I’ve always gotten nervous by the idea of eating in fine restaurants, and my fear of publicly embarrassing myself while dining out seems to grow as I get older. I wonder: Which fork should I use? What happens if I spill food on myself? Or worse, what happens if I mispronounce a word on the menu? Will everyone in the restaurant, waitstaff included, know that I am a phony who does not deserve to eat there?
No one wants to be the rube at a restaurant or country club who looks painfully out of place. One of the ways I’m protecting myself from public embarrassment is to read as many etiquette books as I possibly can. In one great book titled “Commonsense Etiquette,” Marjabelle Young Stewart outlines basic table manners and provides historical and contextual explanations for each rule, which in turn, makes each rule easier to comprehend and memorize. She writes:
Since all manners arise from the instinct to treat others kindly, table manners will actually benefit those who use them and those who view them. Simple consideration is the bedrock of all good behavior, table manners included, and once you understand that, you can eat at any table with confidence.
Take one rule and Stewart will explain the rationale behind the purpose of the table manner. Let’s start by looking at the rule that requires guest to sit up straight and to keep their elbows off the table. Why? The reasoning is that slouching over your meal prevents you from looking directly at the other guests around you. If you put your elbows on the table, you appear to look bored or tired at the table. Sit up straight, eat with one hand, and place your stationary hand in your lap. Below, I will share a few basic table etiquette rules from the book:
Basic Rules to Memorize
- Sit up straight.
- Chew quietly with your mouth closed and never slurp liquids.
- Cut foods into bite-sized pieces, one piece at a time (for example, do not cut all of your steak pieces before you eat, or you will look like you are cutting up food for a child).
- Do not stuff your mouth.
- Eat slowly.
- Do not hold your utensil in midair while talking or listening.
- Keep your elbows off the table. You cannot sit up attentively if you are leaning on your arms.
- Ask your companions to pass you food that is far away.
- Always say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when foods are passed and when accepting and declining food.
- Excuse yourself when you leave the table.
- Compliment the cook for the effort of preparing the meal.
- Never pick your teeth, clean your nails, comb your hair or put on lipstick at the table. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to blow your nose.
- Remember that proper table settings are quite logical, as they reflect the order in which the utensils should be used. We start with the outermost fork or spoon in the setting and work our way in, usually using one utensil per course. If you are served soup, then the table will offer a soup spoon on the outside right of your place setting.
- If you do not know which utensil to use, wait until your host or hostess takes the first bite and observe which utensil he or she uses.
- Once you have used a utensil, put it on the side of your plate, never back on the table.
- When you are resting between bites, you can place your knife and fork across one another in the middle of your plate.
- When you are finished with the course, place them parallel to one another and on one side of your plate, which signals to the waiter that you are finished.
- Gravy may be aired over meat and potatoes but not over vegetables.
- The first thing you should do when sitting at a formal dinner is put the napkin in your lap.
- At the beginning of the meal, wait for the person who prepared the meal to sit and begin before beginning yourself.
- When presented with a finger bowl, dip your fingers in the water, and blot them in your napkin.
- You may be served sorbet between courses; this is meant to cleanse the palate and you do not need to eat all of it.
- Never grab a fork and hold it like a shovel. Avoid arching your wrists.
- All food must be eaten in manageable bites without overfilling the mouth; chewing is to be done with the mouth closed. Wolfing down food aggressively does not denote enthusiasm but greed.
- Usually food is passed to the right because most people are right-handed and it is easier to reach the food.
- A formal dinner typically includes the following elements: appetizer, soup, appetizer, meat, salad and dessert.
- Pay your fair share when dining at a restaurant with friends. If you order a steak for 16 dollars , while everyone else has an appetizer for 3 dollars, make sure to pay extra for your share.
- Never split pennies at the table, as it will waste time, irritate your fellow diners and put a damper on the meal.
Place Settings and Silverware Types