Dinner Etiquette

Dinner Etiquette

Dinner Etiquette

Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!), so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting a popular post from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on April 11, 2012…

I’ve always been fascinated by etiquette, including which fork to use and where to put your napkin when you leave the table. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, but it can make you feel more confident. 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 takes his or her first bite (unless they absolutely insist that you start).

Dinner Etiquette

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.

Dinner Etiquette

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 place setting, think “BMW” — for bread, then meal, then water.)

Dinner Etiquette

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

Dinner Etiquette

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!)

Dinner EtiquetteDinner Etiquette

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

Dinner Etiquette

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.)

Dinner Etiquette

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.

Dinner Etiquette

If you go to the restroom — 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. Lauren says...

    A tip I feel is missing– how to butter your bread! You should always take a pat of butter, put it on your bread plate, and then tear the bite of bread you wish to eat and butter solely that piece. I cringe whenever I see someone ‘painting,’ a whole slice of bread or roll and then just taking a huge bite!! HA!

    • Rosie says...

      Yes! This one bothers me so much whether it is coworkers in the conference room with takeout or a $5000 a plate fundraiser or a casual bistro with friends. I can distinctly remember being taught that in Kindergarten by my mom.

    • Ellen says...

      Why? I totally see taking a pat of butter and then using your own knife, so the knife doesn’t go in the butter. But why can’t you butter a whole roll? Seriously curious about why this matters – most of the other rules have pretty clear reasons behind them for making the meal go more smoothly for others, etc. Interested!

  2. Isabella says...

    One variant that I was taught is that if you need to get up during the meal, you should put your napkin on your seat so that it’s politely out of sight of the other diners. I suppose this might be less hygenic, for the napkin’s user, than putting it on the table however! :)

  3. Tess says...

    As an elementary schoolteacher (in Europe) I always try to have a classdiner at the end of the year. I always tell my class it’s very fancy / important and they LOVE it. The week prior we talk a lot about etiquettes and the afternoon before we decorate and set the tables together.

    The diner is my favorite part of the year. The children are all dressed up, bringing homemade food and are beaming all through diner. I always ask a few parents to be the waiters. Most of the time some dads team up and show up in their weddingsuits.

    Now my children are older, they start to request fancy diners at home. It’s such a fun and playful way to practice with kids this way.

  4. Erica says...

    Love this

  5. Kylee says...

    I learned my favorite tip during a college etiquette course (yes, this counted for actual college credit!). With both hands, make the “ok” sign with your thumb and pointer finger touching and your remaining three fingers sticking up. Your left hand is making a little “b” for bread, and your right hand is making a little “d” for drink. This is the side of the plate each thing belongs on! I have now done this every time I set the table for the past 10 years haha

  6. laura says...

    A tip I learned at a dinner etiquette class (lol) was to do the “OK” sign with your fingers (the one where your pointer finger meets your thumb in a circular shape, and the remaining three fingers are left up). The left hand will form a “b” letter (b=bread) and the right hand will form a “d” (d=drink). Easy peasy!

    • laura says...

      Pops, just realized everyone else and their moms already commented this. My bad

    • Heather says...

      I’d rather hear a handy tip 100x than not at all.. :)

  7. Jennifer King says...

    My husband loooooves salt and it drives me crazy when he salts the food I’ve made before he even tries it! He’s gotten so much better at taking a bite before salting, though. His whole family does this at every meal, I’ve noticed, and I guess it’s just a hard habit to break!

  8. I’ve never heard the “BMW” trick, but this one also works, and you will see me do this quickly in my lap pretty much every single time I sit at a well-set table: With your left hand, make a lowercase ‘b’ by touching the tip of your index and thumb together – that’s your “b”read plate side. Likewise, touch the tip of your index and thumb together on your right hand and make a lowercase “d” for your “d”rink side. Every.Single.Time.

  9. Gabby says...

    It’s funny, I guess maybe it’s because I’m French, but I just assumed most people knew all of this (we just learn it at school)!

    • t says...

