Dinner Decorum (Part 2)

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By Cindy Edwards

Hundreds of etiquette rules have been developed over the years to guide our society in acceptable ways of dining. While some of the rules may be outdated, there are still so many that apply to the way that we live today. Once you figure out how stringent you will be when running your household, your family members will adapt and learn what behavior is expected not only in your home, but when they are out with others.

When children practice proper table manners at home, it becomes a very natural habit for them. And, good manners will only enhance their personal and professional lives. 

Is there ever a time to rest elbows on the table?

This is tricky. I told my sons absolutely not; however, it really is acceptable between courses while no food is being served. Maintaining good posture at the table is important and should be encouraged. Slouching just looks sloppy.

May I cut my steak up all at once?

Please do not. Your meal should be cut up as you are eating it: one bite at a time.  You should cut it into small bite–sized pieces. Also, remember to take a bite or two of the side dishes while enjoying the main course.

Does the beverage go to the left or to the right?

The rule goes: Eat to your left, drink to your right. So, when you are seated at a dinner party, your drink is on the right side of the place setting and the bread and butter plate is on the left.

I taught my sons to make the “OK” sign with both hands to create a “b” on the left and a “d” on the right. (Pictured above.)

What if rolls are passed and there is no bread and butter plate?

If there is no plate, just place it on your large dinner plate.

Should I eat everything on my plate?

Although that certainly makes every hostess feel great, it is not always possible. It is polite to eat a little of everything that is served unless you have an allergy or a very good reason to avoid certain foods. If you cannot eat a particular item, move it around a bit on your plate and try not to make an issue of the problem. And, when you are someone’s guest, please do not request something different than what the hostess is serving.

What if the table is set for wine and I don’t drink it?

Do not turn the glass over yourself. You may let the server pour wine and not drink it or you may make a gesture with your hand that you do not care for any.

How do I eat soup?

“Just as little ships sail out to sea, I will dip my soup away from me.” I know you must have heard this rhyme! It is the easiest way to teach a child (and some adults) the proper way to eat soup. Also, you sip from the side of the spoon and never put the spoon directly in your mouth. (When eating dessert, the rule is different: The spoon, which should be smaller, would go directly into your mouth.)

Is it rude to season my food?

It is polite to taste your food before you add salt or pepper. And remember to always pass the salt and pepper together.

Other helpful hints…

  • Do not talk with food in your mouth.
  • Do not blow on your food to cool it off.
  • When you are finished eating, do not push or move your plate away. A server should remove it.
  • Try to talk equally with guests to your right and left.  Give everyone the chance to talk and join the conversation.

Being polite is easy: Kindness always trumps the rules.
Again, thanks for reading.

Properly yours,

Cindy Edwards embodies everything pretty, perky and proper about the South. She's a wife, mother, volunteer and freelance writer. Cindy volunteers enough hours to exhaust most by serving on the Board of Trustees for the Telfair Museums, the Savannah Book Festival Board of Directors and the University of Georgia Honors Advisory Board. She has also served on the Boards of the March of Dimes and Young Life Savannah. Cindy has been married to her college sweetheart, Dr. Joe Edwards III, for 25 years and is the proud mother of two sons: Joe IV, a senior at the University of Georgia, and Jack, a freshman at Ole Miss. No matter how busy, Cindy always makes time for a competitive game of bridge.
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Reader Comments:


Hello Bonnie, Thank you for your question. First, I hope that you are feeling better and on the way to a full recovery. The most important thing to do for your friend is to extend your best wishes for a good surgical outcome. You have already thanked him for his gesture of kindness toward you. If you do not wish to send flowers, perhaps you can send something else that would cheer him up. Maybe a card with his favorite candy or cookies?? Take care, Cindy

By Cindy Edwards on August 12, 2013


I need a quick answer to this question ok. I have been social friends with a retired CEO. I had to come 11 hours from my home town to have surgery. When I woke up there was a beautiful bouquet of flowers in my room. I called him an we have talked several times an I thank him each time for the lovely flowers. The thank you note did not get in the mail as quick as I would have like but within 10 days. question. now he will have surgery in 2 weeks I am still 11 hours from him recovering from my surgery. How should I respond to his surgery?

By BONNIE LYON on August 10, 2013


Love it! This is great info for teaching our children proper table etiquette.

By Lenora Buckley on December 11, 2011


I thought I was fairly up to date on eating etiquette, but I learned some things by reading this post. Thank you for that! We've lost a great deal of civility in our society, and it's nice that some folks still care and are willing to share their knowledge.

By Sheryl on October 26, 2011


Another excellent article. Cindy, thanks for reminding us of the little etiquette rules we sometimes forget! Linda

By Linda Parton on October 04, 2011


Another wonderful blog Cindy. Love the B and D trick!!

By Jamie on October 04, 2011


A refreshing read excellently written! Proper "Southern Mom's" give their children these guidelines. Hopefully your fabulous blog captures the attention of those readers who were never taught.

By Ellen Bielan on September 30, 2011


You can find Part I here: http://www.pauladeen.com/blogs/blog_view/dinner_decorum_a_guide_to_table_manners/

By Jonathan Able on September 28, 2011


Cindy, great job! I have forwarded these suggestions to my family, they are very helpful.

By Terri Reynolds on September 26, 2011


Great article, Cindy! We all need to be reminded of these etiquette tips. Always enjoy your article.

By Jo Ann on September 26, 2011


Cindy, I love your blog!! It's so refreshing to see southern manners are still alive and well, thanks to your articles. Keep up the great work. Lori

By Lori Morris on September 23, 2011


Great thoughts, I love reading reading her comments.

By Anonymous on September 23, 2011


Cindy, love your blogs! I was taught that once a soup spoon goes into the soup, it never goes back on the plate under your soup bowl. However, now I see most people place the soup spoon on the plate when they are finished. Which is correct? Thank you!

By Judy on September 20, 2011


Great to review these manners, will try to pay attention as we move into the soup season!

By henrietta tharpe on September 19, 2011


Always great information...we all need to have these tips!

By lynn mashburn on September 19, 2011



By Nancy on September 19, 2011


Another great article with great reminders. I really enjoy them and they are very helpful.

By Linda Cauley on September 19, 2011


Wonderful information for the want to be hostess!

By Charlene on September 19, 2011


Great tips that we all should know but may not or have forgotten. Will be passing them on to my kids as well.

By Michelle on September 18, 2011


Hey Cindy, Love your blog! I'm learning alot of things I didnt know. I look forward to future information from your blog! You're a blessing! Susan:)

By Susan Lott on September 17, 2011

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
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Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
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