Catherine Holloway knows which way to pass the bread, what all the forks are for and which bread plate to use.
And if you ask her, she will tell you. Holloway runs Etiquette Consulting Services, a business that teaches customized corporate business etiquette courses.
Holloway equates manners with power.
"Etiquette gives us such power to do what we need to do," she says.
In our increasingly global and diverse workplaces, understanding deportment can help us out of difficult situations, Holloway says as she quotes Eleanor Roosevelt: "A woman is like a tea bag -- you don't know how strong she is until she gets into hot water."
There are plenty of opportunities to find yourself in hot water. Take, for example, the seemingly harmless business cocktail party. Holloway discussed the pitfalls and opportunities of the business cocktail party at the Women's City Club of Cleveland "Wednesday's Women" luncheon.
Eating and drinking
Just because the word cocktail is on the invitation doesn't mean you have to have one. Holloway suggests keeping the drinking to a minimum, or avoiding it all together.
"Get an orange juice or a tonic water with a lime so you have the appearance of having a cocktail," she says.
Controlled consumption or abstinence goes for food, too.
"Try and eat before you go to the party," she says. "Make sure it is not your first or last meal of the day."
Yes, there will be food and, for the most part, it will be good food. But you don't want to be so busy grazing that you miss a business opportunity. Watch how much time you spend at the buffet table. The minute that chicken wing goes into your mouth, great business contacts will come over to introduce themselves.
Speaking of chicken wings -- often among the cocktail party choices -- the rule of thumb is just don't do it, Holloway says. They are saucy and drippy, and there's a big chance you'll go home with some of the wing on your shirt, under a fingernail or in between a couple of teeth.
Even if you have the will power to abstain -- and Holloway hopes you do -- you may still find yourself needing to wipe your hands, so always have a napkin handy. Holloway suggests placing your plate and your drink in one hand, with a napkin readily available to use prior to shaking anyone's hand.
"You should practice if you need to, but make sure you always have a hand available," she says.
That brings us to the infamous double dipping. George Costanza couldn't get away with it, and neither can you.
"If you want more dip, just put some on your plate," Holloway says.
But what if you eye another guest committing this awful crime?
"Don't go around correcting other people's manners," warns Holloway.
Two wrongs don't make a right, and correcting strangers is a no-no.
Meeting and greeting
So you can't gorge yourself, get drunk or make fun of others' lack of manners. What can you do?
That doesn't mean the people you came with or your co-workers. A business cocktail party isn't the junior high prom. There should be no wallflowers.
"Introduce yourself to complete strangers," says Holloway.
And, as with anything, there's a proper way to meet and greet. Holloway says there are two things to consider -- appearance and deportment.
Even if the appearance part is under control, don't forget the importance of a proper greeting.
"It's a package," Holloway says. "One has to go with the other."
You've probably been told 100 times, but be firm with your handshake. This goes for women as well as for men. Don't hurt the other person but, Holloway says, "a handshake is very important. It shows confidence."
While you are enjoying a good, firm handshake, be sure to make eye contact. Eye contact is important, but for some people, it is difficult.
"If you are uncomfortable with looking someone in the eye, look at the eyebrow or the top of the head," she says. "And don't say 'Hey' instead of 'Hello.' It says to the other person that you are not as polished as you look."
Proper grammar and good manners are essential in any and all business situations, whether a cocktail party or a corporate meeting.
"How we treat other people is how you will be treated," Holloway says.
Finally, always hand over your business card with your name facing the person receiving it. Develop a system so you don't have to think about what you're doing. Your business card should always be clean and crisp -- it is the last impression you'll make.
If you don't have a business card with you, think of it as a good opportunity to make contact again by sending one later. If you can get your name into someone's Rolodex, you're in good shape. How to reach: Etiquette Consulting Services, (440) 442-3039 or email@example.com
Kim Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.