Don’t be a Dinner Dope: Cheat Sheet for Dining Etiquette

Have you ever been to a formal dinner and wondered what to do with all the silverware?  Or, have you inadvertently used someone else’s glass at a banquet?  The above picture can help you sort out what’s what before that next important dinner.   “BMW” is one way to remember the placement of Bread plate (left), Meal plate (middle) and Water (or other glasses-right).

Another way to remember (and very useful for helping children remember where the bread plate and drinks go), is to make the letters “b” and “d” with your hands.  The “b” with your left hand indicates that “bread” is to the left.  The “d” is for “drinks” to the right:

Here are some more tips to help young  (and not-so-young) people with dining etiquette.  This information is from a handout I made for a group of teen boys that I teach in a Communication and Speech Class (hence the BMW visual), but you may find it helpful, too!

  1. Watch what others do, especially the host.  Don’t start eating until the host starts. (Family Style:  You can begin after everyone has received a little helping of each dish)
  2. Napkins go on the lap when you sit down and on your seat when leaving the table temporarily.  At the end of the meal, place the used napkin, semi-folded, to the left of your plate.
  3. Don’t be a hick: Don’t slurp liquids, burp, talk with your mouth full, pick at your teeth, lick fingers, rest elbows on the table, or wear a hat (unless outside).
  4. Passing:  Ask for items to be passed to you rather than stretching across people or the table (family style: pass to the right—counter-clockwise).  Seconds can be passed in any direction.  Pass salt and pepper together.  Do not intercept a pass and snag an item for yourself.
  5. Basic Utensil Rules:  Work from the outside in.  If a salad is served before the main meal, the salad fork will be on the outside.  Don’t use the dessert fork above your plate for the salad.  A fork may be used in the American style (switch hands) or Continental style (fork stays in the left hand).  Once a utensil is used it should never touch the table, not even “planking” off the plate.  Used utensils rest on the plate.                      When finished, they are placed parallel to each other at the “10 to 4” position.  Eat soup by scooping the spoon away from you and sip from the side, not the end.  Knives should never enter the mouth.  Serving utensils:  Always use serving utensils to serve yourself.  Don’t serve from a common dish with your personal utensils.   Do not use butter and condiment serving utensils on your own food.  Transfer a portion to your plate and then use your own utensil to spread.
  6. Bite-size it. Most food should be cut into small, bite-sized pieces, if possible.  Do not cut up an entire serving of meat.  Cut 1-3 pieces at a time.  Rolls should be torn into bite-sized pieces (only tear one piece at a time).  Each piece is individually buttered.
  7. Taste food BEFORE adding salt and pepper.  To do otherwise insults the cook.
  8. Dinner partners rule! Generally speaking, do not talk on the phone, text, listen to music or read at the table.  If an urgent matter arises and you must attend to it, step away from the table.
  9. Dinner conversation tips:
    1. Think before you speak
    2. Don’t interrupt
    3. Don’t monopolize the conversation.  Encourage others to talk by asking open-ended questions.
    4. Don’t say anything distasteful (gross, cursing, controversial).
    5. No negative comments about the food. Try at least a small portion of everything being served.
  10. Thank the host!

Anything to add?