Mind Your Table Manners
Are your table manners playing the part? Below are a few guidelines for basic meal etiquette that will serve you from fine dining to a casual picnic and everything in between.
We all know to put our napkins on our lap, but the rules surrounding when to do so can be a little vague. Basically, be sure to put your napkin on your lap before the food arrives, otherwise the server won't have anywhere to set your plate. A good rule of thumb is to put your napkin on your lap right when you take a seat. If you need to leave the table during the meal, fold your napkin loosely and set it on the table next to your fork. If you leave it on the chair, you risk dirtying the chair and your clothes when you sit back down.
Have you ever sat down to a maze of spoons, forks, and other eating utensils? Avoid pre-meal anxiety by following this golden rule: Start from the outside and work your way in. In most cases, the largest fork is for the main course, the large spoon for soup, and utensils placed horizontally above the plate are to be saved for dessert.
Restaurant Seating Etiquette
Traditionally speaking, a man should give the inside seat at a restaurant to his female dining companion, meaning the woman faces out towards the dining room and the man sits facing in. If you're out with someone of the same gender, the most polite move is to let the guest decide which seat to take. If it's a group of friends, seats are free game--whoever calls first dibs!
Keep in mind that in more formal settings, things deemed as "finger foods" in daily life might better lend themselves to be eaten with the appropriate utensils. Some acceptable finger foods in any setting include bread, pizza, corn on the cob, french fries, and tacos--unless you lose the filling, which you should politely retrieve off your plate with a fork. However, if your host is using a fork you should always follow suit!
Being able to taste a multitude of dishes is a highlight of any group dining experience, but reaching across the table and digging into your friends' plates can make a mess and be a dining faux-paus. When sharing, portion small bites onto the recipient's dinner plate or use your bread plate to divvy out samples. When splitting a dish, ask the kitchen if they can have it arrive on two separate plates. It might seem like a fuss, but you'll avoid leaving a trail of sauce on the tablecloth.
When in a restaurant, remember to keep your volume in check. You might be inclined to yell across the table due to blaring music or poor acoustics, but yelling will really only exaggerate the problem--you'll be encouraging the rest of the dining room to raise their voices as well. Also, avoid speaking over the person next to you in order to talk to someone else. Rather, wait for the meal to end to properly converse.