      They SHOULD teach it in school here but they don’t (at least not in Californian public schools).

    • Maclean Nash says...

      This is in your curriculum! That is brilliant!

    • Veronica Aguirre says...

      In California we eat with our hands…tacos, burritos, tostadas, nachos, egg rolls, Ethiopian food, lol.

  10. 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!

  11. 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! :)

    • Tis says...

      We’ve always taught our boys they have to wait until Grandma (or whomever is hosting) takes a bite, and not only does it seem to be a showstopper for others at the table (“wow, such good manners!”)…it is completely hilarious how they watch her like hawks!!

  12. 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.

    • Riley says...

      Why would it be rude to salt food after tasting? Don’t you want your guests to enjoy their food? Everyone has different preferences regarding seasoning.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

    • Marlena says...

      My family knows the “are you serious right now” look they will get if they try to throw their elbows to the wind while we are out eating. They are not wings, they do not need to spread.

  15. Love the cat and mouse tip! My insistence on beautiful table manners has spoilt many a family dinner, but I won’t be deterred. They’ll thank my some day!

  16. I LOVEEEE this…thanks for such a handy tip!

  17. I love your illustrated posts :) and your blog :) have a great day :)

  18. My trick to telling which is your bread plate and water glass. Make a b and d with your fingers. Left hand makes a b = bread plate. Right hand makes d = drinking glass. viola! I still have to make L’s once and a while to get my left correct so this little trick is a gem to me.

    • Ana D says...


  19. I am using these tips to teach a group of teenagers the basics, in a couple of weeks. Thank you!

  20. This seems super basic for this post, but since many parents are reading/commenting, I wanted to share a little trick my mom taught me when I was learning how to set the family dinner table properly. I would always forget which side of the plate the fork and knife went on, until she pointed out that fork and left both have 4 letters and knife and right both have 5. :) I never mixed them up after that.

  21. How have I not read your blog before? I’m having so much fun reading it tonight! I love etiquette and although I don’t follow all the rules, I like to know them. I always say I’m going to write a list of etiquette rules for attending an art fair.

  22. This is the best blog post ever. I feel like everyone needs to read this guide. It’s so simple and great!

  23. When you first this up, I skimmed through it and thought to myself: well this is nice, i might need this one day. Two days later I found myself at a fancy dinner thinking, thank god I read that article!

  24. Anonymous says...

    Given the choice between scalding myself or displaying less than perfect etiquette, blowing on my soup is going to win every time.

    • Mich w 2 Ls says...

      I think you’re just supposed to wait 😄

    • Rashmi says...

      With you on this! I always seem to be the odd one out at the starting of the meal as I simply can not eat or drink anything super hot. And if I wait, everyone around me thinks something is wrong that I am sitting twiddling my thumbs rather than eat. Blowing on my food definitely raises fewer eyebrows than just sitting.

  25. I used to work in a restaurant where salt and pepper wasn’t put on tables, as the chef’s believe their food is seasoned perfectly as it is!

    It is fascinating to me, that some people don’t know some of these… tho’ I believe in Scandinavia they cross their knives & forks when finished. I never clear a table until knives and forks aren’t put together. It is such a perfect, and simple guide… love it :D

  26. Ah! I love this post!!!!!

    I may copy you… becuase etiquette is HUGE in my day to day experiences.
    LOVE your blog!!!

  27. Wow, thank you for all this information. I didn’t know most of these things. Eeeps!

  28. I love Gemma’s illustrations in this post! :)

  29. Saw this post on TheKitchn.
    Visiting your blog first time.
    Very creative illustrations!!!
    To imagine the mouse behind & cat in front was cute, haha!
    And the “b” and “d” tip by your reader is brilliant. Now I don’t think I’ll ever mix it up!

  30. Congrats on being featured on!!!! Just saw it on their website :) love BOTH your website and thekitchn SO much!!

  31. I’ve had the “I’m finished” silverware thing ingrained in me since I was little – but since moving to the States (from South Africa) I’ve noticed no one does it, and most wait staff have no idea that it indicated you’re done. Can we circulate this to all restaurants?

