So many things can go wrong when dining socially, but if you keep these basic ideas in mind you won’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself:
Don’t put your elbows on the table while you are eating. (Fun exercise: Sit up straight at a table and try to cut and eat your food while resting your elbows. It’s impossible anyway!) Between courses is fine though- such as when the main meal has been cleared but you are waiting for dessert and are really engaged in conversation with someone.
Don’t butter your whole roll- put a pat of butter on the bread plate, and break off sections of the roll and butter them individually.
Don’t chew with your mouth open.
Do use your utensils except for very dry foods like bread, or in more casual situations. You’ll probably look like an idiot trying to eat chicken wings with your fork and knife at Hooters.
Do ask for things to be passed to you instead of grabbing them.
Do pass the salt and pepper together.
Do remember that your bread plate is to your left, drink is to your right.
Do use good cell phone etiquette. We’ll discuss this more later, but we have to mention that your phone has no place at the dinner table (unless in an extremely casual setting), and if it’s an emergency to properly excuse yourself from the table
Don’t feel awkward about “grace.” You may be asked to say grace when dining in a religious home or at a holiday dinner. There are a number of well known graces you can say if you feel comfortable, but a general thanking of the host and talking about the beauty of the food is fine. If you want more of a “grace” feel, you could try this secularized version: “for what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful. Amen.” If someone else is saying grace, follow along with everyone else and either bow your head or join hands respectfully and either say amen at the end, or say nothing.
Do wait until everyone has been seated and served before beginning to eat
Do put your napkin on your lap. If you get up from the table, leave your napkin on your chair, but when you finish your meal, place your napkin loosely at the side of your plate.
Do put your fork and knife together on the plate with the handles at the 4 o’clock position when you are finished eating.
You would think that a lot of these would be so obvious they don’t need to be said. But I once attended a sorority luncheon at a fancy restaurant and one of the girls ate her fully dressed salad with her fingers, so you never know. That being said, I eat most of my meals sitting on my couch in my tiny apartment, so when you are alone you are permitted to eat like an animal!
A note for parents:
I am not a parent and am therefore hesitant to give advice, but I am going to anyway! Kids can have good table manners even from an early age but it does take a LOT of repetition and practice. In my family we ate dinner at the table every night, often with candles and classical music. Table manners were strictly enforced and by the time my sister and I were 11 or 12, we could happily sit through three course meals at some extremely nice and expensive restaurants. Practice at home and then occasionally take your kids out to a restaurant with waiters and real plates for them to practice using their good manners in public. Then they won’t end up as the college girl who eats salad with her fingers in public!
You sound like my mother! (That’s a compliment.) It’s so nice to see etiquette preserved. We of the older generation thank you.
I sound like my own mother! Thanks for the kind words.
Salad… with her fingers… !?
Yeah…it was a bit shocking.
Do: lick maple syrup off your plate if you are alone in your apartment.
I think that goes without saying! Wasting maple syrup is definitely a faux-pas.
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