Luxury living: Manners and ettiquette for fine dining
Don’t let lack of etiquette keep you from missing a fine meal. There are only a few simple rules, and they’re easy enough to learn.
Ever since the beginning of time, there have been questions that have plagued Mankind. How did we get here? What happened to the Dinosaur? Why are there so many different utensils around my plate when I eat at a fancy restaurant? I’m afraid I can’t answer the first two questions, although there are theories if you’re interested in exploring this further, but if you’ve been wondering about the assortment of dinnerware placed before you at many fine eateries, I’m here to tell you it’s because proper etiquette dictates this is so.
Etiquette is a defining of the rules making up proper social behavior. The key is knowing when to say “please” and “thank you” and how to act when dining in public, even in a place that displays more silverware than a bridal registry. Quite simply, etiquette is what separates man from beast. If you’ve ever been reluctant to enter a fancy restaurant because you’re unsure of proper etiquette surrounding such an event, please don’t be intimidated. There are only a few simple rules, and they’re easy enough to learn.
Most fine dining establishments require reservations. This is so that they are not overbooked and their guests don’t have to wait long for a table. If possible, one should try to make dinner reservations at least two days in advance. If you’re hosting a large group, it would probably be in your best interests to make your reservation about a week ahead of time. Please don’t be late. In fact, it’s considered good manners to arrive at least ten minutes before your reservation time. Should your dinner plans change or fall through, however, common courtesy dictates that you call the restaurant as soon as possible so they can offer your spot to another party.
Once entering the restaurant, you’ll be met by the Maitre D’. This is the person who will be holding your reservation and showing you to your seat. Even if you’ve been to this particular establishment before, it’s a good idea to let the Maitre D’ do his job and lead the way. (If you wore a coat, or have an umbrella or other item to check, you should do so prior to arriving at your table.) When you’ve reached your table, the Maitre D’ might pull out a chair to help seat any ladies in the party. If the Maitre D’ is absent, it would be the gentlemanly thing for the host or another male guest to seat the women. After everyone is seated, your Server for the evening will come by to introduce himself. It is customary at this time to order drinks. Don’t worry if you haven’t had time to scan the menu; your Server will return. When it’s time to order, please be considerate of your host, as it is never good etiquette to request the most expensive items on the menu, unless you’re urged to do so by the person paying for your meal.
Your napkin will most likely be in one of two locations. Folded elegantly in the center of your dinner plate, or to the left of the plate, under the forks. In any event, as soon as you’re seated, you should unfold your napkin and lay it gently across your lap if the Server or Maitre D’ hasn’t already done this for you. Once your napkin is in your lap, it should stay there throughout the whole meal, unless you’re using it to softly blot your lips. Please note that while dining, one’s napkin should stay as clean and wrinkle free as possible.
The table should be set as follows: dinner plates in the center of the table setting. To the left of this, are the forks, with perhaps the exception of the fish fork, which may be placed to the right. To the right of the plate are the knives, followed by the spoons. Just above the dinner plate will be the dessert fork and coffee spoon. To the upper left of the dinner plate is the bread plate and to the upper right are your wine and water glasses. The bread plate and glasses should be returned to their original locations after each use. A good way to remember where to return your glasses or butter knife is to remember this mantra, “liquids to the right and solids to the left.”
It is good manners to wait until everyone in your party is served before eating. If you’re part of a large party, the host may encourage you to eat after the first three or four people are served and this is perfectly acceptable; otherwise, it’s proper to wait until all have received their food. Try not to be overwhelmed by the vast amount of utensils placed in front of you. There are two simple ways to navigate the silverware. The first is to start on the outside and work your way in. The dining implements are conveniently set up in accordance with each course. The second is to discreetly observe how others around you are dining.
The first utensil you’ll be utilizing will most likely be your soupspoon, the first spoon on the far right. That’s because soup is generally the first course. There’s an art to eating soup, and it should be done as quietly and as neatly as possible. If the soup is too hot to eat, don’t blow on it. Simply wait a few minutes for it to cool down. The most important rule to remember is to never, ever slurp. One should quietly sip the soup from the bowl of the spoon. The spoon should be only half full, thereby protecting the tablecloth and the seat of your pants from embarrassing spillage. Once you’ve reached the bottom of the soup bowl, simply stop eating. It is not considered good table manners to tilt the bowl to get every last drop of soup, or even worse, to lift up your bowl to drink the remaining liquid. Make sure not to leave your spoon in the empty soup bowl when you’re finished. Instead, place it on the small plate under the bowl.
