Dinner table etiquette

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Dinner table
This looks ornate so act the part
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Ways to improve your dinner table etiquette so that you can dine at any table

Dinner table etiquette can be a difficult thing to master for some. Whether it be a formal or relaxed dinner setting, there are proper rules to follow. Fortunately, these rules are mostly simple notions that will help your retain a feel of high class at your next dinner function.

There are different styles to choose from when eating, as well as ways to move the food and take utensils in order to look the part of a polite and well-schooled diner. As is the norm, it's about having an evening of fun, entertainment, good company, and great food. A part of this is manners and decorum, so below, we'll take a look at some simple ways to be a great dinner guest for your host.

What to Look For at the Dinner Table?

At most basic gatherings, there will be enough silverware and cutlery that you simply work your way from the outside in. For the first courses, like salads and soups, you'll normally find your utensils on the outside. For desserts, or other such third courses, one will normally look to the space at the top of the plate to find either a fork or spoon ready and waiting to be used.

How to Look the Part?

You may eat using either the American style of eating or the Continental style. With one, you'll look like a real American. And with the other, you'll seem European. So, what's the difference, you ask? 

  • With the American style of eating, one cuts holding the item with the prongs of the fork held in their left hand, and the knife in their right. After cutting, the knife is put down and they will switch their fork to their right hand. The knife will reside on the plate after cutting, as well.
  • For the Continental style of eating, the fork will stay in your left hand, with the knife remaining in your right as you eat. This means, basically, that you are lifting the fork to your mouth with the tines curving downward and the back of the fork facing up.

For both styles, always use a relaxed and natural manner to grasp your utensils. For the American style, it will be tines up. On the opposite spectrum, it will be tines down for the Continental style, as pictured here.

It is quite simply about preference and how you feel as you eat. Both styles are acceptable for dinner guests to use as they eat. It just becomes about how and where you were raised in terms of which style you prefer.

Some Tips for Proper Dinner Table Etiquette

When should you start eating? If the hostess, after slaving over your meal, is just sitting down and you're getting up due to the fact you're finished already, you may have done something horribly wrong. Always look to start eating at the same time as the hostess. Basically, do what she does: sit, eat, place your napkin on your lap, etc. Now, if she tells you to go ahead without her, as she's still busy preparing the next portion of your meal, feel free to listen to her and start eating.

For the passing of food in serving pieces, always hand it to your right and always hand in one direction only. After completing your meal, never place a piece of used silverware back on the table. Simply place it on your plate. Some people have detailed ideas of how to place used silverware on their plate, such as placing their silverware close together on the plate, with said utensils almost entirely on it (with less than an inch of your utensils over the side of the plate).  Others believe they should cross the knife and fork, one from the right and the other from the left. This is a bit extreme, so just follow the hard and fast rule of placing utensils on your plate in any manner you see fit.

As you eat and converse, it's important to rest your silverware on your plate between bites of food and during conversation. For the bread and butter plate (if there is one), it's important to place both on the plate. Work to break the bread into smaller pieces, while buttering each piece as you eat it.


Missouri.edu: Dinner Etiquette.

Paula Deen: Dinner Decorum: A Guide to Table Manners.

Above photo attributed to CarbonNYC

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