Emily Wyckoff

Table manner refresher

I consider myself pretty well-mannered, but there are some basic table manners and etiquette that I can never seem to remember. I have used my partner’s bread plate in error many, many times and stumbled over where to place the dessert fork when setting a formal table for Christmas Eve. My all-time biggest snafu was at Christmas dinner at my husband’s mother’s early on in our relationship and she had set the table with plate chargers. Plate chargers? I didn’t know what they were and brought the charger to the buffet line, ready to pile it up with food. My mother-in-law was mortified and hurried over to me and took it out of my hand, thrusting a plate in it instead. Ooh boy.

Here is a refresher on some basic table manners – start teaching your your kids now so they don’t try and use a charger as a plate:

Which bread plate is mine?!? Your bread plate is always to the left. A friend recently showed me trick to keep it straight – hold up both hands in the “ok” sign (privately or just visualize of course:-)) – your left hand is a “b” for bread plate:

Basic table setting. When you are setting the table, or eating a meal that has been set for multiple courses, remember to work from the outside in, it order of course. You have to trust the hostess – the table should only be set with utensils you will be using for the particular meal, in the order you will use them, working from the outside in toward the plate. Dessert utensils are set above the plate, unless they are brought out with the dessert course.

Other table setting pointers:

  • The napkin can either go to the left of the plate or on top of the plate and the fold is always pointing inward.
  • The knife blade should always point inward toward the plate.
  • No more than three of each type of utensil should be on the table and if more are required, they will be brought out with the appropriate course.
  • As courses are served, use your silverware from the outside moving inward toward the main plate.
  • Dessert and bread plates are to the left of the plate,¬†water and wine glasses are to the top right.

For a formal dinner, it can look like this (there are variations and personal preferences of course):

Pass food counterclockwise. Why? To give some order to passing dishes, especially multiple dishes at once.

What to do with utensils when you are done? Place utensils on your plate with the handles on the number 4 (if your plate was a clock).

Cut your food all at once? Never ever. While it is more efficient, proper table etiquette dictates one piece at a time Рputting down both utensils between each bite.

Salt and pepper stay together. If someone asks to pass the salt, always pass both, never one or the other.

When starting a meal, never begin eating until everyone is seated and served, unless a hostess insists everyone starts before that point at an especially large gathering so the food doesn’t get cold.

What do you do with the napkin when you get up from the table? Whether it’s the end of the meal or the middle, should you get up from the table (only after saying “excuse me”) you should loosely place your napkin next to your plate – not crumpled or twisted, and contrary to popular belief, not on your chair.

Some more obscure etiquette points at the table:

  • No candlesticks on the table during day time
  • Place mats should not be used for formal dinners – tablecloths only (I ignore this – I love place mats).
  • Gentlemen should stand behind their chairs until all the ladies are seated.
  • When serving, serve from the left and pick up the dish from the right. Beverages, however, are to be both served as well as removed from the right-hand side.
  • Gentlemen should stand when a lady leaves or rejoins the table in formal social settings.

Oh and the last table manner to keep in mind? Silence your cell phone and no texting!

12 Responses to “Table manner refresher”

  1. success_1of4 says:

    Wow I never knew that about the bread, however I do remember my mother telling me to work my way in with the silverware if I was not sure of what to do. I believe table manners are always necessary to a certain extent at every meal, whether it be formal or informal. I can always remember my mother saying “Manners Matter”, and it stuck as you can see. Moreover, I can say I have learned some necessary must for table manners from this post. Thank you so much for the knowledge, greatly appreciated.

  2. nickat says:

    What is a plate charger?

  3. Susie says:

    Thanks for the info about table manners. I’m glad to finally know what to do with my napkin when I temporarily leave the table. I have more table manners questions:

    1) What do I do with that pesky napkin at meal’s END? I’ve seen diners fold and place the napkin left of the plate (or imaginary plate if it is cleared)or in the spot where the cleared plate used to be.

    2) I have a friend who places, and has her whole family placing, one utensil at meals’ end at 3 o’clock and another at 9 o’clock. What?! As usual she is reluctant to share any insight about such a placement.

