Dinner Etiquette

I’ve always been fascinated by etiquette, including which fork to use and where to put your napkin when you leave the table. It’s like a little game, and it can make you feel more confident and empowered. So, here’s a handy guide to eating dinner, illustrated by the fantastic Gemma Correll

If you’re a guest at a dinner party (pictured above), wait to start eating until the host or hostess takes his or her first bite (unless they absolutely insist that you start).

A funny tip that my grandparents used to tell us: The way to sit in your chair is to pretend a cat is in front of you, a mouse is behind.

Your wine and water glasses are to the RIGHT of your plate. Your bread plate is to the LEFT of your plate. If you remember that, you’ll never drink someone’s water or eat their bread again! (A genius tip from readers: To remember the order of the placesetting, think “BMW” — for bread, then meal, then water.)

Surprisingly, salt and pepper should be passed together, even if someone asks only for one. They’re considered “married!”

Never intercept a pass. For example, don’t snag a roll out of the bread basket when it’s on the way to someone else. (You’ll just have to ask them to pass the basket right back!)

Scoop your soup with your spoon tilted *away* from you. And surprise! It’s fine to tilt the bowl slightly away from you to get the last drop of soup. But never blow on your soup or food. Even if it’s piping hot!

Always taste your food before putting on salt and pepper. It’s considered rude to assume the food is under-seasoned before tasting it.

Once you’ve picked up a utensil, it should never touch the table again. You want your utensils to rest fully on the edge of your plate. (“No oars!” gasp the experts.)

When you are finished with your meal, your knife and fork should be placed on your plate diagonally from upper left to lower right (11 to 5 if you imagine your plate as a clock face). This is a secret code to the waiter (or host) that you’re finished.

If you have to go to the bathroom—or if you’re getting up at the end of the meal—just put your napkin to the left of your plate, loosely folded.

Yay, that’s it! Bon appetit!

P.S. And 8 etiquette tips for drinking wine

(Illustrations by the amazing Gemma Correll for Cup of Jo)

  1. A says...

    I worked with a guy once who used to tell us about his gap year travelling and how he worked at a restaurant and that if your fork and knife are sitting apart on your plate it means you are finished. It made me cringe for him but he said it with such authority I couldn’t bring myself to correct him!

  2. A says...

    Love this! Feels like table etiquette is disappearing these days. My Mom always made sure we had not just good table manners but that we knew good table etiquette, although the interception one is one for me to work on! :)

  3. Johnny says...

    Restaurant ordering is so easy and it does not cost anything to be polite.
    It makes me cringe when friends are ignorant. So, here is my take on being polite. Laddies and then the elders order first unless they invite you to go ahead and order or if the wait staff is directing you to order. “I would like to order the xxx please.” NOT – “I want” or “I’ll get” or “Give me” or “Bring me”. A special request: “Could you please…” NOT – “Would you” or “Can you” or “I need you to”.
    So now together… “I would like to order the xxx please and Could you also xxx please.” Then as your served say, “Thank you…!”
    Then, if you were not taught proper table manners go to You Tube and watch a few. Just so they are not Brits eating with an upside down fork in their left hand…! Oink…!!!

  4. I once caused havoc on an internet forum for suggesting it’s rude to salt your food before tasting. But of course it is! (I even think it’s quite rude afterwards, to be honest!) Love this.

  5. Love these tips, especially the fingertip trick. I’ve never heard that one before. I also was taught that, when passing the salt and pepper together of course, they should be set on the table rather than passed directly into someone else’s hands. Not sure what the history or reason is, but its what my grandmother taught me.

  6. My mother wedged books under our armpits when teaching us to cut our meat so that we’d keep our elbows elegantly by our sides. To this day I’m irked by barbarians who throw elbows at a 90-degree angle at the table!