Mind Your Table Manners

If you are like me then you probably have never been required to take a formal course in dining etiquette. For me, my “formal” etiquette training consisted of a mix of what my parents taught me (they were pretty strict with good table manners), my treasured copy of Walter Hoving’s “Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers” (which my mom ordered for me when I was about twelve), osmosis through client lunches, some formal dinners, a lot of causal ones, and of course then there’s Titanic.

I bet you are asking yourself: Titanic? Well yes, remember the part during Jack’s first dinner with high society when Molly whispers to Jack to start from the outside and work his way in? I would say, this was probably a pivotal moment not just for Jack, but for many viewers like myself who stared dumbfounded over the army of silverware on the big screen.

Nevertheless, through a collage of experiences and primarily careful attention to etiquette by my parents, I have gained an appreciation for good table manners. I believe that table manners say a lot about a person similarly as to what a person’s body language shows. Good manners don’t necessarily have to reflect a person’s upbringing, education, exposure or personality, but more importantly what I think they can reflect is an individual’s awareness and courtesy to others and their environment.

With that said, my goal here is to compile some easy-to-remember etiquette tips that can be used across the board (casual and formal setting). Why not have good manners whether you are at the Olive Garden or whether you are at Del Frisco’s in Midtown New York City.

To make this quick, easy and concise I have divided this post into 3 short sections: Eating, Resting and Finishing.


Tip 1. First and foremost, determine your dining style and commit to exercising one.

If you are familiar with tennis, then you probably know there is a double-handed backhand and single-handed backhand. Both are correct, but each depends on an individual’s training and style. The same applies when using your fork and knife.

Two Handed: Continental Style

If you have been brought up by European parents like me, then you have most likely been more acquainted with the Continental Style. This style utilizes both hands at all times: fork in the left hand and knife in the right hand. The fork is used to support the piece of food while cutting and then used to bring food to the mouth all while keeping the knife in the right hand.

One Handed: Zig Zag Style

The alternate option to the Continental Style is the “Zig Zag” style or American Style primarily practiced in North America. This style involves more maneuvering with the fork and knife.

First, you cut your food into smaller pieces with the fork in your left hand (for support) and knife in your right hand (to cut). Once your food is cut down to manageable bite size pieces, the knife is then rested towards the top of the plate and the fork is switched over to the right hand.

>Tip 2. Wait until everyone is served before beginning your meal. This rule applies to the first course, typically a cold platter. For second courses and especially hot plates, it is still good practice to wait until everyone is served, but at the same token it is also polite of those waiting for their plates to prompt you to eat.

>Tip 3. Always pass bread and other side dishes to your right to maintain an orderly flow at the table. There are exceptions to the rule, if of course, your neighbor to your immediate left is requesting seconds. It is acceptable to past the dishes directly to him or her. Do not pass around the table again. At this point your table companions are most likely deep into enjoying their dishes to want to be distracted by your passing.


Tip 1. Whether you are using the Continental Resting position or the American Resting position, always keep your eating utensil on the plate while you break. Remember the goal is to 1) enjoy your meal, and 2) to keep it confined to your plates and dishes. Putting your silverware on the tablecloth or table can diminish your cleanliness. Besides you never really know how clean the surface is especially when you are eating out.

Continental Resting Position

American Resting Position

Tip 2. Take your mother’s advice and remember: “no elbows on the table”. Having good posture while you eat is always good. Besides you are not only trying to enjoy yourself, but you are also trying to make the experience enjoyable for others. Can you imaging the clutter if everyone at your table rested with their elbows on the table?

Tip 3. When taking a bathroom break, do not leave your napkin on the table. Whether you are in a formal setting using a cloth napkin or a more casual setting using a paper napkin, lightly fold and leave the  napkin on your seat when you excuse yourself. This signifies to those around you that you are not ready to surrender your meal, and it also keeps the table nice and tidy for others around you.


Tip 1. Use your utensils to signal that you have finished your meal. Again, you will either use the Continental Finish position or the American Finish position to indicate that its okay for the waiter to collect the plate. At this point all silverware should remain on the plate.

Continental Finish Position

American Finish Position

Tip 2. When you have finished your last course or meal, lightly fold your napkin and place it on the left side of your plate or setting. Putting your napkin on the table also signals to the waitstaff that you have completed the meal. Further, folding it lightly maintains a tidy appearance. Remember though, fold your napkin very casually and do not refold to its original states; it will not be reused until its been washed again.[/caption]

Tip 3.Push your chair back in as you stand up to leave. You don’t want to create clutter in an already tight space, and besides it’s good manners to signal your departure with a tucked in chair.

And whalla! These some of the quick basics that can be applied to both a formal and casual dining experience. It’s always good to start with the basics and then work your way up, so take a look at some of these helpful resources to brush up on details: