There's probably a good
explanation why your friends haven't invited you to a formal dinner party in
years, or why your spouse doesn't like to eat with you in public: You have bad
table manners! Here are a few easy tips to remember when eating in a formal
At first glance, a place setting at a formal dinner can be intimidating to those
who are unfamiliar with such events. Some would rather go up against a firing
squad than learn the arrangement of plates, glasses and utensils. Relax, it's a
cinch. And, if time permits, practice at home with a friend or your spouse
before the big event.
A dinner plate (or some call it a "service plate") is centered in
front of each guest, with a cloth napkin on top of it (whatever you do, do not
use your napkin as a tissue to blow your nose. Excuse yourself politely, leaving
your napkin on your chair, and go to the rest room). Flanking the plate will be
the flatware: a dinner fork to the immediate left of the plate and a salad fork
on the outside. To the right of the plate are, from closet to furthest, the
salad knife, the dinner knife, a soupspoon, and, if shell fish is being served,
a shellfish fork. Don't forget, utensils are used in order from the outside in.
Glasses are usually placed above the knives to the right of the plate. There
will be a water glass and, extending to the right from there, a champagne glass
and one or two wine glasses. In addition to the dinner plate, a butter plate is
found above the forks, to the left of the dinner plate. The butter knife (in
some cases it is the smallest of the knife selection) is usually set across the
Always say please when
asking for something.
Be sure to say thank you
to your server and bus boy after they have removed any used items.
Always make eye contact
with your food server.
Don't use your fork to
pick your teeth at the dinner table.
Always finish chewing
your food before speaking, that way you don't have to cover your mouth when you
want to say something.
If someone asks you a
question while you are in mid-chew, just smile (mouth closed) and swallow your
food before you reply.
If someone is treating
you to a meal, let's say at a fine seafood restaurant, it is always polite not
to order the most expensive item on the menu...like a lobster dinner...unless
your host recommends it to you.
It would be wise not to
use the President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal as a conversation topic in the
presence of a businessman and his wife.
Talk about lighter
subjects; discuss common interests or hobbies.
Never pry into someone's
personal history unless it is volunteered, and try to avoid heavy subjects such
as politics and religion.
All of the above applies to formal home parties. But when they are in your own
home, always be sure the basic setting is in place when guests sit down to eat.
And a few tips: the host or hostess sit at either end of the table; a male guest
of honor sits at the hostess' right and a female guest of honor at the host's
right. Other guests are escorted to their seats by the host or hostess. Place
cards are optional. For a formal dinner at home, start with the guests being
served from the left, and plates are cleared from the right (this procedure is
standard practice in most formal restaurants). The female guests are served
before men or, if there are no women present, other guests should be served in
order. Depending on your supply of tabletop items, a clean plate should be
brought out for each of the courses.
Some etiquette starved critics say it is customary to wait until the host
unfolds his or her napkin before doing so yourself. Don't bother waiting; always
lay your napkin on your lap once you have been seated at the table. However, you
should never begin a meal until all members of your party are ready, unless they
indicate to you that you may begin your meal without them.
The knife closest to your dinner plate used to be referred to as the "meat
knife," but now there are far too many vegetarians in this world who would
disagree. Without risking a harmless insult, perhaps you should simply call it a
Ordering alcohol at formal dinners has not always been looked upon highly. But,
one should remember that dinner parties are supposed to be fun and (once table
manners come naturally) relaxing. Feel free to enjoy a glass of wine with your
meal, or an after dinner drink with dessert - just don't over do it, or your
could find yourself looking less attractive then you thought. You know your
No elbows on the table. Everybody does it. Just act natural if you are among