Monday, August 2, 2010

Manners Monday: Table Etiquette


While there isn’t a set of manners better or more important than another per se, I believe table manners are some of the most necessary. After all, we eat several times per day, often in the company of others-business clients; colleagues, family and friends. As such, I have chosen this for today’s topic.

Knowing and exhibiting proper table etiquette will allow you to ease through dining experience with polish and grace and are essential to professional success. The purpose of manners and etiquette is always to make others and yourself feel more comfortable, not less comfortable.

20 Table Etiquette Tips

1. Be properly dressed for the dining occasion. It is always better to arrive overdressed vs. under dressed.

2. Never speak with food in your mouth, and always chew with your mouth closed-I listed this first because it is without a doubt the most essential.

3. Always turn your cell phone off before preparing to dine with others.

4. Do not smoke at the table. It can ruin a good meal for others still eating and may not be accepted by everyone, especially non-smokers.

5. Place your napkin in your lap upon being seated and keep it there until you have completely finished eating.

6. Keep elbows at your sides and off of the table. Use good posture, avoid slouching or lean back in your chair, even if it’s late and you’re extremely tired.

7. If water is placed on the table, proper etiquette dictates that the closest person to it should offer to pour for everyone, being sure to serve themselves last. The same applies to coffee and tea also.

8. Resist the urge to order a dish that would be hard to eat with a knife and fork, you’ll only draw unwanted attention to yourself. Also, do not pick up anything with your fingers, except for bread. Foods like chicken wings or corn-on-the-cob should never be served or ordered at a formal dinner.

9. Do not order the most expensive items on the menu unless you are specifically told that it is okay to do so. Likewise, do not order an alcoholic drink unless your host does first. Should they choose to, it is acceptable for you to also have one but etiquette dictates that you should limit yourself to just that one. Should a server arrive at the table and ask you before the host has ordered, you can mention that you are still deciding.

10. Only season your food once you have tasted it first. When passing the salt and pepper it’s important to remember that they travel together like a bride & groom, so be sure to pass them both to the next person who requests either one.

11. Should you require something from across the table, always ask someone to pass it to you, it is never acceptable to reach across the table.

12. When at a formal table setting, always pick up and use utensils from the outside in towards the dinner plate. One you’ve picked up a utensil, it shouldn’t touch the table again. If it falls to the floor, do not pick it up and be sure to ask for a replacement.

13. While eating, be sure to slice food pieces small enough that you can eat what is on your fork in one bite. Do not leave half of the food on your utensil.

14. Cut one piece of food at a time and eat each piece before cutting another. Avoid cutting up food into small pieces on your plate all at once as if preparing to serve it to a toddler.

15. Never comment negatively about the food that is being served in someone’s home, but in a restaurant do mention what you would like changed so that you can enjoy your meal, especially as it pertains to items that are under cooked or overcooked.

16. Never move food from your plate to another person's plate or take food off of someone else's plate. Appetizer plates are fine for sharing and in such case your server should offer each person at the table some of each. In casual settings it would be appropriate for each person to take a bit of the appetizers, leaving enough for other guests.

17. Always try your best to keep pace with the other people you are dining with. Social etiquette requires that you shouldn’t finish your meal long after or before your dining companion does.

18. It is never okay to fix one’s hair, use a toothpick or otherwise pick teeth at the table, or apply lipstick or other makeup. The ladies’ room is the appropriate place to floss teeth, and get freshened up.

19. Try to visit the restroom if necessary upon arrival, before the meal begins or after all food has been cleared from the table. It is poor etiquette to leave the table in the middle of a meal. Only do so if it is an emergency.

20. When leaving the table, always be sure to push in your chair.

This is by no means a complete list as this is a topic that could bring about a whole book of recommendations and considerations. Instead of writing a really long post, I thought I’d ask you what tips you learned while growing up that really stuck with you, or that you now teach your own children as it pertains to table manners? I’d love to hear how you are doing things in your home.

In case you missed it, our most viewed post ever shows you how to set both a formal and informal place setting as we explore the topic of how to properly set a table.

Let's Socialize!

Thank you for reading!


*photo credit


  1. Thank you so much for these, Karla. They're really helpful. Looking forward to more posts like this!

  2. Thank you so much for this useful post. I really love your blog and I am glad I joined it.

  3. I think I need to send this to my husband who constantly breaks rule #16 and snatches food from my plate.

  4. I was proud of myself until I reached the exchanging food rule, my husband and I always do this at the Japanese Steak House because I don't like all the veggies and he does!!!!!

