Table manners

Table manners are the rules of etiquette used while eating, which may also include the appropriate use of utensils. Different cultures observe different rules for table manners. Each family or group sets its own standards for how strictly these rules are to be enforced.

Western Europe (including United Kingdom)

Traditionally in Western Europe, the host or hostess takes the first bite unless he or she instructs otherwise. The host begins after all food for that course has been served and everyone is seated. Food should always be tasted before salt and pepper are added. Applying condiments or seasoning before the food is tasted is viewed as an insult to the cook, as it shows a lack of faith in the cook's ability to prepare a meal.[1] In religious households, a family meal may commence with saying Grace, or at dinner parties the guests might begin the meal by offering some favourable comments on the food and thanks to the host. In a group dining situation it is considered impolite to begin eating before all the group have been served their food and are ready to start.

The fork is held with the left hand and the knife held with the right. The fork is held generally with the tines down, using the knife to cut food or help guide food on to the fork. When no knife is being used, the fork can be held with the tines up. Under no circumstances should the fork be held like a shovel, with all fingers wrapped around the base. With the tines up, the fork balances on the side of the index finger, held in place with the thumb and index finger. When eating soup, the spoon is held in the right hand and the bowl tipped away from the diner, scooping the soup in outward movements. The soup spoon should never be put into the mouth, and soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon, not the end.[2] The knife must never enter the mouth or be licked.[3] Food should always be chewed with the mouth closed.[4] Talking with food in one's mouth is seen as very rude.[3] Licking one's fingers and eating slowly can also be considered impolite.

On formal dining occasions, it is acceptable to take some butter from the butter dish with a bread knife and put it onto a side plate, to later butter pieces of bread roll. This prevents the butter in the dish from gathering bread crumbs as it is passed around. Knives should be used to butter bread rolls but not to cut them, and they should instead be torn with the hands.

Only white wine or rosé is held by the stem of the glass; red by the bowl. Pouring one's own drink when eating with other people is acceptable, but it is more polite to offer to pour drinks to the people sitting on either side.[3]

It is impolite to reach over someone to pick up food or other items. Diners should always ask for items to be passed along the table to them.[3] In the same vein, diners should pass those items directly to the person who asked.[1] It is also rude to slurp food, eat noisily or make noise with cutlery.

When one has finished eating, this should be communicated to other diners and waiting staff by placing the knife and fork together on the plate, at approximately 4 o'clock position, with the fork placed lower than the knife, and its tines facing upwards. Napkins should be placed unfolded on the table when the meal is finished.[3]

At family meals, children are often expected to ask permission to leave the table at the end of the meal.

Should a mobile telephone (or any other modern device) ring or if a text message is received, the diner should ignore the call. In exceptional cases where the diner feels the call may be of an urgent nature, he should ask to be excused, leave the room and take the call (or read the text message) out of earshot of the other diners.

Placing a phone or other devices like keys on the dinner table is considered rude.

North America

Table Manners in the Nursery, from a 1916 magazine article from the United States

Modern etiquette provides the smallest numbers and types of utensils necessary for dining. Only utensils which are to be used for the planned meal should be set. Even if needed, hosts should not have more than three utensils on either side of the plate before a meal. If extra utensils are needed, they may be brought to the table along with later courses.[5]

A table cloth extending 10–15 inches past the edge of the table should be used for formal dinners, while placemats may be used for breakfast, lunch, and informal suppers.[6] Candlesticks, even if not lit, should not be on the table while dining during daylight hours.[7]

Men's and unisex hats should never be worn at the table. Ladies' hats may be worn during the day if visiting others.[8]

Phones and other distracting items should not be used at the dining table. Reading at a table is permitted only at breakfast, unless the diner is alone.[9] Urgent matters should be handled, after an apology, by stepping away from the table.

If food must be removed from the mouth for some reason—a pit, bone, or gristle—the rule of thumb according to Emily Post, is that it comes out the same way it went in. For example, if olives are eaten by hand, the pit may be removed by hand. If an olive in a salad is eaten with a fork, the pit should be deposited back onto the fork inside one's mouth, and then placed onto a plate. The same applies to any small bone or piece of gristle in food. A diner should never spit things into a napkin, certainly not a cloth napkin. Since the napkin is always laid in the lap and brought up only to wipe one's mouth, hidden food may be accidentally dropped into the lap or onto the host's floor. Food that is simply disliked should be swallowed.[10]

The fork may be used in the American style (in the left hand while cutting and in the right hand to pick up food) or the European Continental style (fork always in the left hand). (See Fork etiquette) The napkin should be left on the seat of a chair only when leaving temporarily.[11] Upon leaving the table at the end of a meal, the napkin is placed loosely on the table to the left of the plate.[12]


In formal settings, the host asks the guests to start the meal. Similarly, one should not leave the table before the host or the eldest person finishes his or her food. It is also considered impolite to leave the table without asking for the host's or the elder's permission. Normally whoever completes first will wait for others and after everybody is finished all leave the table.[13]

In a traditional Indian meal setup, the following is observed. Normally the plate is served with small quantities of all the food items.