  32. For those who wonder about the arbitrariness of etiquette (or that someone will be scandalized if you don’t follow the “rules” exactly all the time):
    My grandmother was friendly with the Posts. One time she and my grandfather were having dinner at their house, and after dinner my grandfather took his shoes off. My grandmother was mortified!! But, Emily just said, oh let him do it–he is trying to get comfortable. My grandmother said it then led to a really interesting conversation about manners and how they really are there to make other comfortable, to send signals to the waitstaff, to actually keep things clean etc.
    Always thought it was an interesting story–and you can bet I was raised with good manners ;)

    • Ro says...

      That’s so sweet!

      I was just wondering about the point of all this… apart from appearing “polite,” which can seem pointless when you just want to enjoy good food with friends. But if it all goes back to making sure everyone’s comfortable, and keeping a bit of order, then I’m all about it.

      On a similar note, doesn’t sitting up straight at the table help with digestion?

  33. 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.

  34. I love these etiquette posts – when the wine one ran I shared it with like ten people, and am planning to do the same with this!

  35. Great etiquette review…and fun illustrations. I’m going to use this to teach my teens.

  36. A fun rule I stick to is “Eight, wait. Nine, dine.” Meaning if there are 8 or fewer guests, you should wait until everyone is served to begin eating. If there are 9 or more guests, it is acceptable to begin eating before everyone is served. (That way if you’re at a dinner with a lot of people, your food doesn’t get cold before everyone is served.)

    • Jill says...

      Really? That’s such a good ‘rule’! Thank u.

      Thanks for all the tips Joanna and Jenny.

  37. I’ve always oddly liked etiquette tips too! I was gifted the American Girl manners book for my birthday when I was around 9 and couldn’t get enough!

  38. I also have a strange love for etiquette and these are great tips… my mom always said to eat like I was visiting the Queen. :-)

  39. Such a nice post! I really like all the tips you have discussed here!these are really true.

  40. “Always taste your food before putting on salt and pepper. It’s considered rude to assume the food is under-seasoned before tasting it” I have said this time and time again :-)

    These are awesome! Knew most of them, except the one about the dog and mouse :-)

  41. R. says...

    Etiquette rules are not random as someone above has suggested but always have an historic/logical backgrownd that is usually relevant!
    Replying to one of the comments – in Europe, or Portugal, where I come from – the napking is placed on your lap as soon as you sit. And it is always suposed to be placed at the table left to the plate whenever you get up and in the right side of the plate when you are done eating. And you should never try to neatly fold it again! :) And another one which is quite nice to know – when eating a spoon dessert like ice cream or mousse, etc which is served in a bowl, you rest the spoon in the plate below when your finished, and never in the bowl/cup!

  42. Anonymous says...

    Hi! Love this! As far as the napkin goes, put it in the chair if you plan on returning to the table (i.e. just going to the restroom and coming right back or standing to greet someone) and on the table next to your plate if you are not (i.e done with the meal and leaving the restaurant).

    • Carly Russell says...

      I was going to say the same thing! napkin on your chair signals you are coming back. Napkin on the table signals you are finished at the table.

  43. Anonymous says...

    Awesome post!

  44. hahahahah :D

  45. lol this is awesome!!! I have some people I have to show this to! xo

  46. You’r a genious!

  47. Caz says...

    Oh and by ‘mobile phone’ I meant ‘cell phone’ – forgot to translate that one into American haha

  48. Caz says...

    Ahh love the hand trick to remember the bread and drinks – I always forget which bread plate is mine!

    And I LOVE that you mentioned about adding salt & pepper – it’s one of my pet hates! I think it’s super insulting to the cook!

    I think you need to add a modern etiquette rule into the list – no using your mobile phone at the table! I can’t believe how many people will sit there and text in front of you, rather than enjoy dinner and conversation. Fair enough if it’s urgent, but you should still excuse yourself first before picking up the phone.

    Gemma’s illustrations are adorable :)

  49. I just LOVE Gemma Correll! :D

    Hope you’re having a great week!

