Etiquette: the art of appropriate behavior.
Etiquette is not intended to make the un-knowing uncomfortable or to cause them embarrassment, but to assist the user in behaving appropriately in any situation. The vast majority of etiquette rules are very simple and logical – based on the concept of treating others well.
While some of the older rules of etiquette may seem far removed from reason and our daily lives, most have roots in practices of respect and generosity. For instance, good etiquette dictates that we break and butter our bread by individual bites, a tradition seemingly at odds with our sandwich eating culture, but its roots are based in the old practice of giving the untouched scraps from the table, including the extra bread, to the poor after each meal.
The rules of etiquette, specifically those of good table manners, as we will be addressing here, are generally very easy to learn and to put into practice. By focusing on one’s fellow guests and their comfort, many of the basics will simply happen of their own accord.
Good manners may in Seven Words be found: Forget Yourself and think of Those Around. ~ Arthur Guiterman
As in most areas of Etiquette, table manners are based on the principle of making both yourself and others comfortable through socially acceptable behaviors and expectations. With this in mind, we can see that many table manners are simply acts of courtesy. For instance, it is rude to reach across another person to get something in any situation; we ask others to pass items to us. Statements such as, “excuse me”, “please”, and “thank you” are as necessary at the table as they are in our daily interactions. Table manners are simply a branch of general good manners.
Basic table manners are appropriate at any and all meals. Contrary to popular belief, table manners are never too formal. If you wish to get into the habit of using good table manners, what better way to do so than to use them all the time?
- Sit up straight, but not stiffly; do not slouch!
- Always say “please” and “thank-you”.
- Place your napkin in your lap immediately upon being seated.
- Keep your elbows off the table and close to your body while eating; unoccupied hands should rest in the lap.
- Wait until everyone has been served to begin eating, unless your host or hostess instructs otherwise.
- Don’t hold your flatware like a shovel – use either the American or Continental style.
- Always break or tear (do not cut) your bread, and butter it, by the bite.
- Cut and eat one piece of food at a time, taking the time to chew well before swallowing. Cut food into small bite-sized pieces which are easy to eat.
- Never chew with your mouth open, speak with your mouth full, or take a drink while you still have food in your mouth (unless you are choking).
- Chew quietly and avoid making distasteful noises such as slurping your soup or smacking your lips.
- If you need to remove an offending bit of food from your mouth, do so by placing it back on your fork or spoon and then onto your plate; try to hide it from sight with other food.
- Once you have placed food onto your fork or spoon, eat it in its entirety. Don’t hold it in midair during conversation or waive it around.
- Never place a piece of flatware that has been used back on the table, set it on the edge of your plate.
- Ask for items out of your reach to be passed to you. Even if you could reach the item, never reach across another person.
- Excuse yourself if you need to leave the table for any reason during the meal.
* Always excuse yourself if:
- You need to blow your nose
- You need to deal with a persistent cough
- You need to remove something from your teeth or floss your teeth
- You have the hiccups
- You are not feeling well and fear you may be sick
- You experience a gas attack
Once you have mastered the basics, it is a simple matter to continue to refine your table manners.
- Place your napkin in your lap immediately once you are seated.
- If it is a large dinner-sized napkin, it should be folded in half and placed with the opening toward your knees.
- If it is a small luncheon napkin, it can be opened to its full size and placed in your lap.
- If you need to leave your seat, place the napkin to the right of your plate (folded in such a way that any soiled area is not visible), never on your seat, where you might inadvertently sit on it and soil your clothing.
- Place it to the left of your plate when you are finished with the meal.
- With the exception of sauces or gravies, always place single servings from the serving tray onto your plate rather than directly onto any food, i.e. place a single serving of butter or jam onto your own plate with the appropriate serving utensil and then spread the butter or jam onto your bread (one bite at a time) with your own flatware.
Flatware and Stemware:
- When you are finished with a course, place your flatware diagonally across your plate, with the handles at approximately 4 or 5 o’clock, facing 10 or 11 o’clock.
- In regards to flatware and stemware, always work from the outside inward. For instance, if there is a soup course to begin the meal, the soup spoon will be on the far right of the plate; if it begins with a salad, the salad fork will be on the far left.
- Take small bites of food so you can carry on a conversation easily.
- Do not blow on hot food; allow it to cool on its own while you continue with your conversation.
- Always pass the salt and pepper together so they do not become separated on the table.
- When passing an item, do not do so hand-to-hand around the table, which increases the likelihood of spills; always place the item on the table between yourself and the guest next to you. If the dish needs to be moved further along the table to the person who requested it, your neighbor will then transfer it to the table on his or her other side and so on until it reaches the intended individual.
- When food is being passed by request, do not serve yourself from the platter unless you are the intended recipient.