A cardinal rule of dining is to use the right hand when eating or receiving food.[14] Hand washing, both before sitting at a table and after eating, is important. Cleaning with cloth or paper tissue may be considered unhygienic.[15]

Small amounts of food are taken at a time, ensuring that food does not reach the palms of the hands. It is considered important to finish each item on the plate out of respect for the food being served.[16] Traditionally, food should be eaten as it is served, without asking for salt or pepper. It is however, now acceptable to express a personal preference for salt or pepper and to ask for it.

Distorting or playing with food is unacceptable. Eating at a moderate pace is important, as eating too slowly may imply a dislike of the food and eating too quickly is considered rude. Generally it is not acceptable to burp, slurp, or spit. Staring at another diner's plate is also considered rude. It is inappropriate to make sounds while chewing. Certain Indian food items can create sounds, so it is important to close the mouth and chew at a moderate pace.

At the dining table, attention must be paid to specific behaviors that may indicate distraction or rudeness. Answering phone calls, sending messages and using inappropriate language are considered inappropriate while dining and while elders are present.


Seating and serving customs play important roles in Chinese dining etiquette. For example, the diners should not sit down or begin to eat before the host (or guest of honor) has done so. When everyone is seated, the host offers to pour tea, beginning with the cup of the eldest person. The youngest person is served last as a gesture of respect for the elders.

Just as in Western cultures, communal utensils (chopsticks and spoons) are used to bring food from communal dishes to an individual's own bowl (or plate). It is considered rude and unhygienic for a diner to use his or her own chopsticks to pick up food from communal plates and bowls when such utensils are present. Other potentially rude behaviors with chopsticks include playing with them, separating them in any way (such as holding one in each hand), piercing food with them, or standing them vertically in a plate of food. (The latter is especially rude, evoking images of incense or 'joss' sticks used ceremoniously at funerals).[17] A rice bowl may be lifted with one hand to scoop rice into the mouth with chopsticks. It is also considered rude to look for a piece one would prefer on the plate instead of picking up the piece that is closest to the diner as symbol of fairness and sharing to the others.

The last piece of food on a communal dish is never served to oneself without asking for permission. When offered the last bit of food, it is considered rude to refuse the offer. It is considered virtuous for diners to not leave any bit of food on their plates or bowls. Condiments, such as soy sauce or duck sauce, may not be routinely provided at high-quality restaurants. The assumption is that perfectly prepared food needs no condiments and the quality of the food can be best appreciated.


In formal settings, a meal is commenced when the eldest or most senior diner at the table partakes of any of the foods on the table. Before partaking, intention to enjoy their meal should be expressed. Similarly, satisfaction or enjoyment of that meal should be expressed at its completion. On occasion, there are some dishes which require additional cooking or serving at the table. In this case, the youngest or lowest-ranked adult diner should perform this task. When serving, diners are served food and drink in descending order starting with the eldest or highest-ranked diner to the youngest or lowest-ranked.

Usually, diners will have a bowl of soup on the right with a bowl of rice to its left. Alternatively, soup may be served in a single large communal pot to be consumed directly or ladled into individual bowls. Dining utensils will include a pair of chopsticks and a spoon. Common chopstick etiquette should be followed (See Chopstick Etiquette), but rice is generally eaten with the spoon instead of chopsticks (as eating rice with chopsticks is considered rude). Often some form of protein (meat, poultry, fish) will be served as a main course and placed at the center of the table within reach of the diners. Banchan will also be distributed throughout the table. If eaten with spoon, banchan is placed on the spoonful of rice before entering the mouth. With chopsticks, however, it is fed to the mouth directly. The last piece of food on a communal dish should not be served to oneself without first asking for permission, but, if offered the last bit of food in the communal dish, it is considered rude to refuse the offer. Bowls of rice or soup should not be picked up off the table while dining, an exception being made for large bowls of Korean noodle soup. Slurping while eating noodles and soup is generally acceptable. It is not uncommon to chew with the mouth open.

If alcohol is served with the meal, it is common practice that when alcohol is first served for the eldest/highest-ranked diner to make a toast and for diners to clink their glasses together before drinking. The clinking of glasses together is often done throughout the meal. A diner should never serve alcohol to themselves. Likewise, it is considered rude to drink alone. Instead, keep pace with other diners and both serve and be served the alcohol. Alcohol should always be served to older and higher-ranked diners with both hands, and younger or lower-ranked diners may turn their face away from other diners when drinking the alcohol.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Enhance your teaching career!" (PDF).
  2. Barbara Cartland, Etiquette Handbook. Paul Hamlyn, London 1962
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Eating Food - Manners and Etiquette
  4. British Table Manners
  5. The Formal Place Setting
  6. "Miss Manners" syndicated column, by Judith Martin, Universal Press Syndicate, June 18, 2009
  7. "Humble reader sees the light". The Buffalo News. July 8, 2010. Retrieved July 29, 2010.
  8. Martin, Judith. "Miss Manners: On Footing the Dating Bill – MSN Relationships – article". Retrieved July 29, 2010.
  9. "Miss Manners: Reading at the Breakfast Table – MSN Relationships – article". Retrieved July 29, 2010.
  10. Daniel Post Senning. "Tricky Table Manners: How Do I....".
  11. Archived March 20, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Emily Post's Etiquette: The Definitive Guide to Manners, Completely Revised and Updated by Peggy Post (Harper Collins 2004).
  13. "Indian Table Manners".
  14. Archived April 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. Archived October 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. Archived October 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. "Chinese Chopstick Etiquette".
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