  50. This stuff always weirdly stresses me out. Many (not all) etiquette rules seem very artificial and arbitrary to me, like they’re just getting in the way of being with other people. So it’s interesting to hear so many people respond so positively!

    • jules says...

      LOL same. My mother and my father were big on etiquette and manners (even though we grew up in the middle of nowhere and very few others around us cared) so I naturally do a lot of these things. I also lean back in my chair close to the table, grab my wine glass like I mean it, and really only care about the people I am dining with. But I also think for a lot of us just knowing the etiquette rules is what allows us to be comfortable to just enjoy being with everyone sometimes. If we end up with a new group of people or in a nice restaurant or at a fancy wedding (gag!) and we’re uncomfortable with maybe breaking some rule… just knowing that we and our kids know what to do can help us relax and focus on our friends. Not sit there with anxiety the whole time. Just my thoughts, but I definitely thought the same reading this.

  51. ps. My other favorite tip is leave your napkin on your lap folded with the opening to your body. When you need to wipe your hands wipe inside the napkin, so if you pick it up to wipe your face (still folded) you don’t reveal food stains.

  52. Rebecca says...

    I’ve always been taught then when you were finished eating, your silverware(fork and knife/spoon/what have you) was to be crossed on the plate, not parallel.
    And also that your glass was to go on the left hand side, while your salad/bread plate was on the right, above your napkin.

  53. My favorite tip is never leave your knife with the sharp side facing out to the table. This comes from when people used sword-sharp knives so it was considered an act of agression – one slick toss of the hand and you may maim your dinner companion!

  54. I think you come to understand the value of good table manners when you end up dining with someone who does not have any!

    A tip for those going to France: although it is common and jovial to say “bon appetit” before a meal, it is not considered as a good manner in the most conservative circles. This because any reference to bodily functions such as appetite is considered vulgar.

  55. Oh wow this is fantastic! Love all of your posts and words of wisdom Joanna!

    Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

  56. For the most part I don’t abide by these (who cares when you’re sitting at the coffee table eating dinner while watching cop shows with your husband?), but I do love knowing them so I don’t feel awkward or accidentally offend someone in a more formal setting. I only wish my husband wasn’t so appalled by the concept of manners! Keep the manners posts coming – we could all use a little civilization :)

  57. Someone said that they could never remember all this .. I think that is why so many things were taught to us as children using rhymes. . salt and pepper are a pair, etc .. :)
    I had the good luck of having a very young mother , my great grandmother was alive when I was small. She taught me how to eat at a table with adults and how not to embarrass myself someday when eating with other people.
    You never know what might come up and you will find yourself in a social situation with grand people, it feels good not to look the country bumpkin :)
    I love this sort of thing. I don’t find any of it to be nonsense and if we all taught our children, they wouldn’t find it confusing one day when they are faced with a bunch of forks and end up feeling inadequate .
    Once upon a time we went to dinner after an awards dinner for my husband, a wife of an attendee, sat down, reached across the table, grabbed a roll and proceeded to eat while people were still sitting down.
    It wasn’t so much which fork she used as how overall bad her table manners were. ..

  58. This is awesome. Thanks. If you have me to dinner I will do/not do all of these things!

  59. I always say:
    “Salt and Pepper are a pair;
    they go together everywhere.”

  60. From an etiquette course in graduate school (MBA, for all of those dinner parties, haha!), I was taught this and it was NEW to me … it’s rude to get up to use the bathroom. One should discreetly find the restroom before sitting down to the meal. Meals don’t usually go beyond an hour or two, in the USA anyway. (Good luck to my husband who has to go regularly).

  61. Anonymous says...

    Awesome, awesome, awesome, post! The best.

  62. i think the illustrations are adorable!

    i once had a coworker who said her dad, when interviewing potential candidates for a job opening would watch to see if that person salted their food before they tasted it. if they did, they were eliminated (but he’d still pick up the tab).

    • JL says...

