How one handles themselves, particularly while eating in the presence of others, can make an enormous impression. Though, genetically, we may not differ much from our chimpanzee brethren (yes, evolution), that doesn’t excuse us from eating like them. Today’s topic in our 30 Days of Upgrades Initiative focuses on proper table etiquette. Forget the sophomoric notion of manners being classicist. It may sound staunch at moments, but no matter what your background or upbringing, any man wishing to succeed should follow proper table etiquette. Perhaps compulsively, unless personal culture or customs dictate otherwise. Focus, gentlemen, even if you’ve never been one to color inside the lines. We already fight negative notions from our counterparts, so the chance at dismantling a handful through something as easy as “manners” is a walk in the park.
In short, don’t f*** it up.
Getting to the Table
Remembering every rule related to tableware placement is enough to give you the spins, even for a sober man. Distractions, though, are no excuse for blanking on basic courtesies required before dinner tables or chinaware even enter the picture. Think about opening car and restaurant doors. Holding the door also ensures you’re the last one in and the group’s together – a good place to be. Family men, in particular, have much to gain from picking up this habit, and it helps ensure little ones aren’t lost in the shuffle. Then again if you’re the designated baby gear sherpa, you’re probably used to bringing up the rear.
When everyone finally arrives at the table, remember that your seating preferences are last. Pulling out chairs for the women in your party, starting with the eldest, is your responsibility. Time and space constraints, combined with people’s eagerness to sit down, might prevent this from happening, but at least try. Rectangular tables require added consideration.
If you are hosting the meal, one of the end seats is yours, unless a guest requests otherwise. Also, remember the south paws. Give them preference for corner seats (though it’s been my experience they’ll often bring this up if being wedged between righties irks them).
Table Placement: Who’s Using What and When
I won’t bother pointing out the exact purpose of every dish present in the formal restaurant table setting armada. That’s what the diagram is for and hopefully (pray) most of you know this. I will provide two simple rules though for easy retention purposes.
Utensils are placed starting from the outer left and right edges of the table setting, in the order that dishes are served. The idea behind this arrangement is that you “eat your way into” the place setting. As a man with an appetite, that should resonate. Salads and soups typically serve as the precursor to the main course, and thus their associated utensils are placed on the outer left and right edges of a table setting. Once the course is finished, this leaves the rest of the silverware still in place for the following main course. If you ever happen to be in doubt starting off the meal, just reach for the utensils placed on the outer right and left hand edges, and move in from there.
Another common mistake I see involves accidentally drinking from your neighbors glass, or eating off their bread plate. Your drinking glasses will always be to the right of your plate, and your bread plate to your left. Remember this by putting the tips of your two middle fingers to the top of your thumbs, while extending your index fingers straight. Look at the two letters this forms. Your left will show a “b” for bread, while your right a “d” for drink. Simple, yet effective. Just don’t be obvious about doing it in front of guests. Your meal was not brought to you by the letter “b”.
Your drinking glasses will always be to the right of your plate, and your bread plate to your left. Remember this by putting the tips of your two middle fingers to the top of your thumbs, while extending your index fingers straight. Look at the two letters this forms. Your left will show a “b” for bread, while your right a “d” for drink.
The Order of Ordering
When the time comes to talk to the waiter, avoid letting things happen willy-nilly by taking command. If wine is in the cards, and you are the host, it is your responsibility to take everyone’s needs into account. How many in your party will be drinking? Is this an occasion for spending more? What is the general course selection? A good guideline when starting is to order one bottle per foursome. Eating with 6? Ordering two is the safe bet, but use common sense to gauge your diners’ thirst. Well-hosted dinners waste no wine.
White or Red? Though it’s ideal for wine to be paired with food, this should never trump personal preference. Got three red drinkers and one white? Communicate before hand to see how set people are in their tastes and, if need be, order the bottle of red and ask for a glass of white.
If your waiter has been appropriately trained, they should approach the eldest woman in the party (hopefully they can accurately i.d. her) for the first order, and follow with the remaining women by descending age before moving on to the men in the same manner. If this doesn’t happen, especially in non-formal settings, guide the server by gesturing to the next appropriate person. If someone needs more time to think, skip them and continue. As host, regardless of your standing, you should order last. Simple gestures are meaningful here. Any appetizers or sides being collectively shared by the table should be held back for you to add along with your own choices.
Food Traffic Control
Once dishes start arriving, remember to hold off from eating until everyone has received their food. That is, unless you happen to be served last. In that scenario be courteous and encourage your guest to begin eating while their food is hot. Ironic, I know, but being a good host is all about placing others before yourself.
In family style dining, or in shared dish situations, the direction in which you pass food is also important. Officially, all dishes should rotate to the right or counter clockwise, unless of course the person asking is sitting immediately to your left. In that scenario there is no need to bring a dish all the way around in the opposite direction. Of all the rules of table etiquette though, this particular detail is skipped the most. In the end, what’s important is to avoid reaching for food across the table. Knowing plates should move to the right is good practice.
Hopefully, this crash course is dinner etiquette will give your inner gentlemen the confidence to eat with grace during your next formal dining scenario – or dinner in general. This advice, however, is not dogma. Every situation will differ and, based on company and venue, these guidelines may not be applicable. Rely on common sense and your man-stincts.
Want to learn more? Check out the books and sites below for more details on etiquette. Also for advice on tipping, check out our helpful article on How much do you tip?: Basic Tipping Rules and Guidelines
- Frequently asked questions on table etiquette, from Manners International
- Quick Tips for Dining Etiquette
- Emilypost.com , from the Emily Post Institute
- Emily Post’s: Etiquette, the bible of American manners and Etiquette
- Elements of Etiquette: A Guide to Table Manners in an Imperfect World
- The Art of the Table: A Complete Guide to Table Setting, Table Manners, and Tableware
Let’s continue the conversation. How’s your dining etiquette, and what resources do you use for learning? Have you ever had any awkward dinner moments arise from lack of manners? Let us know.