We have a saying in English — “Manners maketh man.” It means that your manners make you who you are and help to form (shape, make) someone’s opinion of you (what they think of you). Manners are things like saying please and thank you, but having good manners doesn’t stop there. Manners are also how you conduct yourself (how you act) in public and especially when you’re eating. Having good table manners is a great thing to have, but what counts as good table manners varies (changes) from country to country and from culture to culture. So what are some good table manners in English speaking countries?
When I was a kid, my parents sent me to Cotillion. Cotillion is a very Southern thing in the U.S., and is a class that teaches you basic formal table manners and basic ballroom dance steps. It was a good way to learn which fork to use at a formal dinner, and now I know basic dance steps, if I ever need them. Knowing table manners in English speaking countries is a great and useful skill, so we’re here to help you out.
Ready to brush up on your table manners in English? Then look no further.
Wait to eat until the host is seated
No matter how delicious (yummy) the meal looks or hot the food is, it’s good manners to wait until everyone is seated. It may be tempting (appealing) to start eating right away, but it is best to wait until everyone is sitting down and has food in front of them. In formal settings (surroundings, situations), it is even better to wait for the host (person throwing the party) to start eating first. Traditionally, people waited for the hostess (a female host) to start but no matter the gender of the person hosting the dinner party, it is best to wait for them to start eating first before you do. If you go out to eat at a restaurant, it’s also polite to wait to start eating until everyone has received their food.
There is an exception to this rule. If the host insists (pushes, really wants) that you to start eating your food right away and not waiting, then they will tell you by saying, “Please go ahead and start without me!” Sometimes at a restaurant, perhaps one person’s meal is a cold dish, while yours is hot soup, and so your table guest may offer you the opportunity to start eating before they have received their food by saying, “Thank you for waiting, but please feel free to start without me while your food is still hot.” You can then decide if you would like to start or still wait.
Chew with your mouth closed
This can seem quite basic, but it is good manners to chew food with your mouth closed. And if you are chewing your food and someone says something you want to reply to, wait until you have swallowed before you respond! Many people find it impolite (not polite, not good manners) to chew with your mouth open or talk when your mouth is full.
Keep your napkin in your lap
When you were a kid, your parents might have tucked your napkin into your shirt. This would have kept you from spilling food on your shirt. But now that you’re grown up (are an adult, over 18 years old), it’s good manners to keep your napkin in your lap while you’re eating. Having your napkin on your lap puts it within easy reach, so you can wipe your hands on it when you need to, or use it to wipe your mouth. Additionally, keeping your napkin in your lap, rather than putting it on the table, means that other people don’t have to see it while they’re eating. Do you keep your napkin in your lap when eating dinner?
Don’t put your elbows on the table
It can be very comfortable to eat with your elbows resting on the table. Especially if you’re very tired, this can be a comfy way to eat. However, if you’re at a dinner party or eating in a restaurant, it is good manners to keep your elbows off the table while you’re eating. You can keep one hand in your lap while you’re not using it to cut your food, and the other hand is used to bring food to your mouth with a fork.
Once all the plates have been cleared away (taken off the table), you can relax with your elbows on the table. It’s only impolite to have your elbows on the table while food is being served and eaten.
Start from the outside in
One of the things that can be most confusing for people when eating in a formal setting is knowing which utensil (spoon, fork, or knife) to use. It’s really quite easy, so I wanted to touch on it (mention it) to help make it less confusing!
If you are at a formal dinner, maybe for business or if you go to a fancy restaurant, you may see multiple forks and spoons on the table. Place settings with a few different forks and spoons, which are typically (usually) different sizes, indicate (show) that the dinner will have several courses (rounds). Don’t worry if you sit down and see three forks at your place setting! Just start with the outermost (one furthest away from the plate)fork and work your way in.
When you have multiple utensils, the outermost utensil is what you use for the first course. The next fork is then used for the second course, and so on. It’s really pretty easy! What makes it even better is if you’re at a fancy restaurant, the waiter will bring you extra utensils depending on what you order, or may take some utensils away. Think of the waiter as your personal fancy dinner guide, and if you’re ever unsure of (not clear, don’t know) which fork to use, you can always ask!
Which table manners in English do you use in your home? Have you ever been to a fancy dinner with multiple courses? Share your stories with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and always thinks well of someone with good table manners.