Remember Julia Roberts’ character in the movie “Pretty Woman”? Before her big dinner date with Richard Gere’s character, a hotel manger gives her a crash course on eating “from the outside in” at the dinner table. However, at dinner that evening, she finds herself in a dilemma when she glances down and does not see the fork that she is expecting. The kind, older gentleman sitting at her table notices her confusion and discreetly demonstrates how to properly eat pâté. Perfect!!! Although it may be rare for you to be served pâté or escargot, it is nice to know how to navigate at the dinner table.
Good table manners begin at home. Most likely, your table setting at home is fairly basic, so the “outside in” approach is easy to follow: Begin with the silverware that is on the outside and work your way in as you progress during the meal. If the first course is a salad or soup, you should find those utensils on the outside. If the meal includes a third course (dessert), you may find that fork or spoon placed above the dinner plate instead of the side.
There are two recognized styles for holding silverware: The American style, where you hold the fork in your right hand with the tines up, and the Continental style, where you hold the fork in your left hand with the tines down. The fork and knife simply rest on the middle finger with your forefinger and thumb holding the handle. The forefinger is always directing the movement of the utensil whether using Continental or American style. I had always heard that you should begin and end a meal in the same style; however, today there is more and more crossover during a meal. And, both styles seem to be equally acceptable.
The American Style
The Continental Style
Both styles call for cutting the food the same way: knife in the right hand with the fork in the left hand, forefingers guiding the motion as the utensils rest on the middle fingers, secured by the thumb.
In the American style, after cutting, the fork is transferred to the right hand. In the Continental style, the fork remains in the left hand. You may continue to hold the knife or rest it on the plate.
What should you do with silverware during the meal?
Never put a piece of silverware back on the table once you have picked it up. It should just “rest” on your plate. You should also rest your silverware between bites and during conversation. When you are finished, lay your knife and fork together on the diagonal of your plate. I tell my sons to make railroad tracks with their silverware and place them on the plate at the four o’clock position.
When do I start eating?
In most situations, you begin eating when the hostess does. Follow her lead: Sit down when she does and wait for her to place her napkin in her lap. She may also signal the beginning of dining by simply picking up her fork and placing it on her plate. If there is a slow start in service, the hostess may urge you to begin your meal. Then, you may do as she says.
Which way should the food be passed?
Pass food to the right, and only pass it in one direction. If you are at a restaurant, your server will present your plate to your left and remove it from your right.
What about the bread and butter?
If you have a bread and butter plate, always place your bread on it. It will be on the upper left-hand side of the place setting. When the bread is passed, take a piece and a small amount of butter and place both on the dish. Break the bread into bite-size pieces, and butter each piece as you eat it.
Think of table manners like a game of bridge: If you know the rules, you can communicate in a completely different language. Please check out next week’s posting for more dinner decorum. Again, thanks for reading.