7 Tips for Enjoying Holiday Dining Without Forgetting Your Manners The holidays are a time of sharing food and drink with family, friends and colleagues but don't think for a minute people aren't watching your behavior.

By Jacqueline Whitmore

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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You're likely to attend many parties, luncheons and dinners this holiday season where you'll get the opportunity to feast in a festive atmosphere. The treats will be plentiful but you don't have carte blanche on your dining behavior. You still must play by the rules of etiquette to protect your reputation and the business relationships you've worked hard to build all year.

Here are seven tips that will set you on the right course.

1. Eat before you go to an event.

This sounds counterintuitive to attending an event where food will be served, but eating a light meal or snack before you go will keep you from overloading your plate or spending all of your time at the buffet instead of using that valuable time for networking.

2. If you extend the invitation, you pay.

Whether it's a lunch for two or a dinner for eight, if you're doing the inviting, the attendees are your guests and you should pick up the tab. One keen etiquette trick is to inform the manager or your server that you will be handling the check and ask him or her not to deliver it to the table. At the end of the meal, excuse yourself, and then pay the bill up front. You may even want to set up a corporate account in advance.

Related: How Do I Deliver a Really Good Toast at the Holiday Party?

3. Learn your guests' food preferences.

Ask if any of your invitees have food allergies or distinct preferences prior to selecting the venue or menu. When you're hosting an event at your home, it's always a safe bet to stick to what you know. In other words, don't try out that exotic new recipe you've been eyeing.

4. Don't launch into a discussion about business.

The holidays are a time to relax and enjoy the season, so make time for small talk at your gathering. Find out others' holiday plans or customs and learn a little more about your fellow party goers. There is plenty of time to talk business back at the office. If you must talk business, begin the event with some chitchat before talking shop.

5. Avoid complicated foods.

Whether you're providing the meal or ordering out, try to avoid foods that are difficult to eat, such as spaghetti with red sauce, barbeque ribs, heavy sandwiches or lobster in the shell. Lighter meals and finger foods are always a safer bet. If it is a business gathering, the food should be secondary. Your first priority is to build relationships.

Related: To Host the Best Holiday Party Hand Out Bonuses and Go Home

6. Mind your table manners.

As usual, your manners are on display. Don't place your personal items like a cell phone, purse, keys or eyeglasses on the table. Silence your mobile device and put it away out of sight during the meal. Don't overstuff your mouth or plate or talk with your mouth full, and keep your elbows off the table. If you must leave the table temporarily, simply excuse yourself; there's no need to tell people where you are going.

7. Remember your napkin.

As soon as you are seated, place your napkin across your lap. If you leave the table temporarily, place your napkin on the seat or the back of your chair rather than leaving it on the table for all to see. At the end of the meal, gather your napkin together and place it to the left of your plate. Never place it on a dirty plate.

Keep these tips in mind and you, and everyone else, will enjoy the holiday season and all its celebrations.

Related: Crazy Office Celebrations: Your 10 Best Holiday Party Pictures

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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