Starting with the Basics

Which glass is mine? Do I use the inside or outside fork first? What do I do with the napkin after I finish my meal? That’s my bread plate… I think? Long ago, we learned these things at the dinner table or in school; however today, schools place more emphasis on sports than manners, and table etiquette is rarely taught in the homes.

Does this mean that etiquette is no longer important for those of us living in the 21st century? No. To the contrary, knowing proper dining etiquette is as important today as it was thousands of years ago and etiquette plays a significant role in how we are viewed by others. Our dining decorum is a visible display of our manners. Knowing proper table mannerisms is not only important for the teen experiencing his or her first date, the bride and groom on their wedding day, the business professional, or the politician, but also the casual diner. By being table savvy, one could avoid embarrassing situations and make a good impression.

Monthly I will be providing tips to help you master the art of dining. Let’s get started.

  • Upon your arrival at the table, speak or introduce yourself to the other dining companions before sitting down. It’s impolite to shout across the table.
  • In formal settings, remain standing until the host or hostess has been seated. A gentleman should seat his female guest (whom will be seated to the right of him). Ladies, when being seated, enter your chair from the left side and rise from the right.
  • Use good posture while seated at the table; chins above your plate and hands generally in your lap. Elbows are sometimes permitted on the table if no food is in front of you; however my personal preference is to keep them off the table.
  • Do not place personal belongings on the table. Small purses should be placed on one’s lap under the napkin and large bags and briefcases on the floor.
  • Now, even though you may be famished, do not begin eating until all have been served. If you are dining buffet style, wait until at least half of the diners have returned before indulging.
  • Finally, for those of you attending formal affairs and weddings, never re-arrange place-cards to suit your needs. It’s a breach of etiquette!


Napkin Etiquette

The napkin is one of the most important tools at the table. It is used to start the meal, end the meal, wipe your mouth and fingers, and catch crumbs.

To begin a meal, the small luncheon napkin (usually a paper napkin) should be completely unfolded, whereas the large dinner napkin (18-24 inches) should be folded in half and placed in your lap. Never place your napkin in your shirt to be used as a bib. The napkin remains in your lap throughout the meal. If you have to leave the table during the middle of the meal, place the napkin on the back of the chair (try not to reveal the dirty side). If the napkin falls to the floor, do not pick it up, just ask the waiter for another one. Once you have completed your meal, neatly place the napkin to the left of your plate.

Until next time…Happy Dining!

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Tina Hayes is the founder and owner of The School of Etiquette and Decorum in Antioch, CA. As a passionate instructor dedicated to providing quality and professional etiquette training to her clients, Mrs. Tina Hayes promotes the awareness that social presentation and behaviors are important to be successful in today's society for all ages.