The festive entertaining season is not far off and there is no time like the present to brush up on table etiquette and party manners. I remind students in Foods classes at school about their table manners and tell them they can eat however they choose at home but in public a few manners will go a long way to making good impressions.
The Dinner Party
Small or large dinner parties have a few rules for the host and guest. Casual parties can be arranged at the last minute but during a busy holiday season it is best to give three to six weeks notice. The type of invitation is determined by how formal the affair is. There is nothing wrong with a telephone call or an email for casual parties.
Have your home clean and tidy and rearrange furniture to accommodate the number of guests, if necessary. Adjust the room temperature and lighting and decide if you would like background music. Have plenty of clean towels or use disposable paper napkins in the bathroom.
Don’t begin clean up and washing dishes until guests have left, unless of course someone overstays their welcome.
As a guest, respond to the invitation as soon as possible. Don’t bring a friend unless invited to do so and never ask if you can. Arrive on time. A token hostess gift is a nice gesture. If place cards are set do not rearrange them. Turn off your cell phone ringer. Don’t be the last to leave and always thank the host for the evening.
How to Set a Table
The dinner plate is set in the centre and about one inch from the edge of the table and the salad plate to the left. Forks are placed to the left of the plate and spoons and knives to the right. The rule of thumb is to place the utensils in order of use from the outside toward the plate. If there is a salad before the main course then place a salad fork on the outside and a dinner fork next to the plate. If the salad is served with the meal there is no need for a salad fork.
The dinner knife is placed to the right of the plate with the blade toward the plate. Spoons are next to the knife. The soup spoon, if needed, is the outermost spoon.
If you are using a bread and butter plate place it directly above the forks with the butter knife resting on the plate at a diagonal. Water and other glasses are above the knife and outward from there ending with a coffee cup. The napkin can be placed on the dinner plate or to the left of the forks.
How to Hold Utensils
Next time you are in a restaurant look around and see how many people make a fist to hold their utensils. The fork or spoon should rest on the middle finger of the hand as the index finger and thumb grip the handle.
There are two different ways you can use your cutlery during a meal – the American or the Continental style. Both are proper and both may be used and interchanged in the same meal. In both styles the food is speared with the fork tines pointing down and in the left hand if you are right handed. The index finger presses down at the base of the handle. Use your right hand to hold the knife with the index finger where the handle meets the blade. Keep your elbows close to the body.
With the American style rest the knife on the side of the plate and move the fork to your right hand. With tines up spear the food and move it to your mouth.
If you use the Continental style you may rest the knife on the side of the plate or hold it in your right hand. Then with tines down move the food to your mouth.
Do you ever wonder if you should put your used cutlery on the tablecloth? Never. Don’t prop them on the edge of the plate either. Place them near the centre of the plate with the tips pointing toward each other or the knife can rest on the edge of the plate and the fork in the middle of the plate.
When the meal is finished place the fork and knife together diagonally on the right side of the plate with the knife blade facing inward. This indicates you are finished and the plate can be taken away.
During the Meal
Do you take your napkin and tuck it under your chin like a bib? I hope not. The napkin should be unfolded and placed across your lap as soon as you sit down.
When do you begin to eat? I served food to one of my kids’ cooking class groups and they were sitting there letting the food go cold. When I asked why they didn’t begin eating they reminded me of the rule I just taught them. Don’t begin until the host or hostess begins or you are invited to do so.
Are you shoveling your food with your fork or slouching over your plate? Wrong. Also resist the urge to fuss with utensils, rap your knuckles on the table or other fidgety habits. A good place for hands is on the lap.
Are you a chipmunk at the table? Don’t take large bites and store food in your cheek? Take a manageable bite and finish it before putting more food in your mouth. And don’t talk while chewing food or taking a drink.
Do you cut all your food like the baby’s plate? Cut only enough for four or five bites, lay down your knife and eat.
Do you have a boarding house reach? Reach only as far as your arm extends without crossing in front of another person. If you cannot reach simply ask, “Please pass the item” and say thank you.
Chasing a piece of food around your plate with your fork? If you are unable to pick up a piece of food with your fork don’t use your fingers to help it along. Use your knife or a piece of bread as a pusher.
Never push your plate away when you are finished eating and announce, “I’m finished!”
Children’s Table Manners
By age six children should arrive at the table with clean hands and face. They begin to eat when everyone else does or are given permission. They will use a fork or spoon properly and begin to learn how to use a knife. They will ask for food rather than reaching and always say “please” and “thank you”. They know not to talk with food in their mouth and do not make negative comments about the food. They do not interrupt when someone is talking and they ask, “May I please be excused?” when they are finished.
By age 12 they leave plates and utensils alone until the meal begins. They watch the host and follow meal-starting rituals without comment. They sit with good posture and feet on the floor. They use all utensils correctly, take reasonable portions of food and ask for seconds, if necessary. They are polite and join in the table conversation, drink quietly with glass in one hand and try a bit of everything. Uneaten food is left on the plate and not hidden in a napkin. They offer to help at the end of the meal.