The point of Dinner Etiquette rules is to make you feel comfortable – not uncomfortable. Table manners play an important part in making a favorable impression. They are visible signals of the state of our manners and therefore are essential to professional success. Following is the United States Dinner Etiquette Guide to help you in your next dining experience.

Making Restaurant Reservations:

Restaurant reservations are like any other appointment. If you make a reservation, stick to it. Call ahead if you are going to be more than 15 minutes late, and cancel as far in advance as possible if your plans change so that someone else can get a table.

Some restaurants take credit card numbers to hold reservations and charge no-show fees.

How to use napkins:

In a restaurant:

As soon as you are seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, unfold it, and put it in your lap. Do not shake it open. At some very formal restaurants, the waiter may do this for the diners, but it is not inappropriate to place your own napkin in your lap, even when this is the case.
The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal.

Do not clean the cutlery or wipe your face with the napkin. NEVER use it to wipe your nose!

If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold the napkin and place it to the left or right of your plate. Do not refold your napkin or wad it up on the table either. Never place your napkin on your chair.

At the end of the meal, leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting. It should not be crumpled or twisted; nor should it be folded. The napkin must also not be left on the chair.

At a private dinner party:

The meal begins when the host or hostess unfolds his or her napkin. This is your signal to do the same. Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin. Do not shake it open.

The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal.

The host will signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate. Do not refold your napkin, but do not wad it up, either.

When to start eating:

In a restaurant: Wait until all are served at your table before beginning to eat.

At a private dinner party: When your host or hostess picks up their fork to eat, then you may eat. Do not start before this unless the host or hostess insists that you start eating.

How to use your silverware and dinnerware:

Use the silverware farthest from your plate first.

Here is the silverware and dinnerware rule: Eat to your left, drink to your right. Any food dish to the left is yours, and any glass to the right is yours.

Starting with the knife, fork, or spoon that is farthest from your plate, work your way in, using one utensil for each course. The salad fork is on your outermost left, followed by your dinner fork. Your soup spoon is on your outermost right, followed by your beverage spoon, salad knife, and dinner knife. Your dessert spoon and fork are above your plate or brought out with dessert. If you remember the rule to work from the outside in, you will be fine.

Use one of two methods when using the fork and knife:

American Style: Knife in right hand, fork in left hand holding food. After a few bite-sized pieces of food are cut, place knife on edge of plate with blades facing in. Eat food by switching fork to right hand (unless you are left handed). A left hand, arm or elbow on the table is bad manners.

Continental/European Style: Knife in right hand, fork in left hand. Eat food with fork still in left hand. The difference is that you do not switch hands – you eat with your fork in your left hand, with the prongs curving downward. Both utensils are kept in your hands with the tines pointed down throughout the entire eating process. If you take a drink, you do not just put your knife down, you put both utensils down into the resting position: cross the fork over the knife.

Once used, your utensils (including the handles), must not touch the table again. Always rest forks, knives, and spoons on the side of your plate in the 4:20 position.

For more formal dinners, from course to course, your tableware will be taken away and replaced as needed. To signal that your are done with the course, rest your fork, tines up, and knife blade in, with the handles resting at five o’clock an tips pointing to ten o’clock on your plate (4:20).

Any unused silverware is simply left on the table.

General Social and Dining Etiquette Rules

Dress Code: Follow whatever dress code is requested on the invitation or suggested by the host/hostess.

Arrival: Arrive at least 10 minutes early unless otherwise specified. Never arrive late!

Hostess Gift: It is proper to bring a small hostess gift, one that the hostess is not obliged to use that very evening. Gifts such as flowers, candy, wine, or dessert, are not good hostess gifts, as the hostess will feel that it must put it out immediately. You must not never expect your gift to be served at the dinner party.

Seating: At a dinner party, wait for the host or hostess sits down before taking your seat. If the host/hostess asks you to sit, then do. At a very formal dinner party, if there are no name cards at the table, wait until the host indicates where you should sit. The seating will typically be man-woman-man-woman with the women seated to the right of the men.

Prayer: A prayer or ‘blessing’ may be customary in some households. The dinner guests may join in or be respectfully silent. Most prayers are made by the host before the meal is eaten.

Toast: Sometimes a toast is offered instead of a prayer. Always join in with a toast. If the host stands up during the toast, also stand up.

End of Dinner: Serving tea or coffee signifies that the formal part of the evening is over. Guests may now feel free to leave, or linger if the host or hostess encourages them to do so.

Thank You Note: After a formal dinner party, a thank you note should be sent to the hostess. Depending on how well you know your hosts, a telephone call is also acceptable.

Serving food:

Food is served from the left. Dishes are removed from the right.

Always say please when asking for something.

At a restaurant, be sure to say thank you to your server and bus boy after they have removed any used items.

Butter, spreads, or dips should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating.

Passing dishes or food:

Pass food from the left to the right. Do not stretch across the table, crossing other guests, to reach food or condiments.

If another diner asks for the salt or pepper, pass both together, even if a table mate asks for only one of them. This is so dinner guests will not have to search for orphaned shakers.

