Table Etiquette: The Unwritten Rules You Didn’t Know You Were Breaking


Needing a quick brush-up on those table manners before the holiday festivities begin? Look no further. There are probably a few table etiquette rules you may not have known you were breaking.

Table Etiquette: The Unwritten Rules You Didn’t Know You Were Breaking:

1. Removing Food from Mouth

We’ve all bit off into something that looked much better than it actually tasted. Most of us stealthily spit the unwanted wad into a napkin while pretending to wipe your face. You’re so sneaky. Unfortunately, etiquette insists that it is proper to remove the unwanted bite the same way it went into your mouth– if with a utensil, then remove it with a utensil, (think a pit or a seed of something with a spoon) if with your fingers, then use your fingers (think the bones from chicken wings). This will keep you accountable to take small bites, because nobody wants to watch you rake your mouth with a fork.

2. Cutting Bites

Though efficiency tempts us to think we should cut all our meat into tiny bites before eating any, this is actually impolite. You should cut only 1-2 bite size pieces at a time, eat those pieces, and then proceed to cutting more pieces. Don’t cut corners by cutting enormous pieces for yourself, lest you choke or embarrass your mother.

3. Take the Portion Nearest to You

I know, I know, sometimes the next piece of turkey, that is clearly for you, is the lousiest of all the pieces. Fight the urge to grab the better piece that’s just one or two down, and settle for the available piece that has your name written on it. I know it stinks, but this too shall pass. After all, that’s what seconds are for, right?

4. Red Wine vs. White Wine

Here’s a simple way to remember how to hold which glass:

Red wine is typically kept at room temp: Hands won’t get cold, bowl is what you hold.

White wine is typically chilled: Stem is what you hold so your hands don’t get cold.

This can also help you decide which type of glasses to set out (or if you’re like me, which types of wine to buy to match the glasses you already have).

5. Place of Honor

Don’t get caught sitting in the wrong seats. Your dinner party might not have name cards, and in that event, don’t sit at the head of the table or at the seat to the right of the head. Those are typically saved for the host and the place of honor (i.e. the woman who did all the cooking). If there are multiple tables, you will likely find that the hostess will be sitting closest to the kitchen. Stay out of the cook’s way!

6. Be at Ease

Who knew that it was actually poor manners to be constantly getting up and down, appearing distracted or disengaged in conversation? When you sit down to eat, be all and entirely where you are. Seconds can wait. Checking your phone can wait. Go to the restroom beforehand so that can wait, too. Do your best to fully enjoy being right where you are.

7. Sopping with Bread

Dinner rolls were invented to be a vehicle to transfer delicacies such as gravy into your mouth because it is socially unacceptable to spoon it in like soup. That said, it should be noted that sopping gravy, liquids, soups, etc. up with bread is only permissible if it is done with a fork. I know, inconvenient. But we are all well-mannered ladies here. So break off a piece of bread, stab it with your fork, and get to sopping. One bite at a time.

8. Napkin Code

Napkins say much more than they are given credit for. If you leave to go to the bathroom, set your napkin in your chair before leaving. This lets the wait staff know that you will be coming back, so they won’t take away your food. However, if you see the hostess set her napkin on the table, that signifies that dinner is over and you are free to get up and go about your business. Obviously, know your crowd. If you’re Thanksgiving crew isn’t the type to abide by these formalities, then don’t misinterpret the napkin placements. However, if you are eating at a restaurant, don’t you dare let the waitstaff think you are finished with your food while you were just gone to the restroom. Know the code.

9. Excuse Yourself

While it’s not necessary that you make a public service announcement about ‘hitting the john’ at the dinner table, it is polite to at least say, ‘excuse me’ before leaving the table. In fact, it is considered rude to get up without any word of caution. You don’t need to interrupt the conversation at hand, simply say to those in earshot, ‘excuse me’ and go about your business.

10. Unfolding Napkins

Right when you sit down put your silverware/napkin in your lap and unfold it on your lap. Do not unravel the utensils and wave your napkin around like a magician for the entire table to see. Once you’ve unfolded the napkin, place any utensils back onto the table in their proper places and you’re ready to go. If you can do this while maintaining eye-contact and conversation, extra points for you.

11. Taste Food Before Seasoning

It is offensive to the cook to season your dish before tasting it. It assumes that it isn’t fit to your tasting. You don’t want to be offending people before you’ve even started eating. Take a bite first, and then season if necessary. If the salt and pepper aren’t on the table, this may suggest that the cook has created the perfect dish that certainly doesn’t need to be altered. In that case, get your gravy on, sister.

12. Pass the Salt

If you find yourself nearest to the salt and pepper shakers, and someone asks for just one, it is necessary that you send both. Those two need to stay together. So if salt is traveling to the other hemisphere of the table, pepper is along for the ride, too.

13. No Electronics at the Table

Seriously though. I know you think that your Instagram followers will just die when they see a filtered aerial shot of your spread, but for the love of pumpkin pie, just don’t. It’s rude to have your phone at the table. Teach your kids that rule. Make it a game– everyone leave your phone in a bucket at the door. Group pictures are fine, but save the “My Meals Documentary” for before or after dinner.

14. Elbows on the Table (Only When Eating)

Contrary to popular belief, elbows are allowed on the table. I repeat: You may have your elbows on the table. Mind blown. Wait until everyone has finished eating, all utensils are down, and relax yourself. Be wary of blocking people’s view of the rest of the table, but get comfortable. After all, you’re trying to be at ease, right?

15. Sharing

Sharing is necessary to address in the season of Thanksgiving. If someone insists that you try a bite of God-only-knows-what, it is proper for you to hand him/her your fork and prepare you a bite. If this person is sitting next to you, hold your plate nearby so that he/she will place a morsel on your plate. Do not reach over and stab a piece, no matter how convenient they make it look. Hand over the fork or your plate and granny won’t get offended.