Table Manners 101

Those new to the meeting and convention profession are soon confronted with one of its most perplexing dilemmas.

The good news is, you will soon experience fine dining beyond your wildest dreams.

The bad news? Your ability to master the basics of table etiquette will signal to your entire party whether you’re a) the consummate professional who cares about the subtle details of correct behavior, or b) a simian bereft of all culture and breeding.

Fortunately for newbies, etiquette can be entertaining to both learn and practice, thanks in part to the foodie revolution, which added a much-needed dose of levity to the staid old Emily Post playbook. Today, it’s easier to laugh while you learn – though learn you must.

Let’s start simply with the formal place-setting basics, shall we? Generally speaking, utensils are always placed in the order of use, beginning farthest from the plate and working in.

Forks: I know; where’s my spork, right? Follow me here. If you see two forks before you, the one on the outside is your salad fork and the one nearest your plate is for your entrée. If there are three forks present, the larger middle one is your entrée fork and the outside one is for a fish course. If salad is to be served before the entree, it’ll be outside the fish fork; if it’s to be served after the entrée, it’ll be on the inside nearest the plate.

Knives: You may face up to three knives to the right of your plate. The dinner knife is plate-side, followed by the fish knife. If salad is to precede those courses, a salad knife will be next to the plate; if not, it will be on the outside. Knives are always set with their blades facing the plate.

Spoons: Next to and outside of the knife configuration, you’ll find a soup/fruit spoon, and possibly an oyster fork, in that order. A teaspoon and dessert fork also may be placed horizontally above your plate, spoon facing left, fork right.

Table4 If you’re hopelessly confused by all the utensils, simply take your cues from others at the table (it’s always polite to wait, after all) until they become second nature.

Now let’s turn to table manners. Here are the basics:

  • For parties of eight or less, begin eating only when everyone is served or permission is granted by those still waiting.
  • Bread is always passed to the right, never to the left. Before passing, always offer the bread to the person on your left as a courtesy. The person seated directly in front of the bread (or butter) initiates its passing.
  • Salt and pepper are always passed together.
  • When you finish each course, place your knife, blade toward you, and fork side by side diagonally across your plate.
  • Should you leave the table, fold your napkin and place it to the left of your place setting.
  • Maintain an erect posture. You may rest hands or wrists on the table but never forearms or elbows.
  • Gentlemen should rise when a lady arrives or departs the table; the nearest one also should pull out her chair and assist in seating her.

To show proper respect at table, avoid these 10 etiquette faux pas:

  • No phones or calls: It’s the height of rudeness to have your phone on while dining, and unconscionable to actually place it on the table. If you know you have an incoming call you must take, inform your group beforehand and thank them for understanding upon your return. Never, never initiate a call while dining, at table or otherwise.
  • Never speak with your mouth full.
  • Never gesture with your silverware.
  • Never place your silverware on the table once you’ve used it.
  • Never cut up your meal before you start to eat.
  • Never reach across another diner. Instead, politely ask them if they’d mind passing the Grey Poupon.
  • Avoid a TMI exit: While we all heed nature’s call, it’s strictly déclassé to announce your destination. A simple “Please excuse me” will suffice.
  • Never leave your spoon in a cup.
  • Never use a toothpick or otherwise pick at your teeth at table.
  • If you’re picking up the check, inform your waiter beforehand to avoid an unnecessary and awkward end to an otherwise perfect evening.
Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

Leave a Comment