Sharing meals is an important way for people to get to know each other, and it’s often the first step in making important connections. But if you don’t have good table manners, you might lose the chance to get to know your date, your interviewer, your client, or your fiance’s parents.
And you could embarrass yourself in business, at parties, or even with your own family.
In this article, we’ll go over the dining rules so you can enjoy your meal without feeling embarrassed.
Etiquette is the way you act around other people.
Manners are the rules for how to act in a polite way (part of etiquette).
So, following the rules at the table is part of dining etiquette, which is how you help everyone enjoy the meal. Here are the ten that are the most important.
First and foremost, what is dining etiquette?
Bring the food to you instead of going to the food. It’s not a trough; it’s a plate.
The magic words are still “please” and “thank you.” “Sorry” will get you just as far.
What’s the best way to talk to someone? Listen to what people say. Keep it simple and fun, and don’t talk about things that make you feel bad. Disgust, anger, fear, or sadness do not belong on the table, nor do your bad thoughts about the lasagna or wine your host made.
#1. How to act at a table
Listen to what your hosts say. If you’re not sure what to do: do what they do, and don’t eat until they do.
Don’t eat or talk with your mouth open or with food in it. Take small bites so you can eat them all before you have to talk.
#2: Good table manners start before you sit down
A tea party has been planned for you. Fantastic! They’re a lot of fun and often a chance to make a good impression on someone important, like the father of your girlfriend or the new head of the board.
You don’t want to ruin your chances before your host has even decided what to serve, do you? Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen. When you get an invitation, you have 3 days to respond.
Dress smarter than is necessary for the event. This shows that you respect your hosts and other guests, and it’s always better to be overdressed than under-dressed. The former is also easier to fix: you can leave your blazer and tie in the cloakroom, but you can’t drive home if you’re the only man there without one.
Bring a small gift when you go to someone’s house, like chocolate, a kitchen tool, or wine. Be on time, but don’t arrive more than 5 minutes early. Your hosts are likely still making last-minute plans.
Turn off your phone before you walk in. Don’t just turn it off, and don’t look at it while you’re eating. This not only shows your hosts and other guests that you respect them, but it also helps you be fully present and enjoy the meal.
#3: Even if there isn’t a table, good table manners are still required
Even though picnics, buffets, and barbecues are casual, there are still some rules of dining etiquette to follow to make sure everyone has a good time.
A true gentleman cares about other people’s comfort in social situations, even when sandals and tiki torches are appropriate.
Take an average-sized serving. Don’t eat too much. People don’t like people who are too hungry, like the people behind you in line who saw you take the last two cheeseburgers. Once everyone has eaten, you can always go back for more.
Don’t double-dip. If you want to dip your chip more than once, put some dip on your plate so you don’t get saliva all over everyone else.
Cut your own meat. If you know how to use a carving knife well, offer to help people around you. But don’t cut the roast into pieces. If you leave cut-up meat out, it will dry out.
First and foremost, you should clean up after yourself. This is very important when Mother Nature is your hostess.
#4. How to set the table: the basics
Even though it looks difficult, the rules for plates, glasses, and cutlery are actually very easy to understand. Start with the silverware on the outside and work your way in during the meal. Forks go on the left, and knives and spoons go on the right.
If there is also a small fork on the right, that is for seafood. The top piece of cutlery (usually a smaller spoon) is for dessert. You should put your butter knife on or near your bread plate.
On the left are the bread plates, and on the right are the glasses. If you get confused about which is yours and which is your neighbor’s, make a “b” for bread and a “d” for drink by touching the thumb and index finger of each hand (subtly, maybe under the table.)
In a casual table setting, your water glass is the one above the knife. Most of the time, it’s bigger than a wine glass.
Not only does the shape of a wine glass tell you what to put in it, but it also tells you how to hold it. Because you hold red wine glasses by the bowl to keep the wine warm, they are wider. To keep a white wine glass cool, you hold it by the stem.
#5. Taking a seat and getting up from the table
You can find your seat at a table by looking for your name card or by waiting for the host or wait staff to seat you. Don’t sit down before the host.
Be ready to help the women next to you with their chairs at social events. Don’t do this at a business event. The right way to treat a woman at a business event is as a fellow professional.
Say “Excuse me for a moment” if you need to leave the table during the meal. I’ll be back in a minute. There’s no need to say anything else.
Wait until the host stands up before you leave the table.
#6. Napkin Etiquette Rules
As soon as you sit down, place your napkin on your lap. It’s not a bib, so don’t tuck it into your trousers or shirt. Just enough to cover your lap, unfold it.
