Just as there are those who think polyester leisure suits are snappy duds, there are those who put their elbows on the table and push the plate away when they're through. Tsk, tsk, tsk. It's not indolence, but ignorance. Class is craft. Here are twenty-six ways you can polish yourself before your next R.S.V.P. is due.

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  • A nswer an invitation within twenty-four hours.
  • B riefcases and handbags should be placed out of the way and out of sight. Don't put them on the table or block the waiter's path.
  • C hew with your mouth closed and be careful not to make any distracting noises.
  • D on't pass the salt without the pepper.
  • E xcuse yourself if you must leave. Fold your napkin neatly and place it on your chair. Push your chair back into the table before you walk away.
  • F ood should be tasted first. Then, if you need to, use salt and pepper.
  • G rasp your wine glass with your thumb and first two fingers cupping the bowl and your last two fingers lightly touching the stem.
  • H andle any cancellations yourself. Don't have a secretary or assistant call for you. Make arrangement for another meeting promptly.
  • I nquiries will get you information. Ask your host what's good at the restaurant and use his or her suggestions to determine a safe price range. For example, "The prime rib here is wonderful," means you don't have to worry about ordering an expensive item off the menu.
  • J ust in case, call the morning of your dinner engagement to confirm all details. Check the time, directions, dress code, etc.
  • K eep pace with your companions. Skip a course if you are lagging behind. Slow down if you are bolting ahead.
  • L ipstick should be blotted unobtrusively with a tissue before the meal. Don't leave marks on glasses or cups.
  • M ention any problems (if you drop your fork, for example) to your host. It's your host's job to call the waiter to the table, not yours.
  • N apkins belong on your lap, not tucked under your chin. When you're through with your meal, place your napkin to the left of your plate; never on a dirty dish.
  • O rder last if you are the host. Help your guests feel comfortable, however. Tell them about a good appetizer so they know it's okay to order a first course. Say "Order a cocktail if you like. I'm sticking with mineral water."
  • P lacesettings demystified: breadplates to the left, liquids to the right; use the utensils farthest from the plate first and work inwards with each course.
  • Q uench any desire to comb, smooth, or even touch your hair.
  • R efrain from eating until the guest of honor (seated to the host's right) begins. If you are the guest of honor, do not begin eating until everyone has been served. However, if the food is hot and the gathering is large or the service is slow, use your judgement.
  • S it when the host gestures you toward a seat. Don't just walk up and grab a place at the table. Likewise, if you're the host, plan where you'll seat your guest beforehand.
  • T oothpicks are not to be used in front of your companions.
  • U tensils should not be placed on the table between bites. Instead, balance them on the edge of your plate.
  • V ent about poor service, poor quality food, etc., in a letter to the manager of the restaurant the next day. During dinner, however, don't make a scene that could make your guests feel uncomfortable. Simply say, "This restaurant isn't up to it usual high quality tonight," and leave it at that.
  • W ait for your hosts or guests if they are late. Don't order a drink, unfold your napkin, or start eating the bread. The table should be clean when your companions arrive.
  • eXpect the host to pay the check. Don't argue when the check comes.
  • Y our mouth shouldn't be full of food when you take a sip of wine or water. Chew, swallow, and then take a drink.
  • Z ipper your mouth. Never, never, never complain when you are the guest. If the food is terrible, grin and bear it. If you spot a bug on the wall, look the other way.

Good manners do more than show off your good upbringing. When you know and practice the rules of etiquette, you can relax in social situations. You don't need to nervously second guess your every move. That means you can concentrate on the business at hand and get the job done.

Reprinted from PS for Business Communicators®, ECG's client newsletter.