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Do you have tips on table etiquette?

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Where does the bread plate go? When do I put the napkin on my lap? When is it appropriate to use salt and pepper at the table? With holiday meals just around the corner, these are questions that may concern hosts and guests alike.

Good table manners are a matter of common sense and should reflect the most logical choices. One of the most important things to remember at the table is to be natural, without drawing attention to yourself. Consider these dining tips.

Posture. When eating, sit close enough to the table that each bite can be brought to the mouth without having to lean forward. Sit straight at the table without being stiff.

Elbows. Elbows should not be placed on the table, but kept close to the side so they don’t interfere with those sitting next to you. When a hand is not in use, place it in your lap, or if it is more comfortable, rest your forearm on the edge of the table.

Table settings. An attractive table setting makes the food look appetizing and it gives the host/hostess an opportunity to express creativity. It also gives guests the chance to see the effort that has been made in their behalf.

Place settings. Each place setting should consist of the main plate in the center, with the forks placed on the left (salad fork goes on the outside) and knives on the right with blade pointed in. Spoons are placed to the right of the knives, and the water glass is placed at the tip of the knife. A second beverage glass would be placed to the right of the water glass. The bread and butter plate belongs at the tip of the forks, and the salad plate goes to the left of the forks and a little above. When no bread and butter plate is used, the salad plate may go at the tip of the forks. The napkin is placed directly to the left of the forks and dinner plate, but if the table is crowded, it may be placed under the forks, directly on the plate or in the center of the place setting.

Napkins. When seated at the table, wait until the host or hostess places the napkin on his or her lap or when he or she asks the guests to proceed. When the host or hostess picks up his or her fork, you may pick up yours and begin to eat. The napkin remains in your lap until after the meal and should then be placed loosely gathered on the table next to the plate. If you need to leave the table during the meal, the napkin should be placed on the chair and then back in your lap after you return to the table.

Utensils. Silverware is placed in order of its use. Always remember to begin with the silverware on the outside of the place setting and work from the outside in. If in doubt, watch the hostess or someone else at the table who is confident in using the utensils. Cut up food as it is eaten, not all at once. When finished eating, place the used fork and knife on the plate, sharp side of knife facing in and the fork next to the knife.

Beverages. Wait to sip beverages until your mouth is empty and has been wiped with a napkin. The only exception is when your mouth has been burned with food — then it is appropriate to drink with food in the mouth. Do not gulp or guzzle drinks.

Conversation. When talking at the table, there should never be food in your mouth. Chew with your mouth closed, without talking. Guests should not draw attention to themselves by making unnecessary noise with their mouth or with silverware.

Seasonings and condiments. Guests should always taste the food before asking for salt and pepper so they do not offend the cook. When you use the condiments on the table, place a portion of each condiment desired on the plate beside the food, not directly on the food itself, i.e., cranberry sauce is placed on the dinner plate, not on the meat. If there are no condiments on the table, it is not polite to ask for them.

Formal service. Guests are usually served from their left, and plates are cleared from their left. Drinks are served from the right and cleared from the right.

Informal service. When a serving dish is passed around the table instead of being served individually, it should be passed counterclockwise. You should take a reasonable portion and never take more than can be finished.

Reaching. Guests may reach for food that is close to them, as long as they do not have to stretch for it and do not reach across another guest. If the food is across the table, ask politely for it to be passed.

Finger food. Some foods may be eaten with the fingers. If you are not sure if it is acceptable, follow the example of the host or hostess or use the neater and easier way to eat the food. When finger foods are served, take the food from the serving dish and place it on the plate before eating it.

Removing food from mouth. If a piece of food must be removed from the mouth, do it the same way that it was put in and place it on the plate. A pit or small bone should be removed with fingers. The most important thing to remember when removing food is to do it with as little show as possible.

Natural table manners take practice, and the best place to practice is at home. Once good table manners become automatic, you will feel more relaxed and comfortable, and the conversation and food will be the focus of the meal, not manners.

Posted on 12 Nov 2004

Margie Memmott
County Director, Family & Consumer Science and 4-H/Youth Agent, Juab County

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