You may be expecting the salad at this point, but that might not be the way the courses are served. In many fine restaurants, the salad course comes last, just before dessert. If there’s a fish course, it will be served at this time. For this, you will utilize the first fork on the far left, and the first knife on the right. If there is no fish course, your main course is next. This will require the use of the knife and fork closest to the dinner plate, unless the salad is the last course, in which case, you’ll use next to the last fork.
While we’re on the topic of main courses, it would probably be wise to discuss the proper way to hold one’s knife and fork. There are two acceptable methods for eating one’s food. The North American method, which requires you to hold your fork in the right hand, switching to the left when cutting meat so you are holding your knife in the right hand. (Unless you’re left handed, in which case this is reversed.) After cutting a morsel or two of food, the fork is returned to the right hand for eating, while the knife is returned to your plate. There’s also the Continental or European method, which requires you to hold your fork in your left hand at all times, while holding your knife in the right. For this method you don’t have to put your utensils down while chewing. Either method is perfectly acceptable for fine dining. Keep in mind that one should gently glide one’s knife over one’s meat, and never saw at it with a heavy hand.
If the salad course is last, you’ll use the last fork, which should be closest to the dinner plate. It’s easy to recognize as it has one large tine on the left. Note there’s no knife for salad. That’s because it’s not proper etiquette to cut your salad or use your knife to help push stubborn bits of food onto your fork. If you need assistance getting that last stray bit of lettuce, you can use bread. Otherwise, leave the item behind.
The final course is the dessert. The dessert fork and spoon are located directly above the dinner plate. If they are absent, your Server will bring the utensils when serving dessert.
Other important etiquette tips to remember:
Nose blowing at the table is frowned upon. If absolutely necessary, you should excuse yourself from the table before any nose blowing takes place. Also keep in mind that you should excuse yourself from the table only when absolutely necessary. If you must be excused, leave your napkin on your chair if you’ll be returning. If you must leave the table for good, your napkin should be placed neatly on the table.
If you experience a sudden urge to cough or sneeze, this should be done into your napkin, facing away from other diners. For other bodily functions or noises, either excuse yourself or do your best to hold them in.
One should never use toothpicks or any other items to remove debris from one’s teeth. If you have an unsightly food particle caught in your teeth, it’s best to excuse yourself as soon as possible to tend to this embarrassing bit of business.
Conversation should be as light and amusing as possible. It’s never a good idea to discuss sad matters or matters of heated debate. All guests should be comfortable with the conversation.
One should never put dirty utensils on the tablecloth. Once used, the utensils should remain on the plate. If finished with your meal, lay your utensils neatly on your plate in a way that they won’t fall off when taken away by the bus staff, preferably, placed diagonally across the center of the dish.
When passing salt and pepper, one should always pass both items together and place them gently on the table closest to the person requesting these items. They should never be passed hand to hand or separate from each other.
Never push your plate away when you’re done with your meal. It should be obvious by the placement of your utensils that you have finished eating.
Knives are to be used only for cutting meat or fish and buttering bread. For almost all other food, one should use the side of one’s fork for cutting.
Never spit unwanted items out of your mouth onto a plate. Gingerly remove the unwanted item from your mouth with your hand and place it on a discreet location on your plate.
Always keep your elbows as close to your body as possible, and be considerate of other people’s space. Never place elbows directly on the table, even between courses.
Dining out in style doesn’t have to be intimidating. Just remember to be polite, neat, and to start on the outside and work your way in when using silverware. There really isn’t more to it than that. Now that we’ve covered the basics surrounding the etiquette of fine dining, I hope, at the very least, I’ve inspired you to invite those near and dear to you to dinner at a nice restaurant. Who knows? They may be so impressed with your table manners that they’ll follow your lead!