Last night, the Culinary Society held a small etiquette class in East Campus 1604. Gathering around dorm tables laden with a smattering of utensils and a bounty of plates and bowls, we feasted on cheese and wine. And, of course, we learned a couple things too…
Approaching the table:
When coming to the table, if you seat is not assigned, allow the host to instruct you where to sit. The typical order will be man-woman-man-woman, starting with the host and moving to the right. (However, this pattern is a bit dated, and often there is no assigned pattern based on gender.) Typically, it is impolite to sit before your host. When sitting, do not curl your legs around the chair legs and do not tuck your legs under the chair. Rather, simply plant your legs on the floor in front of you.
We had fun with this one: Should a lady ever leave or return to the table, the men in her surrounding area should stand out of courtesy. This rule has been deemed sexist nowadays, but in some elite circles it may still be followed.
Once you are seated:
This is how your place settings should be laid out:
As in the movie Titanic, a general rule of thumb is to work from the outside in during service. You will start with the appetizer fork and soup spoon, and move to the main course utensils. Dessert utensils may be on the same level as the other utensils, but they often appear at the top of the plate.
Glasses with be laid out on the top right of the dinner plate starting with the water glass, champagne flute, red wine glass, white wine glass, and the dessert wine wine glass, going from left to right.
Do not start eating until 1) everyone is served or 2) until your host begins to eat. There are exceptions. If the host gives you permission to begin eating, you may. If the people who have not received their food give you permission to begin, you may.
Once you are comfortably seated, take you napkin and unfold it without making too much commotion. Place it in your lap.
Concerning the napkin and proper utensil handling:
The napkin should be loosely folded and placed to the left of your plate should you need to be excused from the table. Do not crumple it up, and do not fold it tightly as it was before the dinner. There is some disagreement as to whether or not it can be placed on the chair.
Do not allow your napkin to touch your nose. You should not sneeze into it either. Never wipe your mouth — dab.
Do not hold your utensils as a barbarian, with fists. Rather hold them delicately, index finger extended and handle of the utensil in your palm.
Once you pick up your utensils, they should never touch the table again. They should be rested on your plate. If you leave the table and you are still finishing your meal, rest the fork at 8 o’clock and the knife at 4, with the utensils slightly crossing. Once you are finished with your meal, you can indicate so by 1) placing both utensils together at 5 o’clock on the plate or 2) placing the fork at 5 o’clock and the knife at the top right corner at an angle. If you were dissatisfied with the meal, cross the utensils in an X in the center of the plate.
The host should taste and test the wine before service to the other guests. After he or she has approved, the wine will be first served to the first lady to the right of the head of the table, followed by the rest of the ladies. If you do not care for wine, do not overturn your cup. Simply place your hand gently over the top of the cup to indicate that you would like to abstain. And remember, it would be inconvenient should you drink more than 1-3 glasses of wine in one sitting.
Food should be passed from left to right. (We had fun with this one as well, since food could never be passed to the left. It was hilarious to watch food go all the way around the table to reach its destination.) The plate should not be passed from hand to hand but from table to table. In other words, place the plate on the table rather than in a person’s hand. This may prevent spills. You should never stretch across the table to grab your food.
Do not intercept food being passed to another person.
Salt and pepper should be passed together.
Concerning bread and soup:
Do not try to cut your bread roll. Rather, tear it and butter it one piece at a time. Bread should not be used to sop up soup.
When eating soup, one should sip from the side of the soup spoon, without putting the spoon in the mouth. When you need to get that last bit of soup from the bottom of the bowl, tilt the bowl AWAY from you so as to gather the soup at one end of the bowl.
When inconveniences arise:
Should something unpleasant be in your mouth (such as a tough piece of meat or bone), it should be removed the way it came in. In other words, if you ate a piece of bad meat, it should be spit out onto your fork and placed back on the side of the plate. If it was a finger food (such as olives), you can use your fingers. Fish bones are also acceptable for fingers.
Should you spill, do not use your own napkin. If your napkin should ever fall (or any utensils), do not pick them up. Allow them to be replaced.
Finally, do NOT cough excessively, sneeze, yawn, burp, fart, rest your elbows on the table, or make any impolite dinner talk (such as talk of politics or religion) at the table.
After all that, you should be set!