Dinner EtiquetteHow are your manners? Tips to remember when eating in a formal atmosphere. by Claudia Figueroa
There's probably a good explanation why your friends haven't invited you to a formal dinner party in years, or why your spouse doesn't like to eat with you in public: You have bad table manners! Here are a few easy tips to remember when eating in a formal atmosphere.
At first glance, a place setting at a formal dinner can be intimidating to those who are unfamiliar with such events. Some would rather go up against a firing squad than learn the arrangement of plates, glasses and utensils. Relax, it's a cinch. And, if time permits, practice at home with a friend or your spouse before the big event.
A dinner plate (or some call it a "service plate") is centered in front of each guest, with a cloth napkin on top of it (whatever you do, do not use your napkin as a tissue to blow your nose. Excuse yourself politely, leaving your napkin on your chair, and go to the rest room). Flanking the plate will be the flatware: a dinner fork to the immediate left of the plate and a salad fork on the outside. To the right of the plate are, from closet to furthest, the salad knife, the dinner knife, a soupspoon, and, if shell fish is being served, a shellfish fork. Don't forget, utensils are used in order from the outside in. Glasses are usually placed above the knives to the right of the plate. There will be a water glass and, extending to the right from there, a champagne glass and one or two wine glasses. In addition to the dinner plate, a butter plate is found above the forks, to the left of the dinner plate. The butter knife (in some cases it is the smallest of the knife selection) is usually set across the butter plate.
Do's and Don'ts: Always say please when asking for something. Be sure to say thank you to your server and bus boy after they have removed any used items. Always make eye contact with your food server. Don't use your fork to pick your teeth at the dinner table. Always finish chewing your food before speaking, that way you don't have to cover your mouth when you want to say something. If someone asks you a question while you are in mid-chew, just smile (mouth closed) and swallow your food before you reply. If someone is treating you to a meal, let's say at a find seafood restaurant, it is always polite not to order the most expensive item on the menu...like a lobster dinner...unless your host recommends it to you. And it would be wise not to use the President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal as a conversation topic in the presence of a businessman and his wife. Talk about lighter subjects; discuss common interests or hobbies. Never pry into someone's personal history unless it is volunteered, and try to avoid heavy subjects such as politics and religion.
All of the above applies to formal home parties. But when they are in your own home, always be sure the basic setting is in place when guests sit down to eat. And a few tips: the host or hostess sit at either end of the table; a male guest of honor sits at the hostess' right and a female guest of honor at the host's right. Other guests are escorted to their seats by the host or hostess. Place cards are optional. For a formal dinner at home, start with the guests being served from the left, and plates are cleared from the right (This procedure is standard practice in most formal restaurants). The female guests are served before men or, if there are no women present, other guests should be served in order. Depending on your supply of tabletop items, a clean plate should be brought out for each of the courses.
Then and Now: Some etiquette starved critics say it is customary to wait until the host unfolds his or her napkin before doing so yourself. Don't bother waiting; always lay your napkin on your lap once you have been seated at the table. However, you should never begin a meal until all members of your party are ready, unless they indicate to you that you may begin your meal without them.
The knife closest to your dinner plate used to be referred to as the "meat knife," but now there are far too many vegetarians in this world who would disagree. Without risking a harmless insult, perhaps you should simply call it a dinner knife.
Ordering alcohol at formal dinners has not always been looked upon highly. But, one should remember that dinner parties are supposed to be fun and (once table manners come naturally) relaxing. Feel free to enjoy a glass of wine with your meal, or an after dinner drink with dessert - just don't over do it, or your could find yourself looking less attractive then you thought. You know your limit.
No elbows on the table. Everybody does it. Just act natural if you are among friends.