Table manners are important across all cultures and, regardless of our station in life, they save us embarrassment and make others comfortable. We should feel confident when we sit down at a table, whether it is a formal dining setting with the Queen of England or a family get together.
Here are some cues.
Do let your hosts have your response within a reasonable time of receiving the invitation. If you have food allergies or restrictions, signal them when you reply. If for some reason your plans change and you can no longer attend the event, inform your hosts as soon as possible.
Don’t assume your partner or children are invited, unless it is mentioned in the invitation.
Purchase your hosts a gift, such as flowers, wine or something else.
If you do not have an idea of what to wear, find out.
Switch Off your Phone
The focus should always be on conversation. Turn your smartphone off and do not use it because that suggests you are more interested in your device than in the people around you. If you cannot miss a call, put your phone on silent and when you receive it take the call in another room.
Look for your place card or wait for the hosts to divulge seating plans.
Do not place your purse, keys, sunglasses, or eyeglasses on the table.
Sit a comfortable distance away from the table, so that with the elbows bent the hands are level with the knives and forks.
Sit up straight and square with hands in the lap and do not twiddle. Do not put elbows on the table.
Place the napkin on your lap right after being seated. The napkin never goes on the chest.
If you have to excuse yourself during the meal, leave your napkin either on the chair or place it to the left of your plate.
When finished, place the napkin on the table and never place it on top of your plate.
Utensils and Glassware
Irrespective of the type of the place setting, always eat from the outside in. When unsure, wait to see what others do, particularly your hosts.
Never gesticulate with your utensils, it is impolite.
Speaking while holding your cutlery is rude.
If a utensil drops on the floor, ask a server or your hosts for another one.
Hold both wine and champagne glasses by the stem.
The fork and spoon are the only things that should go into the mouth. Do not lick the knife or eat off it. Keep the tines of the fork pointing downwards and push the food on to the fork, using knife when needed. Do not turn the fork over and scoop. For the foods that are eaten with just a fork, use the fork in the right hand and have the tines up, more like a spoon.
Start with the utensil that is farthest from your plate and work your way toward the center of your place setting.
When you pause to take a sip of your beverage or to speak with someone, rest your knife and fork on your plate, slightly angled in an inverted V and with the tips of the knife and fork pointing toward each other.
When each course is finished, place the knife and fork parallel with the handles in the four o’clock position on the right rim of the plate.
Wait till everyone has been served unless the hosts asks those served to start. If you ca not eat hot food and are waiting for it to cool down, still pick the spoon or knife and fork and look as if you are starting at the same time so that your neighbors do not feel obliged to wait.
Passing Dishes of Food
Pass food from the left to the right. Do not lean across other guests, to reach food or condiments. If another guest asks for the salt or pepper, pass both shakers together, even if they asked for one of them. Other guests will, thus, not have to search for them separately. If food or condiments are passed in front of you on their way to another guest, do not interrupt. Wait until the initial guest is served and then request them be passed back to you.
Keep your portion sizes small to moderate. Food overall and meat, especially, should be cut up into bite size pieces as they are eaten. Ensure you use fork and knife and not just your fork, no matter what others do.
Seasoning your Food
Taste your food before seasoning it. This honors the culinary efforts of your hosts as the food may be already seasoned to your taste as it is served to you.
Do not touch the loaf with your fingers, instead use the cloth in the bread basket as a buffer to steady the bread as you slice it. Use your butter knife to place slab of butter onto your butter plate so that you do not double-dip. Then tear the bread and butter each piece. Do not butter the entire roll or bread piece.
Wait until everyone is served before eating.
If you food is hot, wait a few minutes for it to cool off. Never blow on your food.
Never chew with your mouth open.
Do not talk when your mouth is full.
Bring your fork to your mouth, do not crouch over your plate.
Pace yourself to finish at the same approximate time as your hosts.
Keep your elbows off the table during the meal, as you might interfere with the meal of the guest next to you. It is ok, though not ideal, to have your elbows on the table when you are conversing In between meals and no one on the table is using their utensils.
After the Meal
When you finish eating, loosely fold your napkin and place it to the left of your plate. Wait until the hosts signal that the meal is over before you stand. Do not just eat, stay for a while after the meal is over before bidding goodbye to the hosts.
Always remember to send a thank you note to the hosts.
Do not take your cocktail to the dinner table.
If you are the recipient of a toast, keep your glass at arm’s length — do not drink. Instead, graciously say, “Thank you.”
If you do not drink, politely refuse the offer of alcohol, no further explanation is required.
When you are dining at a restaurant buffet, do not go back for a refill with a dirty plate. Leave it for the waiter to pick up and start afresh with a clean plate.
If you drop food on the tablecloth or floor, discreetly use your napkin to retrieve it and ask the waiter for a new napkin.
It is ok to reapply your lipstick, but do not freshen the rest of your makeup at the table.
Make sure to always push your chair back in when you leave the table.
Before leaving the event, always find your hosts and thank them, personally.
Always send a thank you note to the hosts.
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