    3) Mom-in-law stopped us from scraping and stacking plates to clear the table quickly after the main course. What is the proper way to do this following a large gathering, family or otherwise?


  4. Susie says:

    One last question I have about table manner regards talking with one’s mouth full at the dinnertime.

    I have become cognizant about NOT speaking with my mouth full. My future daughter-in-law may not be aware she eats “see” food. I didn’t readily notice this mannerism until, having been to several family gatherings, I could “see” the family resemblance. Neither parent ever took a break from both talking AND eating.

    My son and his lovely-in-every-other-way sweetheart depend on business contacts made in social situations. Should I remind him to keep an eye on his own social skills (whereby he’ll ask “Why?”) OR should I merely “keep my mouth shut” (no pun intended!). Thanks for the advice.

  5. I ignore most of those rules but I have my own for every day:
    No cell phones or electronics of any kind at the table. I don’t care if you’re the Pope.
    No games, books, drawings etc for my kids. The table is the time for us to talk and visit with each other, not be in our own worlds. Also, I find when my kids do have toys at the table, something always gets knocked over.
    Lastly, talking with your mouthful is a sin in my home. I can not stand when people do this, especially when they almost purposely put food in their mouth first before they start talking. I’m patient enough to wait for you to swallow your food before you answer me!
    Good advice Plan B Mom!

  6. Plan B Mom says:

    @nickat – a plate charger is a decorative plate that is larger than a normal plate and it is used at a place setting. You do not eat from this plate! It doesn’t usually look like a normal plate – I have mostly seen seen metallic and other more ornate ones. If the table is set with plates, dinner plates are stacked on top of the chargers. If it is a buffet, each place is set with a charger, which diners leave at their places when they go to get their meal, then return to the table and place the buffet plate on top of the charger.

    @Susie – you do the same thing with the napkin at the end of the meal – fold it loosely and place it next to your plate. Never on the chair – it’s considered bad manners. As for stacking – never ever. I can hear my mother with her “no stacking rule.” Even with large dinners, Plates must be cleared two at a time (one in each hand) – it may take a while – get a few helpers! And as for your son-in-law, absolutely gently and sweetly remind him that manners DO matter – and you never have a second chance to make a first impression. Good manners go a long way in relationships, business and otherwise.

  7. Marie-Eve says:

    For the bread tip, if you look at your right hand, it forms a “d” letter for drink… your glass, or glasses, should be on that side!

    Left “b” bread, Right “d” drink!

  8. Gina says:

    Unless you’re dining with the pope I find all of this very restricting. I like people to come into my home and feel like it’s theirs. A relaxed atmosphere with everyone hanging in the kitchen, picking as I cook, passing heaping plates of family style offerings.

    Plate chargers, multiple utensils, course plates, linen napkins, bread plates? All that means is A LOT OF CLEANING.

    Instead use environmentally safe, recyclable paper products, right down to the table cloth. End of the night fold up the whole mess into the table cloth, stuff it in a garbage bag and relax with that last glass of wine content to know you pulled off another successful gathering without having anyone worry about which fork to use or that you’ve overpopulated a landfill.

  9. Sue says:

    You forgot which glass is for wine and which is for water – inside/outside – not that I need more than one glass, fork, spoon, or plate per setting and they’re all reuseable so I don’t create more garbage.

  10. PJ says:

    Great reminders about table manners.

    Here are just a few misc. thoughts:

    It is proper to tear the bread in half before eating it.

    Put your fork and knife across the plate when you are finished eating to let the waiter know that they can take your plate.

    Talk with an inside voice while out to dinner and turn off your cell phone. Do your best not to use the phone at the table unless it is an emergency.

    Take CPR so you can save a person who is choking. don’t laugh or talk while you are eating because both increase your risk of choking.

  11. Nataly says:

    The BMW trick has always worked for me! The arrangement should follow the order:

  12. Esther says:

    Yes, working from left to right with BMW has always stood me in good stead too, although I learnt it as bread, meal, water…. Obviously the person that taught me that one was teetotal!

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