Whether you are trying to impress your in-laws or host a formal dinner at home, you may want to understand correct dining etiquette to be at your very best behavior.
To properly organize silverware on your dining table, remember that diners work from the outside in. Forks will go on the left side, and the salad fork will sit outside of the dinner fork. Knives and spoons go on the right side of the setting, with the knife on the inside and spoons on the outside. Save dessert utensils until when you will serve dessert. Glasses should be placed above the plate and to the right. Remember to never put more utensils on the table than what will need to be used, as this will confuse some diners.
First and foremost, remember to never let your used silverware touch the dining table. When not using your silverware, simply place it on another plate or bowl.
There are two different styles of using silverware to eat. The North American style involves using your right hand to cut food with the knife while stabilizing it with the left hand, and then setting the knife on your plate to switch the fork to your right hand to eat the cut food. Do not cut more than two pieces of food to eat at a time.
The European style is less formal and involves keeping the fork in your left hand at all times. When you puncture food with the fork, keep the tines facing downward.
When using a soup spoon, tilt the spoon away from you and fill it only about two-thirds full. You are allowed to tilt the soup bowl away from you to reach the last bit of soup. Do not slurp the soup from your spoon.
When the host sits and places the napkin on their lap, that is the rest of the party’s cue to follow suit. A large dinner napkin should be folded once and placed on your lap, with the fold closer to your body. A smaller lunch napkin can be placed on your lap without folding.
A napkin should be used throughout the meal to gently dab at your mouth to keep a clean appearance. To not use your napkin is considered somewhat rude, in certain settings.
If you need to leave the meal for a bit, simply place the napkin on your chair until you return. When you are finished with the meal, loosely fold the napkin and place it on the left side of your plate.
Do not begin eating until everyone has received their serving, unless it is a large group and the host urges someone to start eating. If this is the case, avoid eating alone and wait for a few others to also have their meal before you begin.
When someone asks you to pass the salt or the pepper, be sure to pass both together. Never pass condiments hand-to-hand, simply place them on the dining table at the plate of the person next to you, who will do the same until it reaches the requestor. Leave them on the table for the requestor to pick up and use. In this situation, you should not use the salt or the pepper before passing them; the requestor should be the first person to use them.
If you need to remove something from your mouth, such as a fish bone or a piece of fat, do so discretely. The best way is to use the same method to retrieve the food as you used to eat it. Therefore, if you used your hand to eat something, you may use your hand to retrieve the unwanted food. If you used a fork, you should use the fork to retrieve it. In the case of small bones that are difficult to remove with a fork, using your hand is acceptable.
When finished eating, do not push your plate away. Place your fork, with tines down, and knife diagonally across the plate, parallel to each other and pointing to the ten o’clock position.
Because of the wide variety of conversation topics, it is easier to remember what NOT to talk about. Taboo topics include:
- Your health, or anyone else’s health, as this can make people lose their appetites.
- Your dislike of the food, because this is an insult to the selection that the host has chosen.
- Table manners. Do not inform anyone else of their incorrect table manners, and do not discuss your questions about them. Simply watch others to learn the acceptable table manners.
- Political opinions, as this can turn a pleasant dining experience into an unsettling political debate.
It takes time and experience to fully grasp the proper way to utilize the place setting in front of you.