WHY TABLE MANNERS MATTER
Catherine Baron, founder and CEO of etiquette school Le Savoir-Vivre: Academy of Etiquette and Modern Manners
I twas fine dining etiquette 101. As we took our seats during a French table setting workshop, Catherine Baron rebuked us. The founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based etiquette school Le Savoir-Vivre: Academy of Etiquette and Modern Manners reminded us that we should only sit when the host sits. Otherwise, we should remain standing.
A little harsh perhaps, but necessary to remind us of proper manners and behaviors at the table. “There is no better or possibly worse place to make an impression which lasts forever. Mastering table manners reveals an important part of one’s competence,” says Baron.
The workshop was conducted during À Table!, an event organised by Alliance Française de Singapour to spotlight the French art of fine dining. Baron’s workshop was more than a crash course on how a French table should be set – it was an insight into French culture. “My aim is to share my passion and knowledge about the French art de vivre, embracing gastronomy, wine, ancestral know-hows, terroir, heritage, and je ne sais quoi that makes France so unique,” she says.
Her passion was rewarded in 2014 when she won the Prize for Talented French Nationals Abroad, presented by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs for her contribution to the promotion of French culture.
She shares why fine dining etiquette and French art of table setting are still important in this day and age, as well as her top tips on good manners.
Catherine Baron, founder of etiquette school Le SavoirVivre tells us why fine dining etiquette is much more than just good table manners.
Why is it important for people to learn dining etiquette?
In a dining situation, etiquette refers to proper manners and behaviors at a table. It is important to be a gracious dining guest or host and make others feel comfortable as well. In a business dining situation, it is an essential tool to professional success.
Dining etiquette is also a window into a country’s culture. In a global world, it helps to better comprehend and respect foreign habits and cultures in order to avoid faux pas and offend people’s sensitivities.
What are some major faux pas people make that irritate you the most?
The use of a cell phone at a table is never appropriate at any kind of lunch or dinner, even at a business dinner. It is highly disrespectful to guests and the people around them.
And hearing bon appétit! Even if it is acceptable in a restaurant, it is not considered elegant because it is making a reference to digestion. The rule is rooted in the 19th century’s beliefs that anything suggesting the body function is improper table conversation.
Are there any particular Asian mannerisms that have been adapted for fine dining here?
The use of a round table, the toasting and sometimes, the sitting placement and the right technique to use chopsticks.
With regards to French table setting, what are the key characteristics?
Symmetry and harmony are the key characteristics. It is the appreciation of the beauty of the table according to a rational order reflecting elegance and splendour to enchant the eyes.
How different is the French style of table setting compared to other countries such as England?
We have many distinctive differences, such as placement of host and hostess, setting of cutlery and glassware, and number of dinner plates allowed. In French style, it is appropriate to place your piece of bread directly on the tablecloth. In English style, a small plate for the bread with a butter knife is placed at the upper left side of the dinner plate.
How have dining etiquette and table setting changed over the years? Is there any behavior that was previously unacceptable but is now considered acceptable?
With gender diversity, many table rules must be reviewed such as the sitting placement at a table or the service of the wines (in the past only men could serve wines to women).
In business situations, more women – because of their position – are inviting clients or partners. So nowadays a restaurant bill for a business lunch or dinner that’s paid by a woman in charge is perfectly appropriate. In the past, only men were entitled to pay a bill. However the standard techniques of eating – the manner of using knife, fork, spoon, napkin – remain unchanged.
À Table! is the first of a series to promote French Excellence, organised by Alliance Française de Singapour. Look forward to more exhibitions, workshops, screenings and live performances on French culture in the coming months.