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Dining Etiquette

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Dr. Algirdas Makarevicius

General Comments


Manners in every country are different. What is polite in China or Thailand may not be polite in the USA, Australia, UK, Germany, France, Canada, or New Zealand.


We must know the following basic rules


1. Put the napkin on your lap.

2. Wait until everyone has been served to begin eating.

3. Everyone begins eating at the same time.

4. Do not make sounds when eating.

5. Sit up straight at the table and bring the food to your mouth: do not lean down to your plate.

6. Do not lean on your arm or elbow while eating (as well as before or after eating): you may rest only your hand and wrist on the edge of the table.

7. Try to be friendly with others. If you are a man, you should pay attention to ladies sitting closest to you. Pass the dishes to them, serve them, etc. Equal attention must be paid to children.

8. Hold the knife in your right hand, and fork – in your left hand.

9. Cut large pieces of meat, potatoes and vegetables into bite-size pieces; eat the pieces one at a time.

10. Each time you cut a small piece with the knife, put it into your mouth with a fork.

11. When eating spaghetti, hold your fork in the right hand. Wind the noodles up on your fork: the spaghetti on your fork should be eaten in one bite. It is very impolite to eat half your noodles and allow the other half to fall back on your plate.

12. While eating, remember not to talk with your mouth full of food.

13. When the hostess/host offers you food, give her/him a direct answer; if you refuse the first time, she might not ask you again.

14. At the table, ask others to pass you dishes that are out of your reach. Good _expression to know is: “Please pass me the___________.”

15. When you have finished your meal, place your knife and fork side by side on the plate.

16. Never use toothpick at the table: it is impolite.

17. Before you leave the table, refold your napkin and put it beside your plate.

18. When you are unsure what to do, observe the way your western friends eat in order to avoid mistakes.


Formal Dinning Must Dos (Eating Soup)


Soup, usually the first course, shows you off as a savvy diner or someone whose manners could do with polishing! Soup is served either in a wide, shallow dish, or a smaller bowl, resting on an under-plate.

• Spoon the soup away from you, towards the centre of the bowl.

• Sip from the side of the spoon. Never put the whole spoon in your mouth or slurp. Noisy eating is better placed in the farmyard, rather than the dining table!

• Tip the bowl away from you and spoon the soup across the bowl to get at the last bits.

After finishing the soup, place the spoon in the under-plate, or in the soup plate at a 10:20 position.


Eating Soup


Dip the spoon into the soup, moving it away from the body, until it is about two-thirds full, then sip the liquid (without slurping) from the side of the spoon (without inserting the whole bowl of the spoon into the mouth). The theory behind this is that a diner who scoops the spoon toward himself is more likely to slosh soup onto his lap, although it is difficult to imagine what sort of eater would stroke the spoon so forcefully through the liquid that he creates waves. It is perfectly fine to tilt the bowl slightly -- again away from the body -- to get the last spoonful or two of soup.


Eating Bouillon


It is not very well known, undoubtedly because it is no longer in fashion to serve it, that if you are given bouillon in a soup cup with a handle, you may pick up the cup and sip the broth directly from it, even if a soupspoon has been provided. If there are any bits of vegetables or meat in the bouillon, they should be eaten with the spoon before you begin sipping.


Formal Dinning Must Dos (Placing The Dinner Napkin)


Most of us are still ignorant about the proper use of a dinner napkin. One thing is for certain, the napkin should NEVER be tucked under the chin, unless of course one is 5 years old or younger!

• Lift the napkin soon after you are seated and place it on your lap. However, at more formal occasions wait for a signal from the host before doing so.

• Use the napkin throughout the meal to dab your lips. This prevents greasy lip marks from being transferred to the glass and of course removes unsightly food residue from lips!

• The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal. Place the napkin in loose folds to the left of your plate. If you have to leave the table during the meal, leave the napkin on your chair.

• Don't clean the cutlery or wipe your face with the napkin. NEVER use it to wipe your nose!


Eating Tricky Foods


Some food is exceedingly difficult to handle and seems to rest in the plate only to make life difficult while eating it. Have you tried eating corn on the cob with a knife and fork? How about chicken wings? Yes, it can be done, but is devilishly difficult and does not cut a pretty picture! So how does one decide when to use the cutlery and when to abandon it for the comfort of eating with one's hand?

Here's a short list of food one can pick and eat without cutlery:

• Artichokes, asparagus, cheese and crackers, chicken and other small fiddly bits of fowl, corn on the cob, escargots (snails), some fresh fruit, French fries, shellfish like shrimp, lobster and crabs claws, mussels, clams and oysters on the half shell, pizza and sandwiches.

• It goes without saying that even for these foods, there are rules. Don't pick up chicken, squab, or asparagus that is drenched with sauce; go easy with the butter on the corn and after cracking shellfish, eat the meat with a fork. The whole idea is to be comfortable but neat!

• When you have finished, resist the temptation to lick your fingers; use a finger bowl or napkin to get rid of the greasy bit.

Using A Fingerbowl


The anecdote about the person who, when presented with a fingerbowl, squeezed the lime in it and drank the water! Now you know that's definitely not the way to do it, but then how exactly does one use a fingerbowl? When you have finished a delicious dish of butter chicken it might be wiser to use the washroom facilities to clean up. At other times follow these:

• At a formal meal, just before dessert, the fingerbowl may be brought to you on a doily on a dessert plate. Pick up the bowl and doily and place them on the upper left hand corner of your place setting.

• This is not the time for a thorough wash and wipe session. Dip fingertips of one hand and then the other in the bowl and wipe discreetly on your napkin.

