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Mid-America Blog

Etiquette in the Workplace (and elsewhere)

Written by Jennifer Miller, Vice President/Property Accounting Director

Etiquette (noun) - Conventional requirements as to social behavior; proprieties of conduct as established in any class or community for any occasion.  (

Have you ever been at a business lunch and had no idea what to order or which fork to use? What about sending that quick email to your boss and how to format it? Or how about those unmentionable, embarrassing moments when you just don’t know what to do? If you’ve ever experienced a situation similar to one of these and not sure what the correct action is, then I hope this post will provide you with some insight into what is most commonly considered as proper.

Etiquette has always been a passion of mine. It all started back in college when the Senior class was invited to a dinner with an etiquette expert. Years later, I conducted a beginner table etiquette for my daughters, nieces and nephews. The youngest ones did great, the older ones had the giggles, but I think they got a little bit out of it. I would not consider myself Emily Post and I still like to have some fun, when it’s appropriate of course. There are a few tips that have stuck with me all these years and others I have learned through the years (like email because that didn’t exist in college for some of us).

Going out to eat:

  • Never order spaghetti. Save that noodle wagging for home.
  • Use the silverware from the outside to the inside.
  • Place your napkin on your lap.
    • When leaving the table, but you’re coming back (aka the restroom), place the napkin on your chair.
    • When you are finished with the meal and everyone is leaving the table, you may place the napkin on the table.
  • When eating bread and butter, place enough butter on your dish. When you want a bite, break off a piece of bread into a bite-size piece, butter the individual piece and pop it in your mouth. You shouldn’t butter the whole piece and try to tear it with your teeth. You’ll just end up with butter all over your face.
  • If you order a salad and the pieces of lettuce are too big for your mouth, just cut them. If the cherry tomatoes are too big to eat, but might squirt when cutting, skip eating them.
  • Removing an item from your mouth should be done the same way it went in.For example, removing an olive pit can be put back into your palm (gently, do not spit) and then on to your plate. A piece of bone from meat should go from mouth to fork to plate.It’s okay to pull a tiny fish bone from your mouth.
  • If you find a piece of hair in your food, discreetly tell the server to replace your dish. Do not make a scene.
  • When you’re not sure what to do with your arms at a table, remember “Always, Sometimes, Never”. My kids now chant “Always, sometimes, never! Always, sometimes never!” while doing the motions.
    • Always – place your hands on your lap.
    • Sometimes – place your forearms on the side of the table.
    • Never – place your elbows on the table.
  • Place your fork and knife close together and angled across the plate when you’re done eating. This will let the server or host know that you are finished eating and can pick up the plate easily.


  • Do not use text language like “yep” or “yeah,” “nope,” “ttyl,” “lol,” etc.Use “yes” and “no” and keep the abbreviations for close friends. Remember an email can be sent anywhere and used for support, backup or reference.
  • When sending an email, always start with the person’s or persons’ name(s) like it would be done with a formal letter or some type of greeting. If you’re using email for a quick internal question, then skipping this is okay. But always be aware that the email could show up somewhere else.
  • Keep the email precise and to the point. Lengthy emails tend to get skipped over to be looked at later, and sometimes that later becomes never. If you have to explain too much in detail, pick up the phone and call the person. You can always summarize the conversation in an email so all parties can reference the information.
  • If there are more than three or four emails going back and forth trying to figure out something, be the first one to pick up the phone and have a real, live conversation. A resolution happens much quicker when we can hear and listen to the other party.
  • The written word is read with the emotion of the reader, not how the writer may have intended. Be careful when choosing your words or again, make the phone call.
  • Make sure any attachments are clear and relevant to the email.
  • End the email with a sign-off. Good examples are “Best Regards” or “Thank you.”


  • Attire - When you’re not sure what to wear to a business meeting with someone you have not worked with yet, always go with more formal business attire. If you are still getting familiar with the dress code at work, look up a level and see what they are wearing.
  • Handshake - Work on the handshake as it makes for a first impression. A firm handshake is the best, but not bone crushing. Men should still use a firm handshake with a woman and women should still give a firm handshake. Remember, the handshake is not to show dominance, it is to show sincerity. Don’t just extend your fingertips or a limp hand, get the whole hand in the other hand.  Pump one or two times and release. Any longer than five seconds and it starts to get awkward. Get in some eye contact too. And always stand. If your hand is clammy, discreetly pat it on the side of your leg before extending your hand. I’ve had many interviews where I would get a cold, clammy, limp handshake. It took a long time to get over that first impression. And unfortunately, sometimes that first impression was right.
  • Clean-up – As my mother always told me when I was a guest at someone’s house whether it was babysitting or house-sitting, to always leave the place in the same condition or better when you leave. A clean environment makes for a comfortable environment .I think that’s enough said on that subject.

I hope you’ve found some of this useful and maybe you have some good tips to share. “Always, sometimes, never!  Always, sometimes, never!”


Jennifer L. Miller | Vice President & Property Accounting Director
Mid-America Asset Management, Inc.
One Parkview Plaza, 9th Floor | Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181
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