Dining with Confidence
Did you know that the point of etiquette rules is
to make you feel comfortable, not uncomfortable? The
idea is that if there are standards that people abide
by, then you can have confidence that you are behaving
"appropriately." It takes the guesswork
out of public behavior.
I was blessed to have parents who taught me dining etiquette, but many people are not so fortunate. When I started traveling for business as a young man, it really made corporate dinners less intimidating.
Bread on the Left, Drink on the Right
Which drink is yours? This is one of the first decisions
at the dinner table because oftentimes, napkins are
in the glass when you arrive at the table.
Here is an easy tip to help you remember. Hold both
hands in front of you, palms facing each other. Using
the tips of your thumb and forefinger, make circles
on each hand. The remaining three fingers in each
hand point upwards. Your left hand will form a "b"
and your right hand will form a "d". Bread
(b) is on the left, and drink (d) is on the right.
Thank you Martha Stewart for that tip.
If your neighbor has already taken your bread plate
or drink, quietly ask the waiter for another.
Napkins belong in your lap. Large napkins can be
folded in half or with a quarter folded over the top.
They should never be tucked into your shirt like a
Wait for the host to unfold his napkin before unfolding
yours. In a banquet setting or at a restaurant, simply
place your napkin in your lap as soon as you are seated.
If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold
the napkin and place it to the left or right of your
plate. Do not refold your napkin or wad it up on the table
Note: Some respected etiquette experts will disagree
and flatly state that when leaving the table, you
should hang the napkin over the back of your chair.
Whatever you do, do not place the napkin in the seat
of your chair. You don't want to wipe your mouth with
a napkin that has been left on the seat.
Place Settings Etiquette
Place settings can be confusing. The general rule
for silverware is to work from the outside in as the
- Dinner plate - The center of the place setting.
When finished eating, do not push the plate away
from you. Instead, place both your fork and knife
across the center of the plate, handles to the right.
. Between bites, your fork and knife are placed
on the plate, handles to the right, not touching
- Soup bowl - May be placed on the dinner plate.
If you need to set your soup spoon down, place it
in the bowl. Do not put it on the dish under the
bowl until finished.
- Bread plate - Belongs just above the tip of the
fork. Bread should be broken into bite -sized pieces,
not cut. Butter only the piece you are preparing
to eat. When butter is served, put some on your
bread plate and use as needed.
- Napkin - Placed to the left of the fork with the
fold on the left. Sometimes placed under the forks
or on the plate.
- Salad fork - If a salad fork is used, it belongs
to the left of the dinner fork.
- Dinner fork - Placed to the left of the plate.
No more than three forks to the left of the plate.
If there are three forks, they are usually salad,
fish, and meat, in order of use, from outside in.
An oyster fork always goes to the right of the soup
- Butter knife - Place horizontally on bread plate.
- Dessert spoon - Above the plate.
- Cake fork - Above the plate.
- Dinner knife - To the right of the plate. Sometimes
there are multiple knives, perhaps for meat, fish,
and salad, in order of use from outside in.
- Tea spoon - To the right of the dinner knife.
- Soup spoon - If needed, to the right of the tea
- Water glass - Just above the tip of the knife.
- Red wine glass - To the right of the water glass.
- White wine glass - To the right of the red wine
glass. A glass of white wine is held on its stem to preserve
the chill. It should be served at
45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Coffee cup and saucer not pictured - If needed,
bring at time of coffee service.
- Pass food from the left to the right.
- If asked for the salt or pepper, pass both together.
- Food is served from the left.
- Dishes are removed from the right.
- Butter, spreads, or dips should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating.
General Dining Etiquette
- Start eating hot food when it is served, do not
wait for everyone else to begin.
- For soup, dip the spoon into the soup, from the
edge of the bowl to the center, moving away from
you. Only fill it 3/4 full to avoid spilling. Sip,
not slurp, from the edge of the spoon. Do not insert
the whole bowl of the spoon into your mouth.
- It is proper to tip a soup bowl slightly to get
all of the soup.
- Never turn the glass upside down to decline wine.
It is more polite to let the wine be poured and
not draw attention to yourself. If you are asked
about wine and will not be drinking, quietly decline.
- Do not ask for a doggy bag unless it is an informal
- Do not smoke at the table.
- Do not ask to taste someone else's food. Similarly,
do not offer a taste of your food to someone else.
- Taste your food before seasoning it.
- For hard to scoop items like peas, use your knife or a piece of bread to push the items onto your fork. Do not use your fingers.
- Do not talk with your mouth full.
- Cut only enough food for the next mouthful.
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- If soup is too hot to eat, let it cool in bowl.
Do not blow on it.
- Practice good posture. If not eating, place your
hand in your lap or rest your wrists on the edge
of the table. Do not put your elbows on the table.
- If hot food is burning your mouth, discretely
drink something cool to counteract the food.
- When dining out, order foods that can be eaten
- Meeting materials or briefacases should be placed under your chair until it is time to discuss business.
- Try to pace your meal to finish at the same time as your host or the majority of the group at the table.
- Do not blow your nose at the dinner table. Excuse yourself to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the dining room.
- If you cough, cover your mouth with your napkin to stop the spread of germs and muffle the noise. If your cough becomes unmanageable, excuse yourself to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the dining room.
Casual Dining Exceptions
Eating out with your friends is not an excuse to become a slob. However, dining etiquette guidelines are not as important when eating a burger and fries at Chilis.
- Do not worry about ordering foods that are eaten with your hands - burgers, fajitas, sandwiches, etc.
- When sharing chips and salsa at your favorite Mexican food restaurant, do not concern yourself with transfering salsa to your own plate. However, do not double dip.
In other words, do not dip your chip, bite off a piece, and then re-dip your chip.
James G. Lewis
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