Table manners are something which; like most manners, go almost un-noticed when they are good but stick out badly when they are poor. Being seen with your elbows on the table through the whole meal and your knife and fork permanently in the ‘ready position’ when dinning with a business colleague, a customer or a new date can have a serious impact on your credibility. Ultimately it can have an impact on your long term business or personal relationships. For this reason we asked Ruairidh Bulger, our Etiquette Expert to put together this two part articles on table manners to help you avoid the pit falls and obvious mistakes.
When dining out, there are many different levels of eatery; from the fast food outlets, or take-away sandwich shops, through the average high street restaurant, to fine dining establishments. Of course, the modern Gentleman would understand that the manners and social interactions expected for one would seem out of place, incongruous even, at another. But there are some basics that should remain staples of mannerly behaviour throughout all of them.
Things you were, hopefully, taught by your parents still remain as true today as they always did. You should keep your mouth closed when you are chewing: no one wants to see your half masticated food rolling around your mouth, like a cement mixer. And for the same reason, not talking with your mouth full should be a basic rule for any Gentleman.
You should not waive your cutlery around between mouthfuls, but instead return your cutlery to the plate until you are ready to prepare the next mouthful of food. Likewise, you should not have any food in your hands unless you are preparing to eat it.
A Gentleman would never put a knife into his mouth. If you feel the need to savour every last drop of sauce from any course, then use your bread to mop it up.
Since we are on the subject of bread, there are a few basic rules to enjoying your bread as well. The knife that may be provided on the butter dish is for everyone to transfer butter from the communal butter plate to your side plate. It is not for spreading butter on your bread with. That is what your side knife is for. You should take enough butter, so that you can pass the butter dish to other diners, and not need to ask for it back.
Bread should be torn, rather than cut. Spread butter on as much bread as you intend to eat at that time, and enjoy it. Don’t spread butter on all of your bread at one time.
If you spread crumbs over the table cloth whilst eating bread, don’t try to collect them back up, or sweep them onto the floor. Firstly you will provide cover for any similar crumbs a lady might make, but any good waiting team will clear the crumbs at the end of the main course when all the side plates are removed.
When you have finished with a piece of cutlery, place it back on the plate (or side plate for your side knife), rather than putting a dirty utensil on the table or table cloth.
Never put your elbows on the table. You can rest your forearms on the edge, however.
With all of the communal items on the table (water jugs, salt and pepper, butter etc.) it is polite to offer these to other guests before helping yourself. Always pass the salt and pepper together, even if someone only asks for one of them.