Set any passed item, whether it’s the salt and pepper shakers, a bread basket, or a butter plate, directly on the table instead of passing hand-to-hand.

Never intercept a pass. Snagging a roll out of the breadbasket or taking a shake of salt when it is en route to someone else is a no-no.

Always use serving utensils to serve yourself, not your personal silverware.

Eating:

Do NOT talk with food in your mouth! This is very rude and distasteful to watch! Wait until you have swallowed the food in your mouth.

Always taste your food before seasoning it. Usually the hostess has gone to a lot of work making sure the food served is delicious to her standards. It is very rude to add salt and pepper before tasting the food.

Do not blow on your food to cool it off. If it is too hot to eat, take the hint and wait until it cools.

Always scoop food, using the proper utensil, away from you.

Cut only enough food for the next mouthful (cut no more than two bites of food at a time). Eat in small bites and slowly.

Do eat a little of everything on your plate. If you do not like the food and feel unable to give a compliment, just keep silent. It is acceptable to leave some food on your plate if you are full and have eaten enough. If the food served is not to your liking, it is polite to at least attempt to eat a small amount of it. It is never acceptable to ask a person why they have not eaten all the food. Don’t make an issue if you do not like something or can’t eat it – keep silence.

Even if you have dietary restrictions, it is inappropriate to request food other than that which is being served by the host at a private function. If you have serious dietary restrictions or allergies, let your host know in advance of the dinner.

Do not “play with” your food or utensils. Never wave or point silverware. Do not hold food on the fork or spoon while talking, nor wave your silverware in the air or point with it.

Try to pace your eating so that you do not finish before others are halfway through. If you are a slow eater, try to speed up a bit on this occasion so you do not hold everyone up. Never continue to eat long after others have stopped.

Table Manners:

Unfold your napkin and place it on your lap within 1 minute of sitting at the table to dine. When you are finished with your dinner, place it loosely on the table, not on the plate and never on your chair.

Keep elbows off the table. Keep your left hand in your lap unless you are using it.

Do not talk with your mouth full. Chew with your mouth closed.

Guests should do their best to mingle and make light conversation with everyone. Do not talk excessively loud. Give others equal opportunities for conversation. Talk about cheerful, pleasant things at the table.

Do not clean up spills with your own napkin and do not touch items that have dropped on the floor. You can use your napkin to protect yourself from spills. Then, simply and politely ask your server to clean up and to bring you a replacement for the soiled napkin or dirty utensil.

Loud eating noises such as slurping and burping are very impolite. The number one sin of dinner table etiquette!

Do not blow your nose at the dinner table. Excuse yourself to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the dining room. If you cough, cover your mouth with your napkin to stop the spread of germs and muffle the noise. If your cough becomes unmanageable, excuse yourself to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the dining room.

Turn off your cell phone or switch it to silent or vibrate mode before sitting down to eat, and leave it in your pocket or purse. It is impolite to answer a phone during dinner. If you must make or take a call, excuse yourself from the table and step outside of the restaurant.

Do not use a toothpick or apply makeup at the table.

Say “Excuse me,” or “I’ll be right back,” before leaving the table. Do not say that you are going to the restroom.

Whenever a woman leaves the table or returns to sit, all men seated with her should stand up.

Do not push your dishes away from you or stack them for the waiter when you are finished. Leave plates and glasses where they are.

Once used, your utensils, including the handles, must not touch the table again. Always rest forks, knives, and spoons on the side of your plate or in the bowl. When you are finished with a course, place your utensils (silverware) used on your place in the 4:20 position

Wine:

Never turn a wine glass upside down to decline wine. It is more polite to let the wine be poured and not draw attention. Otherwise, hold your hand over the wine glass to signal that you do not want any wine.

Hold your wine glass by the stem, not the rim.

Where a different wine is served with each course, it is quite acceptable to not finish each glass of wine poured

Dividing or sharing the restaurant bill with others:

Always assume that if you are dining in a group of more than 6 people (3 couples), that the check is going to be divided evenly among everyone.

When dining when other couples, if you know you are going to ask for a separate check, tell the server before you order so that the process is simplified later.

Take into account any significant ($15 or more) price differences in orders. If someone only orders soup and everyone else orders 2 to 3 courses, it is not fair to make them pay the same.

If there are a couple people not drinking alcohol while the rest of the group is, separate the beverage total to take this into account and do not overcharge the non-drinkers

Proper tipping etiquette in a restaurant:

At a restaurant, always leave a tip. Tips can vary from 15% to 25%.

Waiter: 15% to 20% of the bill; 25% for extraordinary service

Wine steward: 15% of wine bill

Bartender: 10% to 15% of bar bill

Coat check: $1.00 per coat

Car attendant: $2.00 to $5.00

Remember that the amount you tip reflects the total price before any coupons, gift certificates, etc. Just because you get a discount, does not mean that your server did not serve up the full order.

If the owner of the restaurant serves you himself, you should still tip him. He will divide the tip among those who work in the kitchen and dining room.

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