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Etiquette question: Picking up food

Hi all -- I have an etiquette question that I was wondering about at a recent business dinner. Is it acceptable to pick up food in a restaurant and chew on the bone? I was having some wonderful lamb chops and would have enjoyed gnawing on them (delicately, of course) but wasn't sure if it would put people off.

Any thoughts or insights on this critical issue? :)

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    1. Not unless it's a ribs-type joint or something similar - the in-house/at-table version of picnic food.

      Which isn't to say that some people seem to manage to ignore this rule with a measure of elegant insouciance.

      Don't ever do it at a business dinner.

      1. Definitely not OK at a business dinner. Otherwise, it's a time/place/situation dependent question in my mind. Some places serve, for example, fried chicken and that sort of begs to be finished off by picking up the piece. I'm sure that etiquette books will say it's not OK...but I think it can be in the right setting.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ccbweb

          I don't have a copy of an etiquette book handy right now, but I am nearly certain that fried chicken has the green light for eating with one's fingers (can't remember if it was Baldridge or Post or Martin on that). I agree with the right setting for fried chicken, and not in a business dining situation.

          1. re: cayjohan

            epicure_ny, unless you're the CEO, I don't think finger food is a good idea at a business dinner.

        2. A thing jfood learned from his dean at Business School. Business dinners are for business not dinner. Unless it's a rib joint with a bunch of colleagues, the bones stay on the plate.

          Also, when you are having a business lunch and especially an interview lunch look for the item on the menu that will be the least intrusive to the interview. DO NOT order long speghetti ar something that will fly if the fork or knife hit the wrong part. Think risotto. It is the perfect interview lunch order. Stays together nicely on the fork, can be swallwed quickly if asked a question and should not land on anyone's clothes. Crabcakes work well, too.

          It is difficult for chowhounds not to order what they want in an interview, but if something looks good, go back when you land the job and treat yourself.

          1. There's a story that Oscar Wilde was having dinner with some very uptight companions at an elegant London restaurant. When he picked up a lamb chop and ate it with his fingers, he received looks of disapproval. His response: "You poor souls, have you completely forgotten that eating is supposed to be fun?

            The fact is that eating lamb chops with your fingers is good manners. Queen Victoria did so at state dinners. Emily Post, Miss Manners, and Craig Claiborne all agree that lamb chops are on the list of foods that may be eaten with the hands. And Daniel Rogov says that "Even in the most posh restaurants it is perfectly acceptable to use the fingers to finish off lamb chops."

            Perhaps the fact that this was a business dinner changes the analysis a little bit. A colleague might mistakenly have believed that you were violating the rules of etiquette by using your hands. And a business dinner is admittedly not the place for education on such matters. But where do you draw the line? Do you eat your bread with a knife and fork?

            13 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              For a business dinner, I think I'd arbitrarily draw the line here: don't pick up anything that might under any circumstance cause you to think "a handiwipe would be great right now" when you're done eating it.

              1. re: alanbarnes

                Thanks for a wonderful response. Other than lamb chops, I can't think of many other things that would require picking up that are served in elegant settings (I think if you are being served fried chicken and corn on the cob, it's assumed you would use your fingers). However, as this board seems divided, I will exercise restraint (and certainly would not do so in any sort of interview/trying to impress a client event).

                1. re: epicure_ny

                  Eating asparagus with your fingers is "correct" as long as not covered in sauce - if that helps!

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    OMG I'm glad to read this if it's true. I do this at home all the time and have "caught" myself doing it in restaurants and then quickly switched back to knife/fork, but I prefer it this way. (I don't generally eat it with any kind of sauce)

                2. re: alanbarnes

                  When I moved to England in the mid-60's, I was astonished to see people heating hamburgers with knife and fork!

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    I'm still trying to get the English people I know to pick up pizza slices. Most of them think I'm a slob for eating it with my hands.

                    1. re: Kagey

                      Pizza is SUPPOSED to be eaten with a knife and fork- never been to Italy?

                      1. re: John Manzo

                        That may be true in Italy (yes, I go there a lot, and I've seen it done both ways). But it does depend on the place. In New Jersey you'd be out of place eating it with a knife and fork. It's all relative.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Not everyone is aware of the rules however. I had a contract several years ago to stage some major events for a large corporation. At one formal luncheon, I sat at a table with one of their executives who was horrified to see me pick up steamed asparagus spears with my fingers. She exclaimed rather loudly, "What are you doing? Eating with your fingers! You're supposed to be handling the protocol for this company!" I wasn't exactly in a position to give her a lesson in Emily Post. Fortunately, she wasn't the one signing my checks.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Yes - that is an issue to consider!

                      2. re: alanbarnes

                        I don't have a reference for this, but my family always taught me that it was ok to pick lamb chops up with your fingers, that is why they are always served with those little paper booties on them.

                        Sad to say, I have not seen lamb chops served with paper booties on them in years, so I assume the restaurant does not want people picking them up with their fingers. The problem is without the booties, you end up having to suck your fingers to get them clean. Cloth or paper napkins it doesnt matter, you cant really get the grease off without water, which is why they used to provide finger bowls along with the paper booties. No booties? No finger bowl? No finger food.

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          Those fluted paper frills were a common presentation years ago for "frenched" lamb chops, particularly crown roasts of lamb or whole racks of lamb (all 8 chops), but I suppose they'd be laughed at today as too fussy. Frenching means that the butcher scrapes all the meat from the bone, exposing it down to the part where the meaty part of the chop begins. Makes the chop more tidy. My butcher, pretty old-style, still provides them and I take them right off.

                          I've seen references in some old etiquette books that say that if your fingers get soiled from picking up something such as a lamb chop or other appropriate finger food but no finger bowl has been provided, you should request one from the waiter. I think that's a pretty unrealistic idea in a restaurant today. How do you say mass confusion? Heaven only knows what they'd bring you.