The word ‘etiquette’ evokes images of purple-haired matriarchs wearing floral, buttoned-up dresses with pursed red lipsticky lips, speaking in toffee English tones, telling you to “Sit up strrrrraight!” (with a roll of the tongue) and “Elbows ORF the table!!”.
While balancing a book on your head isn’t quite the done thing anymore, it’s surprising how ‘relaxed’ many people are when it comes to dining. And having a relaxed approach to dining can often be perceived as having bad manners.
Before you hurriedly type ‘finishing schools’ into Google, there are a few things you can do to ensure your Ps and Qs (a turn of phrase that really doesn’t make sense) are always in tip-top shape.
- When you’re invited out for dinner, make sure you arrive on time. Don’t get there early, and don’t get there late. Simple. If your car breaks down, your train’s delayed, or your taxi doesn’t turn up, for the love of good manners, let your host know.
- Don’t arrive empty handed. A bottle of wine or a nice bunch of flowers are just the thing. A box of cheap chocolates is not. Flowers should be purchased from a florist (not from a service station) or picked from your garden.
- Offer to help, but if your host has things under control, leave them to it. But! If you’re asked to do something, like fill people’s glasses, take dishes to the table, or do a quick clean up, do it.
OK. It’s crunch time. The table. Sitting down. Eating. You can do it.
When it’s time to sit, your host will either have some kind of seating system in place OR will be a-ok with you sitting in any ol’ spot. Wait for them to let you know where they want you or ask.
Here are some common sense DON’Ts:
- Don’t start eating until your host is sitting down and has picked up their fork. This is a funny ye olde world tradition that signifies ‘Let’s eat!’ without the use of words. However most dinner parties are a little less formal now, and eating usually starts when the host says ‘Dig in!’.
- Don’t go crazy with the S&P before you’ve tasted your food. Try it, then season (if you need to).
- Don’t wave your cutlery around. Yes you’re talking about climate change or the government or Miley’s latest on-stage antics but you should never, ever gesture with your utensils. Pointing a knife at someone during a heated dinner debate is not on.
- Watch your mouth. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t pick at your teeth. And don’t swear! Cussing’s not cool.
- Keep your phone out of sight. Please don’t put it on the table. Please don’t answer it at the table (excuse yourself, if you need to take it). Please don’t check your emails halfway through dinner. Please don’t sit with it in your lap, surreptitiously scrolling through Twitter. Everyone knows what you’re doing.
And some DOs:
- If you have dietary requirements, let your host know as soon as you receive your invitation.
- Let your host know how much you enjoyed the meal (but if you didn’t enjoy it, don’t mention it. Just lie. This is one instance where lying is OK).
- Offer to clear plates, stack the dishwasher, help out. But similarly to when you arrive, if you’re told to stay put, stay put.
- Say thanks. ‘Thanks for a great meal’ after you’ve eaten, ‘thanks for having us’ when you’re leaving, and follow up with a hand-written thank you note or email.
Having good manners doesn’t mean you need to sign up for elocution lessons or know what fork goes with which dish; it’s about being present, polite and ultimately, enjoying good food and good company.