Elegant Dining Etiquette

If you were a professional athlete you’d have to train every day.

If you were a concert cellist you’d have to practice for hours on end.  So it stands to reason that if you want to dine with the best, you must fine tune your skills.  I recommend doing this three times a day, every day.  Admittedly, though, you would be forgiven for not starching the monogrammed linens for breakfast.  

Here are just a few tips that will make your dining experience pleasurable, safe and elegant:

  • Enter your chair with your left hip  (from the right side of the chair). If everyone did this—as they should—there would be no traffic jams at seating time.  How often has a dinner been delayed because of a pile up?  Well, I don’t know, but if it ever happens, you wouldn’t want it to be your fault, would you
  • Napkins are placed either on the left of the plate or on the presentation plate—charger, as it is sometimes called. (Never put the napkin in the water glass, and no swan shapes, please!)  Napkins can be placed onto your lap once the hostess has done likewise.  Luncheon (that is posh for lunch) sized napkins will be unfurled completely, but dinner sized napkins should remain loosely folded with the fold toward you (so you can daintily dab the corners of your mouth with the far edge).  If, for whatever life-or-death type of reason, you must leave the table during a meal, the napkin should remain on the chair until your return.  At the end of the meal, and only upon leaving the table for good, it should be placed on the left side of the plate.  This signals to the wait staff that you are finished.   Please note: they prefer it if you do not hide your peas in there.  You’re a grown up, eat them, they are good for you.
  • When asked for the salt, pass it along with the pepper. (Whether or not both were requested, they like to travel together.)  Place them both on the table within reach of the person who asked.  Salt is never passed hand-to-hand, considered bad luck in many cultures.  (Judas spilled the salt during the last supper, he was never asked back.)
  • To politely refuse a drink being poured, just put two fingers on the rim of your glass.  Not the whole palm, just in case the flow of wine has begun.  Try it once if you don’t believe me!   One thing that should never be on the rim of your glass is your lipstick.  The trick to that is either blot after application or don’t wear any.
  • If you are asked to pass food, remember that it goes counter-clockwise … If you don’t have a clock, that means pass to the person seated on your right.  Food should most often be served from the left side and that is effectively what you are doing.  Reasoning: most people are right handed so if food comes from the left they can use their right hand to serve themselves.
  • Drinks, on the other hand … are served from the right.  It’s easy to remember, because that is where the glasses are.
  • Everyone’s favorite after dinner tipple*, port, is passed around port-side, after pouring a glass for the person on your right.  Port-side, for those who don’t know, is left.  Easy to remember: Your boat LEFT the PORT.  (I just thought I would add that in, as perhaps it might save your life one day, or at the very least, your boat.)  Evidently, etiquette is principally designed for clock and boat owners.
  • The most important thing to remember is to observe what the hostess or host is doing, and try to do likewise.  (Unless s/he is shouting at someone—then don’t do that.)
  • Oh, and one last thing—no matter how tempting, don’t wish everyone a “Bon appétit” at the outset of a meal.  People are not waiting for your green light to start their meal. To encourage their appetite suggests the food is so grim they need you to cheerlead for them if they are going to even consider eating it.

There now.  You are very nearly ready to dine with the pros.  There are more tips, of course, but I don’t want to overwhelm you on your first day of training.  Practice as much as you can and we’ll cover the rest in another post.

 Bon appétit! (Just kidding.)

 *I just made that up, but everything else is true.


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