      Omg, that’s so harsh. I don’t really get this rule. I can understand if someone has cooked for you, it would be really unintentionally rude to salt before tasting. But to do it at a restaurant…who is it offending? The cook in the kitchen who has no idea? The waiter? Your tablemates? It kind of seems that people are just following these rules blindly.

  63. Adorable illustrations! Kudos to Gemma! wMy only qualms is the sitting like there’s a cat in your lap and mouse behind you; does this mean sit away from the table? I don’t sit right up against it, but I’m always worried I’ll spill something in my lap! Maybe a gecko in your lap and mouse in the back?

  64. LOVE this! And, quite proud that I knew most of them-never heard of the cat and mouse rule! Thanks, Joanna!

  65. Love this post. I’m relieved that I knew quite a few! But glad to learn more.

  66. You have a very nice blog!!! I just love your Dinner Etiqette post. Too funny!


  67. The napkin rule I learned was:
    The napkin is folded & put in your chair when you are returning, and it goes on the table when you are leaving (the table for good).
    Lots of fun, love etiquette!

  68. who would’ve guessed. does anyone REALLY use these today? just curious… :)

  69. Oh man… So much to remember… Whew~

  70. Wow, I never knew half these things… I love the illustrations, too!

  71. Definitely interesting and helpful, thank you!

    Coming from the Midwest to the East Coast- I’ve found that the way everyone holds their utensils is so different from what I’m accustomed to! Still learning…

    Eat Cake

  72. This is so adorably illustrated. I’ve been known to do the “interception” but won’t ever again!

  73. Yay for etiquette!! There just aren’t enough people with etiquette anymore…

  74. That’s great!
    You should also turn your fork prong-down on the plate when you are finished eating; keep it prong up when just resting between bites.

  75. Good manners are understated! And it’s free! Love this funny post! Although in Scandinavia we do not place the glasses to the right, that would be sooo wrong:) i guess there must be some cultural differences:)

  76. oh i love these! i come from a family where manners are expected! i love the “b” and “d” reminder.


  77. I’ve also heard that you are to leave your napkin on your chair if you get up because “you might get crumbs on other people’s plates”. At least that’s what I learned at my etiquette classes.

  78. Cool post Joanna. Also, knife and fork should be placed in the form of an X when u have to leave the table but not finished. Another secret code with the waiter so he won’t take your plate.


  79. Fun. Makes me want to go to a first date with fancy parents making dinner. haha.

  80. It would be really interesting to have a guide to etiquette in Europe, say France or Spain. It is definitely considered rude to salt and pepper your food in Spain, I feel so embarassed when someone I am dining with does that! Love this post, will definitely try to remember everything.

  81. I do the ‘b’ and ‘d’ trick because I can never remember where my bread and drinks go otherwise hehe And my utensils always go into the “I’m finished” position when I’m done… my husband used to think I made it up but I swore up and down that it’s a done thing!

  82. Etiquette rules are fascinating and these illustrations make them so easy to remember. They are adorable.

  83. So many interesting things. And I love the illustrations! As a tween I took modelling classes and our teacher actually taught us a ton of etiquette rules then took us out to dinner to test us on it! I think it’s a great thing to know for those occasions when it counts. :)

  84. I respect this but I could never remember all this stuff… I’d probably drive myself crazy lol

  85. i always thought i had great table manners…and then i met my boyfriend’s parents! they are so traditional when it comes to manners i have had to refresh quickly!

    in dramatic fashion

  86. Anonymous says...

    I was taught that turning my fork or spoon upsidedown on my plate used to be an indication that I was finished eating – I still do it even though no one follows the rule.

  87. i always love her illustrations! so sweet! i’ve never heard the cat/mouse rule and i honestly never heard that you can’t blow on your boiling hot soup! but now i know. i think etiquette is fun. i’m not a huge stickler – i mean, i do have toddlers – but being respectful and civilized is a great thing.
    as a former server in a fancy restaurant, yes, your server should always re-fold your napkin for you (or replace it if you’re a messy pig haha) whenever you get up from the table, regardless of where you place it when you get up.
    i would love to see one of these posts written up about how to act as a patron at a nice restaurant! so many people are clueless about it, and i’m only talking about people that should know better, not inexperienced diners. of course not everyone eats at fancy restaurants all the time!

