When I was but a little lad my parents began the arduous task of forming me into a gentleman. It began with discipline at the dinner table from an early age. My mother insisted that her children learn to hold our cutlery properly, and eat and drink like ladies and a gentleman (I have two sisters and no brothers). We spent hours, literally, at the table in conversation.
Mom's guiding stated principle was that her children, if invited to Buckingham Palace to dine with the Queen, would not be an embarrassment to her. We would know how to hold our cutlery, engage in conversation, ask someone to pass a condiment and to sip our soup.
In my profession it is often that I invite clients out for a meal, attend galas and banquets, and when life is good and I'm not on the road, back in the office sharing lunch with the home team. I rarely eat alone. It astounds me when I occasionally see dreadful table manners. I'm not looking for it, but sometimes it's hard to look away.
I'm not talking about ignoring one's table mates to text, check emails and social media. I have been that boor and I'm not proud of it. What surprises me is to find grown young adults who cannot hold a knife and fork properly. They stab and saw, instead of holding a knife in their right hand and a fork in their left. They put down the knife, having successfully butchered a hunk of meat to switch the fork to their right hand and then proceed to stuff it into their gaping maw. Yeah, I know that sounds like I'm being judgemental, but here's the thing. So are our well-mannered customers, and it could be the thing that loses the sale.
I appreciate this is a concept straight out of the sixties; that one's inability to dine with ladies and gentlemen higher up the social scale could tip the scales in favour of your competition who were raised properly, but it's the unfortunate truth.
It's simple. Stop and look around the table. Observe your best client, observe your industry peers or fiercest competition. Ask yourself if you've been outclassed.
And then get some help, for God's sake. You never know when an invitation to dine with the Queen will arrive. I know I'm still waiting.