• Don't try to clean your mouth at the dining table. Dab your lips with a napkin and save the rest for the washroom.




You are at dinner, at a business associate's house, and have just been served a helping of delicious looking and painstakingly stuffed mushrooms. Unfortunately, you are allergic to them. Would you refuse to eat them and risk upsetting your host or swallow them bravely and pray that bagging the contract is worth the suffering? The golden rule is: as far as possible, avoid making a fuss and embarrassing anyone.

• If you suffer from food allergy or have any preference, inform your host when you accept the invitation. You don't want to keel over at the table at the sight of a rare steak!

• At a buffet or large gathering it is easy enough to avoid taking the food you don't eat. However, in some situations it would be very awkward if you refused to eat or drink something that was offered to you. Use your discretion. If a polite refusal is not possible and it's not a life-threatening allergy, don't fuss. Swallow it with a smile!

If you don't drink alcohol, don't hesitate to say so. It is perfectly acceptable to refuse wine or any other alcoholic beverage and equally possible to have a great evening drinking fruit juice or even water!





Here is the list of the TOP FIVE things you should never do while eating.


1. Blowing your nose.

I can't list enough reasons why this is repulsive but I'll list one: This can cause germs to land on the other diners’ food. Just last month, I had a really bad cold, but I still wanted to go to a birthday dinner with friends. I waited until we were in the parking lot and blew my nose there, explaining to my friend that I'd needed to do that but didn't want to do it at the table. She then looked me in the eye and appreciatively said, "Thank you"! If you have to blow your nose, please excuse yourself and go to the restroom.


2. Picking your teeth.

Okay, I'm not talking the discreet kind of picking your teeth. I'm talking about the blatant kind. Where you have to pull out your mirror just to make sure you've taken care of everything. This is just gross! And I beg you: Don't do it! If you have to do this, please do this in the bathroom. There's even a mirror big enough to help you in your search.


3. Belching.

In some countries, belching is a sign of appreciation for a good meal. But in America, Australia and Europe this is a sign of bad manners. Now, I know that this is a natural thing that sometimes just happens. So if it does, please say excuse me. And then mean it. There's almost nothing worse (except the previous two on the list) then hearing someone belching from across the room.


4. Tucking your napkin into your shirt.

Yes, I still spill food on my shirt. And this occurs at least once a week, if not more. However, putting your napkin into your shirt is similar to addressing to the world one of the following two ideas: 1) that I still like wearing a bib and 2) I'm about to go hog-wild at this meal and don't have time to make sure my food makes it to my mouth.

Two weeks ago, I went to dinner with some ladies from my church and as we were sitting down, a woman came out of the bathroom carrying a long piece of brown paper napkin (the kind they put in the bathroom for you to dry your hands with) and she proceeded to tuck this napkin into her collar, where it billowed down her dress to hang at her knees. Not the best fashion statement.


5. Eating food that dropped on your shirt.

If this happens when you're alone, no one will know, right? Just like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, how do you know that if fell? Nevertheless, if you are out in public, please use a napkin to take the food off of your shirt and have a waiter throw it away for you.

These are just a few instances that I’ve noticed feel are the most significant, but I’m sure there are others that could be on this list. Many times we are so consumed with what you should know about the table setting that we forget the simple things that you should never do. Hopefully, this can help remind us all!




When bacon is cooked until it is very crisp, and there is no danger of getting the fingers wet with grease, it is okay to pick it up to eat it. This is an instance of practicality winning out over decorum, since trying to cut a crisp piece of bacon usually results in crushing it into shards that are quite difficult to round up onto a fork.



Bread must always be broken, never cut with a knife. Tear off a piece that is no bigger than two bites worth and eat that before tearing off another. If butter is provided (and at formal events it customarily is not), butter the small piece just before eating it. There is an exception to this rule: if you are served a hot roll, it is permissible to tear (not cut) the whole roll lengthwise down the middle and place a pat of butter inside to melt.



It is never necessary to try to eat the cookie that comes as a garnish to your dessert with a spoon. Unless it has fallen so far into the chocolate sauce that there isn't a clean corner by which to pick it up.


Corn on the Cob

It is unlikely that it will be served at a formal event, but if you encounter corn on the cob, it may be picked up and eaten. The approved method of doing so is to butter one or two rows at a time and to eat across the cob cleanly.


Chips, French Fries, Fried Chicken, and Hamburgers

All these items (which could also probably be classified as "fast foods") simply will not be served in a formal setting. Most are intended to be eaten with the hands, although a particularly messy hamburger could be approached with fork and knife, and steak fries (the thick-cut, less crispy variety) may be best eaten with a fork.


Hors d'Oeuvres, Canapes, Crudités

Almost everything that is served at a cocktail party or during a pre-meal cocktail hour is intended to be eaten with the fingers. Some of these foods make appearances at regular meals as well (although not often very formal ones). When they do, it is still permissible to use the fingers to eat them. This includes olives, pickles, nuts, deviled eggs, and chips.



The straightforward sandwich -- that is, any sandwich that is not open-faced, not too tall to fit in the mouth, not saturated with dripping sauces or loaded with mushy fillings -- is intended to be picked up and eaten. Otherwise use fork and knife.


Small Fruits and Berries on the Stem

If you are served strawberries with the hulls on, cherries with stems, or grapes in bunches, then it is okay to eat them with your fingers. Otherwise, as with all berries, the utensil of choice is a spoon. In the case of grapes, you may encounter a special scissors, to be used to cut off a small cluster from the bunch. If not, tear a portion from the whole, rather than plucking off single grapes, which leaves a cluster of unattractive bare stems on the serving platter.

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