  88. This comment has been removed by the author.

  89. Anonymous says...

    Totally guilty of the soup-blowing. My Mom still yells at my Dad for putting salt on her cooking before tasting it!

    The pass intercept made me laugh. My boyfriend did that at a birthday party with a piece of cake. The host cut a slice for the guy standing next to him, assumed he’d pass it, and instead he just dug his fork into the cake in about 2 seconds. I laughed for like a half hour because the intended cake recipient was like “Ooh, chocolate’s my favor– ohh, that’s a bummer.”

    I used to be a server in a fancy catering hall and the napkin refolding is just simmply to keep the table looking neat and let the guests know you are attentive to the table. Refolding used napkins though was not my favorite part of the job, yipes.

  90. Anyone else have a lot of trouble eating a salad politely? One tip I will never forget is to order things that are easy to eat and that won’t get stuck in your teeth–so no broccoli or spaghetti when trying to make an impression!

  91. KP says...

    One lesson that always stuck with me is “BMW” – Bread, Meal, Water/Wine – from left to right. Never fails! (B&D is great, too!)

  92. i’ve been told its 20 past 4, for your utensils! :) such a fun post, and the illustrations are so cute!

  93. C. says...

    My husband leaves his knife balancing INSIDE the tines of the fork when he is finished a meal, it drives me insane because I was raised with strict table manners.

  94. I loved these, thank you for sharing! I’ve always been big on good etiquette, I think it makes such a difference to see someone with good manners. Plus, I loved the cute little cartoons!

    Kate {Something Fabulous}

  95. That was a fun post! We’ll use the d & b method.

  96. I LOVE, love, love etiquette. Always have. In 8th grade I joined an etiquette club.. super nerdy but we got served food and tea. I loved it. Thanks for posting.

  97. I knew the drink glasses were always on the wrong side at restaurants. I also would love to know when it’s appropriate to lay a napkin in your lap. I think you should do it immediately when seated (or at least when you get drinks), while my sister thinks you wait until food arrives.

    • Eloise says...

      The napkin goes in your lap as soon as the menu is taken away, is what I’ve read.

  98. I grew up with all these rules (all though not in a strict house, we were certainly taught manners!) and I just love this. I think I might have to pass on to some of my friends who grew up grabbing food off one another’s plates…

  99. I wish all salt and pepper shakers were that adorable. Love this guide, especially the amazing illustrations!

  100. I guess I’m the lone commenter who sort of things etiquette is bullshit. I don’t have occasion for many super fancy meals, and when I do, I just do my best not to act uncivilized. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I think people who are offended by those who put their fork on the table or something need to find another problem to worry about.
    (I hope this doesn’t count as a mean comment! Just expressing my opinion!)

    • dee says...

      I agree, I’m reading this wondering, am I the only one that thinks this is a sort of stupid? As long as people are chewing with their mouths closed and their utensils aren’t too close to me I do not care.

      The illustrations are really cute though.

    • Jean Livingston says...

      I agree. I can’t relate this post really. Like making sure to pass the salt and the pepper at the same time??? Ummm…that’s such an arbitrary rule. Or making sure your fork and knife are exactly at the right angle and whatnot?? Most waiters will ask if you’re done before clearing your plate. Maybe thirty years ago this was expected behavior, but not anymore.
      I love that Cup of Jo posts on all different sort of topics and I think the illustrations were especially cute, but this sort of etiquette bothers me because I think a lot of people like to use it as an excuse to look down on others who aren’t accustomed to following these rules.

    • Elizabeth says...

      You would understand why people leave their utensils on their plate after they begin eating if you have to launder fine linens. And if you are a waiter you’d understand how helpful it is when people place their utensils properly when they’ve finished eating so that the knives and forks don’t clatter to the floor, making an even bigger mess, and making it easier to indicate that they’ve finished eating.

