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First order of business:  Napkins

To Do’s

  • Once seated, pick your napkin up, unfold it and place it on your lap
  • Some waiters will do this for you.  Don’t fret if you have taken care of this yourself
  • If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold your napkin and place it to the left or right of your plate.  Put back in your lap when you return to the table
  • When the meal has ended, leave the napkin loosely folded to the left of your plate

 To Don’ts

  • Shake your napkin open…unfold it
  • Wipe anything with your napkin but your mouth (not silverware, not the NOSE especially)
  • Crumple, twist or re-fold the napkin
  • Put napkin on plate or chair when finished with the meal

Second order of business:  Table settings

Basic Table Setting: Use the silverware farthest from your plate first; All glasses to right are yours; All food to the left (bread/salad) is yours.

Basic Table Setting


Formal Table Setting: Silverware ‘Work from the Outside In’ rule applies here.  Note the Dessert implements at the top of the Service Plate.  If you will have coffee with your meal, use the dessert spoon, placing it on your saucer (right side) when not in use.   If you do not use your salad knife, it will be removed along with your plate and fork at the end of the salad course.

Formal Table Setting


‘White House’ Manners Setting: The ‘Work from the Outside In’ rule applies here, but it is weird because the Salad course will come after the Main course, making your Salad fork closest to your plate and the last that you will use before the Dessert course.  The Seafood (or Oyster) fork is the only fork ever found to the right of your table setting.  It is uncommon that seafood will be served as an appetizer as well as a Fish course, but anything is possible.  Note that there is also a Sherry glass to the bottom right of your stemware.  This indicates that Sherry will be served with the Soup course.

Be sure to visit the Etiquette Scholar website link below, which will give a lot more “How-To’s” on Table Settings and general dining etiquette.

‘White House’ Manners Setting



Table To Do’s

  • Any food dish to the left of your plate is yours; any cup or glass to the right is yours
  • Begin with the silverware that is farthest out from your plate, then work your way in.  Note that there can be a salad fork AND a salad knife; a dinner fork AND a dinner knife
  • Dessert spoon and fork are above your plate or brought with dessert
  • When using knife and fork – knife in right hand; fork in left hand holding the food (American Style).  Cut a fewbite-sized pieces of food.
  • Place knife on edge of plate with blade facing in.  Eat food by switching fork to right hand (unless you are left-handed)
  • Where to put the spoon???  After eating or drinking anything in a bowl or cup, the spoon used must be placed on the plate beneath the bowl or cup.  If the underplate is too small to balance the spoon, the spoon is laid in the bowl.  If served in a soup plate (shallow and wide), leave the spoon in the bowl
  • Eat a little of everything on your plate.   Any dislike doesn’t need to be expressed
  • Taste your food before adding salt or pepper
  • Pace your eating so that you aren’t the first or last to finish
  • If an olive went into your mouth on a fork  – remove the olive pit with the fork.  If there is gristle from meat, remove it with the fork with which it went into your mouth
  • When you take a drink, put your fork down first
  • Rest all used silverware on your plate, not on the table
  • Unused silverware is left on the table unless a server removes it
  • To signal that you are done, rest your silverware (fork tines UP, knife blade IN) together on your plate at either 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock position.  Make sure that the silverware is solidly on your plate so it won’t fall off when the plate is being removed

Table To Don’ts

  • ‘See Above!’ (referring to the photo) Sunglasses, yelling, and pointing …really???‘
  • Use the Teen Death Grip or Caveman Scoop Tactic with your silverware
  • Use any glass to your left….your water glass, etc. is to the right of your plate’
  • Make ‘dog food’ of your meal by cutting everything up before you start eating
  • Leave your spoon in a bowl or cup from which you have eaten.  Place the spoon on the plate beneath the bowl or cup.  If the underplate is too small to balance the spoon, the spoon is laid in the bowl.
  • Scoop food toward you; scoop it away from you instead (White House manners!)
  • Wave your silverware around to make a point
  • Left hand, arm or elbow on the table – no joke…..
    • Keep your left hand in your lap if you are not using it
  • Blow on your food to cool it off; just wait a minute
  • Stack your dishes or push them away
    • Allow whoever is serving to remove your plates and silverware

Most Disgusting Table Fouls

  • Talking with food in your mouth….the MOST disgusting table foul!
  • No wait!!!…. Never, never, never blow your nose at the table
    • Rather, excuse yourself (no need to say where you are going….TMI)  Just ‘Excuse me’ works
  • This isn’t an audition so please don’t think you need to entertain the guests.  Share the spotlight
  • Use a toothpick at the table
  • Apply makeup at the table

Passing Food

  • Pass food from the left to the right
  • Do not reach past the length of your arm; ask to have whatever you want passed.  Never reach across another diner
  • When passing, set any item on the table rather than passing hand to hand
  • If you are asked to pass the salt, be sure to pass both the salt AND the pepper (so one or the other is not ‘orphaned’)
  • Butter, spreads or dips are taken from the serving dish to your butter plate before spreading or eating
  • Always use the specified serving pieces; never your own silverware to do this
  • No ‘Short-stopping’ (using salt & pepper or helping yourself to something that is being passed)

When to start eating

  • Private party
    • When the host/hostess picks up their fork to eat.  You may begin if the host/hostess insists that you begin
  • Restaurant
    • When all at your table have been served with their food unless the person still waiting insists that you begin

Party / General Rules

  • Follow the dress code on the invitation or suggested by host/hostess
  • Arrive on time (no more than 10 minutes early and never late)
  • If you can’t eat certain foods, let the hostess know well in advance
  • Take a hostess/host gift
    • Nothing the hostess will feel compelled to use that evening
    • Never flowers that require a vase from the hostess
    • Never expect your gift to be served at the event
  • Seating
    • If place cards are not at the table, wait to be told where to sit by the hostess (women typically sit to the right of men)
    • Wait for the host/hostess to sit before seating yourself
    • Gentlemen always stand when a lady gets up to excuse herself from the table AND stands again when she returns
    • When a lady is being seated, pull her chair out so that she can comfortably sit down
    • Gently (no broken ribs against the table here) help her slide her chair in
  • Signals
    • The beginning of a meal in a home is signaled by the host/hostess unfolding his/her napkin and placing it in the lap
    • The end of the meal is signaled by the host/hostess loosely folding their napkin and placing it on the table
    • Be observant as to what your host or hostess is doing, then follow suit
    • If a prayer or ‘blessing’ is said, join in or be silently respectful
    • If a toast is offered, stand if the host stands.  Bad form to not join a toast
  • A thank you note (not email) should be sent after the party

Helpful Links