  5. Thanks for the comments ladies! :) Not to worry M.O.T.B, in more casual settings and at home it is completely appropriate to 'share' if it's agreed upon. It's just not okay to move food around without asking the other person first.


  6. This is a great list. I especially love that you included the water pouring tip - you don't hear this very often, but it so appreciated and I try to be conscious of it when I'm the designated pourer.

    Regarding your button - just let me know what your button is grabbable and I'll make sure to put it on my site. Glad to hear your would like to do this. Have a beautiful day.

  7. Wonderful tips Karla. I have to admit, I'm guilty of giving my leftovers to my hubby if the host and cooks are up and not looking.

    Here is something you could touch on maybe? I'm in this situation a lot! I'm not a red meat eater. Sometimes the host will just serve me a huge plate of meat and I don't know what to do or say.
    Othertimes I feel rude by not trying the dish so I take a small serving and try it but ugggg....It's not easy eating something you don't enjoy and I don't want to be rude.

    When my brothers family comes over it's just a known fact they are vegan and no one ever takes offense. For someone like me who eats fish and white meat it gets to be so tricky.....HELP :)

  8. I know I already commented once I have to tell you that I have been immensely enjoying your blog! The subject is fascinating to me. Thank you for all that I'm learning here. :)

  9. On number 15 you should mention that if you're being treated to dinner out in a restaurant you should not complain about the food nor send it back under any circumstances. That is a breach of etiquette, not to mention rude.

  10. Kathie,

    Thanks for commenting. I agree on no.15 that it is definitely rude to complain about a meal at a restaurant, especially when someone else is footing the bill and treating you.

    However, I disagree with 'under any circumstances'. Your health comes first and if you received a really undercooked piece of meat or you found glass in your salad (which happened to me several years ago), you should definitely speak up.

    Nobody should ever be expected to eat something that could make them ill in the name of proper etiquette.


  11. This is really going to open up a discussion. In one of Emily Post's books she states that if you do experience undercooked meat, EVEN a BUG in your soup - gross, I know - it's states to not complain. Just take a small bite of the meat, simply don't eat the soup, and never say a word. Yes, I think this is crazy, but I've also been taught this in other etiquette classes - especially when I came to Washington.

    Do I agree with this? NO - but I have to say that I've experienced both. I didn't say anything about the food, but another time when I found a hair (sorry, but to me that's worse than a bug), I excused myself and pretended to use the ladies room. I said something to the waiter and told him to be discreet because I didn't want to embarrass my hostess.

    Some of these are hard, aren't they? What would you all do if you found something disgusting in your food? I'd dying to know!

  12. Wait! It was Letitia Balridge rather than Emily Post.

  13. Thanks again Kathie for sharing. This post has certainly stirred up some disussion which is great! What's interesting in Letitia Baldrige's book on New Manners for New Times is that she does not address the issue of improperly cooked food at all.

    She does however encourage us to pick up a bug with our napkin, if it crawls out of our salad, and to squish it dead while under the table as to avoid alarming others at the table who are eating. I would personally have difficulty eating something that I knew had say, a spider crawling around on it first. LOL.

    Many different etiquette experts agree that if the food is not edible, or grossly under or over cooked, then it would be appropriate restaurant etiquette to discreetly point it out to the host and let them deal with it as above.

    After all, if you are dining with people who care about you, they would want you to enjoy your meal and not become ill in the process (regardless of who is paying), likewise taking only one small bite of a meat entree would tip them off that something isn't right, which could in effect make them uncomfortable.

    I am curious too for all of my other readers to share their thoughts on handling such a dilemma. :)

  14. This is great, Karla! We all say our pleases and thank yous, but table manners can be overlooked ... and they're so easy to follow when you know the proper etiquette! I just wish more people actually entertained so we had places to practice! Great post.
    -Deb for Ouidad

  15. Every time more interesting! Great!

  16. Can we get your thoughts, as Kristin asked, what do you do if you are served meat/fish/poultry and you are a vegetarian or vegan?

    Let's assume you notified the host prior to the event of your dietary restrictions.

    For me, as the host, I would like to know because my first priority is the enjoyment of my guests but I would like to know how I should react as the guest in this situation.



  17. Love this post! I would just like to reply to Ernest with my own situation... when we host dinners (which is often) ... and I invite someone I am not sure of their dietary needs I ask them when I issue the invite so no one is left out :)

  18. My mom never let my bite my utensils because it makes a little *clink sound, haha! now it's a pet peeve of mine!!! My children will be taught the same way, also making huge gulping sounds, basically any unpleasant sounds, I think I'm a little too sensitive to it now...


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