      Etiquette is never bullshit. It’s a way of expressing consideration of other people in a world where life is hard enough without listening to people slurp and talk with their mouth full. Believe me, etiquette isn’t just for those who go to fancy dinners. My husband drops his knife on the floor almost every night because no one instructed him on proper table manners.

    • A.D. says...

      Agree. I found this post classist the first time it was posted and again now. While I’m sure some working-class families had immaculate table manners, mine didn’t, but we all managed to eat just fine without them. Now I’m often in situations where I have to dine with people with a lot of fancy breeding, but I refuse to conform. They can eat how they feel comfortable, and I’ll eat how I feel comfortable. If they judge me, then that reflects their rudeness and superficiality, not mine.

  101. MJ says...

    I’m a HUGE etiquette lover! Not always great at it, but I think it is so fascinating to learn about. This is a GREAT post!

  102. I had always heard that if you get up during the meal, the napkin goes loosely folded in your seat. End of the meal it goes on the table. That way a used napkin isn’t touching the table while everyone else is still eating.

  103. Just one additional note

    When at the restaurant (hence no host properly), the person to give the cue on eating is the oldest woman at the table.

    I was once the only women at a business lunch in France and had all those business guys wait for me to finish a funny anecdote with the guy siting next to me… which took me forever… i know better now…

  104. oh and I saw someone asked about the napkin “rule” – I heard you’re supposed to put it on your chair too! And then they fold it for you. Hmm….

  105. I love these – my mom and grandmother were etiquette sticklers when I was a kid, as were most of my friends parents, so I always assumed they were no brainers. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized so many folks could use a refresher.

    Another fun one, if asparagus isn’t dressed or in a sauce, it is perfectly acceptable to eat with your fingers.

    We were doing that at dinner this weekend, which opened up a long etiquette chat, and we shared our childhood tips. Fun to hear others…

    Love these illustrated series – keep ’em up!!

  106. I love this! Good table manners are VERY important to me. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people put their silverware on the table after they’ve used it or WORSE when you go out to eat ANYWHERE (especially when they don’t have a table cloth) and they take your plate but put your silverware back on the table. UGH. It really bothers me (clearly). I always put it back on their plate if it touches the table. If it’s not a fancy place I take it off the plate and put it on a napkin of something back on the table.

  107. I have always thought that etiquette is SO important; I was taught (and believe)that manners exist to help you and those around you feel comfortable in any given situation. I’m so glad this is a conversation we’re still having and that people out there feel the same. Some times I think it’s just me. :-)

  108. Anonymous says...

    The water tip isn’t universal – in the Indian subcontinent, eastern African continent, and many parts of east Asia, the water is always to be drunk from left hand side.

    • Rashmi says...

      I think that’s on account of the fact that in all these places a lot of the food is supposed to be eaten with your hands. As a larger number of people are right handed, keeping the glass on the left makes sense so you don’t dirty the glass while drinking from it. :)

  109. Anonymous says...

    what does “no oars” mean exactly? that the utensil’s handle doesn’t rest on the table?

  110. I don’t understand the cat and mouse thing – can’t get a mental picture. I learned a few of these rules differently. I was told to put your napkin on your chair when you intend to return and on the table when you are not coming back. And my grandmother (Emily Post devotee) insisted that when two or more people had been served, it was ok to begin eating. That one feels funny though. Here’s one I like to take advantage of – it’s ok to eat asparagus with your fingers.

  111. One other thing I was taught about where to place silverware when finished eating is that you should rest your fork tines-down alongside your knife, rather than face-up like it sits when the table is set. Anyone else learn that one? I think my mom said she learned that when she and my dad lived in Germany, so perhaps that’s more European etiquette?

  112. that thing with the mouse and the cat it is so funny :))

  113. Oh, and yes, @Annie, in my family, the gentlemen wait to sit until the ladies are seated and stand when they leave.

  114. Haha. Oops..I guess the Finger/”B” trick is everyones. Should have read the comments before posting my own!

  115. the b & d thing is genius!!! going to add it to the post:) thank you!!!

