The Return of Family Dining

“Mark, Michael …Cameron, dinner is ready”; “It’s time to eat”. How often today do households hear the echoing sounds of mothers calling the family to the dinner table? Family dining is becoming a lost art and what a shame because table manners and dining etiquette was mostly taught and practiced at the kitchen table. A mother could be seen demonstrating to her children the proper way to cut food, and a dad, most often, could be heard scolding his son for not washing his hands before arriving at the table.

We are entering the Fall season and what a great opportunity to spend more time at the dinner table enjoying family meals together. It’s also the perfect time of the year to host an old-fashion Sunday Dinner.

Here are some etiquette tips to keep in mind while dining at the table with family:

  • Wash your hands before arriving at the table.
  • When called to eat, arrive immediately, do not make others wait or make special arrangements to keep the food warm.
  • Start and end your meals together. No one should leave the table until all are finished.
  • Dinner conversation should always be pleasant. Do not talk about dieting, or anything of an argumentative nature. Enjoy spending time together and hearing about each other’s day.
  • Say ‘please’, and ‘thank-you’ when requesting or receiving foods or dining amenities.
  • Don’t make negative comments about the food. Out of respect, one should always try at least one bite of each dish (past experiences or looks can sometimes be deceiving).
  • Take medium to small bites when eating; chew foods well and never talk with food in your mouth.
  • Never place dirty utensils back on the table once used. When a utensil is not in use, it should be placed on your plate.
  • Don’t use toothpicks at the table; excuse yourself to the restroom if something gets lodged in your teeth.
  • Always pay a special compliment to the cook after the meal (even if it’s a family member that cooks daily). Compliments pay dividends down the road!
  • Remove your plate from the table and offer to help with the dishes.

For those Sunday Dinners with extended family and close friends, these are some key points to remember while enjoying foods like fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, greens, okra, black-eyed peas, corn bread and peach cobbler:

  • Prepare food ahead of time. Don’t start cooking the meal once the guests arrive.
  • Invited guests should arrive at the appointed time. Never early or no more than 10 minutes late.
  • Invited guests should bring the host or host family a small gift of appreciation.
  • Gentlemen seat the ladies.
  • If serving your guests, serve from the left and remove plates from the right.
  • If eating buffet style, wait until at least half of the diners are seated at the table before you start eating.
  • The host is served last.
  • When passing foods, pass to the right (counter-clockwise). Also place the dish on the table versus placing it in another’s hands (this helps avoid spills).
  • If something spills, don’t make a big fuss about it; clean it up and continue the meal. If you are the person to cause the incident, apologize and ask to help clean it up.
  • It is okay to eat fried chicken with your fingers; however in a formal setting, use a fork and knife.

Lastly, don’t hurry your meals. Make dining with family an enjoyable time that all look forward to. Practice polishing your dining etiquette skills at home; bring back the tradition of teaching dining etiquette at the table, then when you and your family are dining out, you’ll be naturals.

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.