquette from his experience dining at home as well as through his own research and working for Guy Degrenne, one of the top French silverware manufacturers. He joined the company in 2010.

On how dining etiquette has evolved through history, he says: "In the last 20 to 30 years, the tradition of setting the table and how to dine has been lost.

"Children today don't know which cutlery to use because they are not taught and their parents are taking them to McDonald's. There's no need for forks, knives and plates."

With more people interested in cooking, he advises home gourmets to invest in good pieces of silverware if they want to entertain. "At least have one plate, a knife-and-fork set and set the table right."

How to set a dinner table

1 Always use a table cloth to protect your table. Make sure it is thick and ironed. As a guide, the table cloth should skim the lap of your guests.

2 Serve plated food on top of a charger plate to prevent your table from looking empty in between courses and for a formal vibe.

Charger plates are not intended to be used as dinner plates. They are slightly larger than dinner plates and can be more elaborate in colour and pattern.

3Plates should be placed about two fingers away from the edge of the table. The base of your cutlery should align with the bottom edge of the plate.

4 As a host, serve from the left and remove plates from the right. Position wine and water glasses at the top right corner of each place setting and above the plate. The bread plate should be at the top left corner.

5 As a guest, leave your dirty napkin on the left of your plate, unfolded, when you are done. Folding it signals that you are inviting yourself for the next meal, which can be considered rude.

If you are going to the bathroom, leave your napkin on the back of the chair.

6 Place a few sets of salt-and-pepper shakers around the table. That way, guests can easily reach for them without offending the host regarding the taste of his food.

7 A centrepiece adds interesting vibe and colour. But avoid putting it right in the middle, where it might block conversations between people. Long and low flower arrangements are a good option.

8 Never use tealights to illuminate the table. The flames cast a shadow on faces, making your guests look drawn. Instead, choose a candleholder that sits at eye level or higher.

9 In a formal Chinese table setting, you should provide two pairs of chopsticks: One will be used to take food from the sharing plates while the other is used by each diner to bring food to his mouth.

10 Remember the "cat and mouse" rule for sitting. Pretend a cat is on your lap so that you do not lean forward too much and quash the imaginary animal. The running mouse ensures that you will not slouch in your chair.

Tips from dining etiquette specialist Geoffrey Delhaye.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 30, 2013

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