  116. I love these illustrations! I’m always fascinated by etiquette, too, and totally put off when people are completely ignorant to even simple, polite table manners. Funny enough, I was always told to put my napkin on my chair if briefly excusing myself from the table and then it should be put on table at the conclusion of the meal. But even the experts do not seem to agree!

  117. hmmm, the question about where to leave your napkin (chair vs. table) is super interesting!! i googled it, and it looks like the answer is different, according to different etiquette experts. i’ve heard that in italy it’s bad luck to put it on your chair — it means that you’ll never return! :)

  118. Excellent points! The only other one I was raised with is that when a lady leaves or returns to the table, the gentlemen should stand. Anyone else experience this one?

  119. I knew all of them, yayy! My grandfather taught us to eat soup by thinking a boat is sailing out to sea – easy to remember and you don’t drip soup on your clothes!
    I ignore the don’t blow on your food now that I have kids, everything is too hot for them ;)

  120. My grandmother was big on teaching etiquette. Three tips I learned from her:
    1. If you make a “b” with your thumb and pointer finger the one facing the right way (the left) is your Bread Dish. The right hand will make a “d.”
    2. Scoop your soup away from you. “Like ships the sail out to sea, I scoop my soup away from me.”

  121. I used the “b” and “d” thumb and forefinger trick all the time, too. I end up teaching it to people at business dinners a lot.

  122. this is wonderful! i still remember learning about dinner etiquette in elementary school and i share tips with my friends all the time :)

  123. P.S. If you like Gemma’s style, you may also like Minty Lewis ( She illustrated Natalie Galatzer’s Bike Basket Pies app for iPhone.

  124. I fully agree with the not-salting-before-tasting one. My fiancee is so guilty of this and refuses to be told otherwise, so I’ve gotten over it. (mostly.) And the S&P one takes me back to sorority days- “never divorce the salt and pepper!”

  125. I love these illustrations, Gemma, your a genius (!) … and these tips are so helpful… I am a very relaxed and casual person but I often find myself marooned in situations where I am unsure of what the proper conduct is when we are outside of our relaxed home and know its proper to follow the rules, :0… Thanks!

  126. Another tip for remembering which side is for what, hold up your hands in front of you fingers outstretched, palms facing each other. Make the ends of your index fingers of both hands touch your thumbs – forming the letter “b’ on your left and the letter “d” on your right. b for bread (to your left of your plate), d for drink (to the right)! you’ll never mix it up again!

  127. Haha, awesome! I love to see Gemma Correll’s stuff specifically illo’d for one of your posts.

    I used to think the thing about eating your soup with the motion away from you and other finer points of dining etiquette were bosh, but then I came to realize that there’s a reason why we’re taught to act “civilized”: other people, and what your actions communicate to them.

  128. Wow! Great advice, Joanna! Now I’m itching to go to a fancy dinner party or restaurant just so I can use my new knowledge!

  129. I think the proper etiquette is actually to leave your napkin on the chair–assuming that you’ve used it during the meal, it’s considered rude to leave it on the table where guests will have to look at your mess. :)

  130. Becca, I was about to say the same thing about the B and the D. Works every time!

  131. Anonymous says...

    I LOVE your etiquette posts! Question: I have seen people place their napkin on their chair if they are leaving and at a fancy restaurant once returned to my place to find my napkin had been refolded and placed on my chair for me after I know I had left it beside my plate as you describe here. Any thoughts on this? Is there any rule about putting the napkin on the chair as opposed to the table?

  132. So handy. I feel classier already.

  133. Becca says...

    These are great (I’ve seriously been practicing the wine ones, because I really NEEDED to practice drinking wine). Another favorite of mine to remember which is my bread plate, and which are my drinking glasses, is to circle my pointer finger and thumb together (tip-to-tip) under the table. The side that makes a “B” is your bread plate, and the side that makes a “D” is your drinking side!


  134. Those illustrations are totally brilliant and the tips are spot on! Love the cat and mouse one:) xo

  135. 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.