Basic table manners used to be important. Parents went out of their way to make sure their kids knew how to use their utensils, unfold their napkins and put them on their laps and not chew with their mouths open. Although dining etiquette differs vastly from country to country, here in the West, etiquette revolves around a set of rules, and those rules are observed to varying degrees depending on the places you visit. If you go to formal expensive restaurants you should follow formal dining etiquette more closely, if at a casual restaurant, then not so much. However, most people are expected to maintain a certain level of decorum.
When I talk to younger people (children, teenagers and young adults) they know a whole lot about “social media etiquette” and “chat room etiquette” but they don’t seem to have a clue about table manners and I’m not talking about the long restrictive and stuffy set of rules from 1902, but just the really simple ones such as how to hold a fork properly. Having a phone out and scrolling through Instagram is standard procedure it seems. I hate to point this out, but it looks like we as a society, may have allowed ourselves to become too lax with our manners. It leaves me wondering if it just that we appreciate more flexibility and don’t like to have to follow rules when we sit at the table? Do we even sit at the table anymore for that matter and probably therefore we have forgotten manners and have not taught our children? Dinner time with family is supposed to be to catch up and connect with each other. Dinner time, the way it used to be, isn’t that common anymore. We sit on the couch, we eat on our own schedules when we want to, wherever we want and the table is mostly for holidays and entertaining. I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to look back, reflect on our modern day manners and refresh our collective memory about some of the ways people behaved themselves in the past and try to reclaim at least a few of them, even if it’s true that times have changed.
Why learn dining etiquette and manners? Because manners is about showing that you care about other people’s feelings and you are taking other’s into consideration by the way you behave around them. Nobody likes for example, if somebody burped in front of them while eating. It would be rude, inconsiderate and disgusting. I was at a small restaurant last year, and there was a man sitting at the table directly in front of me. He burped quite loudly and did not even say excuse me, he just looked at me. I knew it couldn’t have been someone who was not aware of American manners because he spoke clear American English. It made me feel like he did not like me because he was inconsiderate towards me and I just wanted to say something to him about his bad table manners, but I held my tongue.
Table manners are important not only in social situations but in professional ones as well. Here are some simple guidelines of the essential and most important basic table manners. I have also included at the end the dining etiquette the The Ideal Cook Book by Ann Gregory written in 1902. This set of dining rules is better suited for Downton Abbey and you may lose your appetite trying to remember them all, but it’s interesting to see how vastly different is what we do today versus what was expected in high society at the beginning of last century.
Proper Table Etiquette for Today
It is always expected to respond to dinner invitations. Always RSVP even if not required. Don’t show up with an extra guest and never put a host in a bad position by asking to bring another person, it is just rude. I had someone show up at my wedding with an uninvited guest. It’s an extreme lack of consideration.
Should You Bring a Gift?
It is a good idea to bring something as a gift. Unless the host asks for something specific, do not ask what you can bring because It makes some people uncomfortable. Do not expect the items that you brought to be used while you are there. Some people bring gifts that they really want to eat or drink themselves and expect to consume them. It is a gift, let it go.
When Dinner Begins…
Wait until the host tells you where to sit and pause until he or she sits before you sit down. Every household is different, and some may pray, others may have a toast, just go with the flow.
Once the host or hostess unfolds his or her napkin, then it is safe to assume that you may also take the napkin off the table, unfold it and place it on your lap. If you are at a restaurant, then you can place the napkin on your lap right away. Always keep your napkin on your lap until you get up from the table. If you are getting up from the table to go to the restroom or anything else but are coming back then make sure to leave the napkin next to your plate, just like you would if you were leaving.
When to Start Eating
You should wait until everyone has their food before picking up your utensils. If you are at someone’s home, then you should wait until the host starts eating.
The general rule is to start with the utensils that are farthest from your plate and work your way inward.
Never reach across another person or across the table to reach food. Ask the person nearest to the item to pass it down. Dishes should be passed counterclockwise. Never use your own utensils (the ones you already put in your mouth) to get food from the serving dish, always use serving utensils.
Table manners were set to allow for pleasant dining experiences, where people can feel comfortable and enjoy their meals. Here are some of the basic and essential dining etiquette rules that you should become familiar with:
- Turn off your cell phone and make sure not to use it while at the table.
- Never talk with your mouth full. If you are required to talk, swallow first.
- Never add condiments to your food without tasting it first. It could be insulting to the cook and in a business setting could make you look like someone who jumps to conclusions.
- Don’t cut all your food before eating, it looks childish.
- Do not blow on your food, just wait for it to cool.
- If your glass is stemmed, hold it by the stem, not from the bottom.
- Blot your lips with the napkin, do not mop your face with it.
- Keep your elbows off the table, unless there is no food on the table, and you are leaning in to for conversation.
- Don’t show up with kids unless the host has specifically said that it is ok. If dining at a formal restaurant, it is best to leave children at home unless you are sure that they will behave properly.
- Avoid burping. If it you do so accidentally, make sure you try to suppress as best you can and excuse yourself.
- Do not blow your nose at the table.
- Do not groom yourself at the table, it is not very clean, and it is considered rude. It is fine to re-apply lipstick.
- Never ever floss or use a toothpick at the table. It is simply vile. If there is food stuck in your teeth, excuse yourself and make your way to the restroom.
- After eating, leave utensils on your plate, not on the table.
- Always leave a tip.
At the End of the Meal…
Fold your napkin slightly so you don’t just bunch it up like a dirty tissue and place it on the left side of your plate. Do not get up until the host does and don’t run out the door, wait for at least an hour before you say goodbye. Make sure to send a thank you note a day or two after the diner. Most people will never buy a card and a stamp and mail a note, but at the very least send a heartfelt text message to the host thanking them for the invitation and say something to compliment them.