The meal begins when the host unfolds his or her napkin. This is the guest’s signal to do the same. Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin. Typically, you want to put your napkin on your lap soon after sitting down at the table (but follow your host’s lead). The napkin remains on your lap throughout the entire meal and should be used to gently blot your mouth. If you need to leave the table during the meal, place your napkin on your chair. The host will signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your napkin neatly on the table to the right of your dinner plate. (Do not refold your napkin, but don’t wad it up, either.)
If, after looking over the menu, there are items you are uncertain about, ask your server any questions you may have. Answering your questions is part of the server’s job. It is better to find out before you order that a dish is prepared with something you do not like or are allergic to than to spend the entire meal picking tentatively at your food.
An employer will generally suggest that your order be taken first; his or her order will be taken last. Sometimes, however, the server will decide how the ordering will proceed. Often, women’s orders are taken before men’s.
As a guest, you should not order one of the most expensive items on the menu or more than two courses unless your host indicates that it is all right. If the host says, “I’m going to try this delicious sounding cheesecake; why don’t you try dessert too,” or “The prime rib is the specialty here; I think you’d enjoy it,” then it is all right to order that item if you would like.
Use of Silverware
Choosing the correct silverware from the variety in front of you is not as difficult as it may first appear. Starting with the knife, fork, or spoon that is farthest from your plate, work your way in, using one utensil for each course. The salad fork is on your outermost left, followed by your dinner fork. Your soup spoon is on your outermost right, followed by your salad knife and dinner knife. Your dessert spoon and fork are above your plate or brought out with dessert. If you remember the rule to work from the outside in, you’ll be fine.
There are two ways to use a knife and fork to cut and eat your food. They are the American style and the European or Continental style. Either style is considered appropriate. In the American style, one cuts the food by holding the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand with the fork tines holding the food to the plate. Cut a few bite-size pieces of food, then lay your knife across the top edge of your plate with the sharp edge of the blade facing in. Change your fork from your left to your right hand to eat, fork tines facing up. (If you are lefthanded, keep your fork in your left hand, tines facing up.) The European or Continental style is the same as the American style in that you cut your meat by holding your knife in your right hand while securing your food with your fork in your left hand. Your fork remains in your left hand, tines facing down, and the knife in your right hand. Simply eat the cut pieces of food by picking them up with your fork still in your left hand.
When You Are Finished
Do not push your plate away from you when you are finished eating. Leave your plate where it is in the place setting. The common way to show that you are finished with your meal is to lay your fork and knife diagonally across your plate. Place your knife and fork side by side, with the sharp side of the knife blade facing inward and the fork, tines down, to the left of the knife. The knife and fork should be placed as if they are pointing to the numbers 10 and 4 on a clock face. Make sure they are placed in such a way that they do not slide off the plate as it is being removed. Once you have used a piece of silverware, never place it back on the table. Do not leave a used spoon in a cup, either; place it on the saucer. You can leave a soup spoon in a soup plate. Any unused silverware is simply left on the table.
Basic Table Manners
- It is inappropriate to ask for a doggy bag when you are a guest. Save the doggy bag for informal dining situations.
- It is best to order foods that can be eaten with a knife and fork. Finger foods can be messy and are best left for informal dining.
- Do not order alcoholic beverages. Drinking too much when dining out is one of the most disliked behaviors.
- Do not smoke while dining out.
- Turn off your cell phone, even if it’s a business dinner. If you’re expecting a call, particularly from a guest who’s late, let everyone know and set the volume on your phone to low or vibrate. Make essential calls very brief and apologize to the host/hostess immediately, and to other guests after.
- Never, ever send or respond to text messages at the table. Since it’s stored on your phone, you can reply after dinner.
- Set your limits. Two cocktails at dinner is more than enough for anyone. After that, switch to water or a soft beverage or perhaps a wine. Don’t over do the wines either. The last thing you want people to think about you is that you’re a drunk.
- Sit up straight at the table. It makes a good impression.
- When you are not eating, keep your hands on your lap or resting on the table (with wrists on the edge of the table). Elbows on the table are acceptable only between courses, not while you are eating.
- Do not season your food before you have tasted it.
- Never chew with your mouth open or make loud noises when you eat.
- Although it is possible to talk with a small piece of food in your mouth, do not talk with your mouth full.
- Do not slurp soup from a spoon. Spoon the soup away from you when you take it out of the bowl and sip it from the side of the spoon. If your soup is too hot to eat, let it sit until it cools; do not blow on it.
- If food gets caught between your teeth and you can’t remove it with your tongue, leave the table and go to a mirror where you can remove the food from your teeth in private.
- You should not leave the table during the meal except in an emergency.
- If you must go to the bathroom or if you suddenly become sick, simply excuse yourself. Later you can apologize to the host by saying that you didn’t feel well.
- If you need something that you cannot reach easily, politely ask the person closest to the item you need to pass it to you. For example, “After you have used them yourself, would you please pass me the salt and pepper?”
- If a piece of your silverware falls onto the floor, pick it up if you can reach it and let the server know you need a clean one. If you cannot reach it, tell the server you dropped a piece of your silverware and ask for a clean one.
- If you or someone you are dining with is lefthanded, it is best for the lefthanded person to sit at left end of the table or at the head of the table. This arrangement helps ensure that everyone has adequate elbow room to eat comfortably.
- If food spills off your plate, you may pick it up with a piece of your silverware and place it on the edge of your plate.
- Never spit a piece of bad food or tough gristle into your napkin. Remove the food from your mouth using the same utensil it went in with. Place the piece of food on the edge of your plate. If possible, cover it with some other food from your plate.