When my roommates and I were hanging out over the holiday season last year, one of them made a terrifying reproach over dinner: They think I’m holding my fork the wrong way.
Like most of us, I believe I learned my table manners from my family, rather than through formalized etiquette classes. While I’m sure there are little high society customs and mannerisms that I’m not privy to, it never occurred to me that I could do anything as basic as holding my fork wrong. I wondered with horror – did work relationships, friends, partner families, basically anyone I’ve ever dined in front of, consider me a rude slut?
Fortunately, Lizzie Post of the Emily Post Institute, a centuries-old authority on etiquette based in Vermont, assured me that I “probably aren’t doing anything rude.” She talked about the best way to hold cutlery, which we’ll get into later, but it has more to do with keeping your food on the plate than looking classy or not.
Table manners may be a class feature for some, but most of the little rules and customs we are taught have practical reasons. They’re not often just frivolous or aesthetic. At least those who are worth following. I’ve spoken to a few etiquette experts to find out what the most common food and drink etiquette faux pas are – and why these customs are worth paying attention to in this day and age.
Don’t kill everyone at the table.
The most important purpose of etiquette, Post emphasized, is to make the people you are with feel comfortable and at ease. And a great way to make dinner uncomfortable is to piss off your roommates. For them, the most important “rule” is obvious: chew with your mouth closed and listen to the noises you make when you eat and drink.
“We want them to enjoy our company and our conversation, and if we see chewed food, that won’t happen,” said Post.
She made an important caveat. Some people have health problems that make it difficult for them to breathe through their nose while eating. If you are one of these people, she advises you to just do your best. You probably already have your own methods of chewing discreetly. In any case, don’t be an idiot if someone chews loudly or with their mouth open. To be ashamed of someone who is ashamed of their eating habits, especially when it is out of their control, is a much bigger social misstep.
General eating clutter is another way to upset your company, so make sure you’re not eating in a way that, for example, results in a literal egg on your face. When eating out, if you’re unsure of how you look while you eat, Post says that eating in front of a mirror or filming yourself can be very enlightening. You may notice little quirks that you wouldn’t otherwise notice, and if you don’t like the way they come across, you can adjust accordingly.
Don’t salt your food until you’ve tried it
Etiquette advisor Monika Walczak raised a point that was both practical and polite. Do not season your food before trying it.
“By seasoning the food before trying, we are sending the message to the host or the person who cooked the food that we don’t really trust their cooking skills and that we need to season this food before we even try,” she said .
It’s okay to top off your meal with a little salt and pepper, but try first to make sure the food actually needs it. Also, you can still add more salt, but not take it away. If your food accidentally tastes like the sea, you will swallow water all night. Yuck.
And if someone asks you to give salt or pepper, send both. Walczak says keeping the shakers together is just a great way to keep them from getting lost around a large table.
The way you hold your utensils can be important, but mostly for practical reasons
Have you ever sat down at a table trying to find a lot more forks than you can start with? In all fairness, this is the kind of etiquette that you really don’t need to worry too much about. Do some research if you want, but don’t stress which is the salad fork and which is the dinner fork.
“Emily Post was always the first to say it didn’t matter which fork you use,” Lizzie Post told me. “It [only] It is important that you use a fork. “
However, there are a few cutlery customs that are just practical. A case in point is the strange way I grip my fork. No matter what style of cutlery you use, American or Continental (check it out if you’re curious, but that’s another detail so as not to break a sweat), you’ll want to hold your fork and knife much like a pencil, in contrast to grab one, for example with your whole fist. (For the record, I swear my fork-holding style isn’t that overdone. It’s more like a half-fist grip.)
Post said the most common thing for people to do this is when they stab something like a piece of meat and cut it with the other hand. The “Correctly“Way is actually just the more effective way. Tilting your fork with your thumb and forefinger actually gives you more precision and control, which means your food is less likely to accidentally fly off your plate. Sour or buttery foods can be especially prone to slipping.
Sometimes the placement of your paraphernalia really sends a message.
There are convenient ways to put your cutlery on your plate when you are not using it, mainly to communicate with your host or waiter. The Post says you should think of your plate as a dial and set your fork and knife at 8 and 4 o’clock Positions when you take a break from eating or step away from the table for a moment. In a restaurant or catering event, the waiters recognize this position as meaning, “I’m not done yet; Don’t take my plate away yet. ”When you’re done, both rest at 4:00.
Traditionally, waiters have been trained to serve you plates from the left and clear your plates from the right, especially in upscale restaurants. With your paraphernalia facing to the right, a server can easily pick them up with one hand without a knife slipping off.
Ana Silva / EyeEm via Getty Images
The clink on the edge of the glass is a disaster waiting to happen.
How about drinking glasses and toasting labels?
First of all: glasses are to the right of plates, Walczak reminds us. So if you are overwhelmed by a tightly set table, keep that in mind. The glasses on the right side of the plate are yours.
No matter what’s in your glass, the general rule is to drink, not swallow, and do so quietly without sipping. Also, don’t do that where you turn the glass upside down to get the last few drops, advises Post.
As with most of these etiquette guidelines, the rationale is to simply avoid staging your basic human functions. You probably don’t want people to miss what you have to say because they’re too distracted from your drinking habits – or, like a girl on the subway did me, knock someone in the head when you get yours Throw your head back to take a sip.
When it comes to wine and wine glasses, there are a few specifics to know. Wine educator You love gangemella says that while toasting she often sees the glasses clink on the delicate rim. A clink of the bowl, on the other hand, reduces the risk of the glasses being accidentally shattered and broken. Nobody wants to deal with stains and broken pieces in the middle of the party.
The recipient of a toast can be an awkward moment in the spotlight, especially when you don’t know what to do. Walczak says that in a formal setting, it is most gracious to do nothing, raise your glass, not take a sip.
“The person being toasted should just sit quietly, smile, and appreciate the toast that was given in their honor,” she said. “Let others raise their glasses and drink.”
The other custom of drinking wine is that while it is common for people to hold their glasses by the bowl, it’s better to hold them by the stem with your thumb and forefinger, Gangemella says. (You can support your bottom with your little finger if you want.) This prevents the wine from being warmed by body heat – champagne at room temperature just doesn’t taste that good.
Don’t be a snob.
Again, the purpose of all of these guidelines is so that the people around you are comfortable and able to focus on what you all have to say and how delicious the food is, rather than how you are eating it.
So try not to break into a sweat if you didn’t know something or did something different from your company. If someone gives you judgmental glances at things as tiny as forks or glasses, they’ll end up being the one rude.
As Lizzie Post put it, “Anyone who has been completely offended to eat with you for holding your cutlery doesn’t deserve your company.”