Taking It to the Table with Class
We’re finally inside.
You’ve mastered the art of civility, entered the premises with courtesy, and acknowledged people with a please and thank you. You’ve arrived.
If you’re at a restaurant, there are some hard and fast rules you should follow. Table manners exist to make eating with others as pleasant an experience as possible. They were designed to keep humans from scarfing their food down like animals.
And watching an animal eat is not a pleasant experience!
Different cultures have different rules as to what is correct. But they all have rules. I live in America, so I follow the North American standards, but some rules are global.
Universal Rules to Avoid Being Rude
This first one is almost not worth mentioning. It’s kind of like “close the bathroom door.”
Close Your Mouth When Eating
This means, chew your food with your mouth closed and don’t speak until you’ve swallowed it. Did you know most digestion takes place in your mouth? Saliva is a powerful thing.
No one wants to watch it do its job.
Chew Your Food Well
Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Break down that nutritious food into the smallest pieces possible so that your saliva mentioned above can do its job. It will not only give you more time to enjoy the taste, but it’s also a safety issue.
Larger pieces of food are more difficult to swallow. It can result in choking, especially if you’re eating meat.
Eating slowly will remind you to keep your mouth closed when you chew.
Eating vs. Serving Utensils
Your fork and spoon are meant for your mouth, only and should never be used to serve yourself communal food, e.g., from the salad bowl.
Can you say bacteria? The human mouth is dirtier than an animal’s. According to Delta Dental, there are anywhere from one million to one billion bacteria per tooth in your mouth.
Don’t Keep Looking at Your Cell Phone.
You’ve got kids, you’re on-call, or there might be an emergency. So yes, you need your cell phone. Place it face down on the table.
You don’t need to check your Facebook status continually. You are socially in the presence of people, and they deserve your full attention. Think of it this way; if you’re visiting someone, they shouldn’t answer the phone and have a long conversation while you stare at them.
Ignore your phone as much as possible.
Wait Until Everyone is Served.
This is another no-brainer.
No one wants to watch someone else eat when they’re hungry. Likewise, it’s uncomfortable to eat while a group of hungry eyes watches.
Rules Around the World
Different parts of the world have different rules.
For instance, Western European countries hold their forks in the left hand and knives with the right. The food is likewise picked-up with the left and transferred to the mouth.
I preferred the European Manners as they were called. But my mother did not. She considered it lazy and gauche not to transfer your fork to the right hand. She was fond of reminding me that we did not live in Europe and were no longer governed by their laws.
In North America, this includes the United States, we cut the food, place the knife across the top edge of the plate, and transfer the fork to the right hand. This is referred to as fork- handling.
Thankfully, it is becoming obsolete.
We Americans cut with our right because most people are right-handed, and therefore the right hand is stronger. The dominance of the right side is also the reason we are in the habit of changing hands.
Early American settlers didn’t have the luxury of multiple sets of utensils. Face it; sometimes, they didn’t have the luxury of food. They may have shared a single knife, requiring each person to cut up everything on their plates at once and pass it to the next person.
They then had only their forks to move food around, and the right is preferred for the majority of people.
In India, proper etiquette requires using your right hand when eating and receiving all food. Food in the mouth should not be heard, but it’s okay to burp and slurp afterward.
In China, all meals begin with tea, which is poured by the host or hostess, starting with the eldest person. The utensils of choice are chopsticks. There’s no haggling over multiple forks, spoons, or knives.
Rules of Unknown Origin
A rule for which even Emily Post could not find a logical reason is:
Only cut one or two bites of food at a time.
Why, you ask?
No one seems to know for sure. One reason is that it makes for a messy presentation on your plate. The other basis is that parents cut their children’s food all at once.
If you’re eating meat, cutting it all at once will cause it to cool more quickly, though this was not the reason for the rule.
The bottom line is: Just don’t do it.
For the Ladies
It’s okay to reapply lipstick at the table, but nothing else in terms of make-up.
Unfortunately, it’s not okay for you, or anyone, to pick their teeth at the table, so you might want to excuse yourself and check out your pearly whites in the ladies’ room before drawing attention to your mouth.
As with all etiquette, table rules are those of common courtesy and respect for the people sitting around the table.
If it would gross you out if someone else did it, then don’t do it yourself.
That’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others.
Need a break from all these rules? Sign-up for my newsletter and receive a free 10-minute meditation to help you relax.