Fish forks are back. for decades seen only in Edith Wharton film adaptations, the wide-tined tokens of upper-crust living are making their return just in time for New York's second Gilded Age. This time around, though, would-be Newland Archers may be a little rusty in the etiquette department.
Enter Judith Ré, manners maven for the Internet Era. At her quarterly $325-a-head "Social Savvy for Business" seminar at the New York Palace, thirteen investment bankers, marketing consultants, and finance types get help with matters both analog and digital: toasting techniques for white wine, red wine, and brandy glasses; dinner-table cell-phone wrangling; and proper use of, yes, fish forks. (Tuition includes a copy of The Social Savvy Guidebook, a publication of the Judith Ré Académie.)
But Ré's curriculum, she explains over the seared-foie gras appetizer (which she pronounces, inexplicably, "faux gras"), "is about conducting yourself with poise, respect, and consideration for others." Sometimes, of course, such lofty ideals take a back seat to practical concerns. Kitt, a corporate-events planner, wants to know how to calculate a tip when the check includes a $135 bottle of wine. John, an Internet marketer, wonders how he should have disposed of the gristle he found himself chewing during lunch yesterday at Smith & Wollensky. And Debra, a clothing manufacturer, wonders if she was right to switch off her cellular phone before dinner: "I run six companies," she explains. "I would have gotten at least that many calls by now if it was on."
"Never leave a cell phone on during a business dinner," Ré says firmly. "Unless it has a silent, vibrating-ring setting. But you should still ignore it during a meal." Palm Pilots are marginally better: Thanks to their relative novelty, they're acceptable as conversation pieces, though Ré discourages anything as crass as beaming data across the table.
As the dinner drags an hour beyond its scheduled finish, one student groans audibly over the crème brûlée, the night's eighth course. "You really get to know a client well over a meal like this," Ré says cheerfully, but the group bolts as soon as the coffee and petits fours are cleared. Maybe a little too well.