The main reason for a serviette isn’t to catch dropped food, but to keep your mouth clean without getting in the way. It’s bad manners to use your serviette as a towel. Instead, use it to dab things up.
If you are standing, fold your serviette loosely and put it to the left of your plate.
#7. How to Order and Taste Wine
This is one part of dining etiquette that makes a lot of guys nervous, but once you know how to do it, it’s really not that hard. First, ask your friends if they want individual glasses or a bottle, as well as what they like and don’t like:
Old World (earthy) or New World (shiny)? (fruity)
Full-bodied, medium-bodied, or light-bodied.
Are there any kinds that they don’t like?
Red wine is usually served with heavier foods like beef or pork, and white wine is served with lighter foods like chicken or fish. But it’s perfectly fine to order whatever you want, no matter what you’re eating.
Stay away from the “house white” and “house red,” which are usually bad, but don’t be afraid to order the cheapest named wine on the menu. Restaurant owners know how people think, so they usually charge too much for the second-cheapest item.
If you want, you can ask the server or sommelier what they think you should drink. Tell them what you want, point to a bottle on the menu that’s in your price range, and say, “I’m thinking about getting something like this.”
This is the universal restaurant code for “This is exactly what I want to pay, but I don’t want to say it out loud.”
Check the label and cork (including the year) of the bottle of wine you’re given to make sure it’s what you ordered. After that, the waiter will give you a small amount.
Look, swirl, smell, and taste. This is NOT a test to see if you like the wine. If you don’t, you’ve already paid for it. It’s to see if it’s a corked bottle (tainted with a fungus that grows on corks).
If your wine smells like mould or wet cardboard, it’s probably corked, and you should tell the server. They’ll be glad to get rid of it.
#8. When Should I Start to Eat?
This rule is made up of two parts.
Wait until the person who invited you receives their fork before eating. It’s bad manners to eat by yourself at a restaurant.
The one exception to Part 1 is: Don’t let food that is hot go cold. If hot food is being served and people are still milling around, wait until two more people have been served before you start eating. If there are more than four of you and you’re all seated, wait until three or four other people have been served.
Even if you don’t believe in religion, you should show respect for tradition and prayer. Even if everyone else is crossing their arms or folding their hands, you don’t have to, but be respectful and be quiet.
Before a meal, only the host should start a prayer, but anyone can say it.
If the host asks you to say it, you don’t have to feel bad about politely declining. “Thank you, but I’d rather not” will do. If you are willing, keep it short and simple, and keep in mind that there may be more than one faith in the room.
#9: Eating Etiquette
If there is food on the table, keep your elbows OFF of it. It’s fine to put your elbows on the table between courses or while you’re having coffee.
Don’t stand or reach into other people’s space to get something. Have someone give it to you.
If you spill something, say you’re sorry and do what you can to help clean it up. Then take a deep breath and try to forget about it.
You can tip a bowl of soup to get the last few spoonfuls, but you should tip it AWAY from yourself. If you don’t follow this rule, you might feel like you have soup all over your suit.
When you’re done, put your knife and fork where it says “4:20.” This tells the server that your plate is ready to be taken away and makes it easy for them to do so without dropping your cutlery.
#10. Refusing to eat and drink
You’ve been given something you don’t want? Try one bite of a small amount.
Allergies? Vegetarian? Kosher? Any other rules about food? You should tell your host about your needs ahead of time, preferably when you RSVP. If you can’t get what you need, eat a big meal before, and if it has to do with meat, eat PROTEIN.
If you think your hosts will offer you alcohol, think about what you will say. Will you have just one drink? Two? Or none? It’s your choice, and you don’t have to explain it. But no matter what you decide, stick to it. People will respect you more and be more likely to agree with your choice.
If you don’t want to drink but everyone else does, simply raise one glass to your lips. It’s also proper to toast with water or soft drinks, though some groups will accept this more easily than others. Just don’t raise an empty glass.
Bonus: Who has to pay?
The person who sent the invitation pays for business meals. If that sounds like you, don’t ask for money. If you aren’t the one, don’t offer.
Parties can be paid for by the host or by everyone who goes. Have enough cash on hand, including a few small bills for tips.
Don’t expect a woman to pay for dinner on the first few dates, but if she really wants to, let her. (Don’t pay behind her back if she’s asked you not to; you want her to trust you.)
What’s the best thing you can do to learn how to behave at a meal? Do it all the time at home, even if you don’t have a family. Even if you live alone, you should practise good table manners until they come naturally. So, you can always count on them when you need them.
Good table manners are not a way to make people like you. They’re a big part of a gentleman’s main job, which is to make the world a better place for the people around him.