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Table Etiquette for Formal Dining: Seating, Utensils, China and Glassware

Smooth gentleness and refinement should characterize our behavior when dining. Refinement here means that behavior characteristic of a gentleman or a lady and not hypocrisy and exaggerated punctiliousness.

According to Emily Post, the famous First Lady of etiquette, all rules in the table were made for the following basic reasons; the first is to avoid ugliness, which will make an impression on those present at the table; the second is to ensure the safety of the eater and those around him or her; the third is a general principle, and that is, not to unduly attract attention to yourself in public.

Smooth gentleness and refinement should characterize our behavior when dining. Refinement here means that behavior characteristic of a gentleman or a lady and not hypocrisy and exaggerated punctiliousness.


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1. In official or social gatherings where seating of the guests is according to protocol, the most senior ranking guest in a party always takes the first place of honor , even if the party is being held in honor of another person who is lower rank.

Men and women sit alternately, but a man and his wife should not be seated next to each other.

2. When dining in a restaurant, the lady should have the best view when seated.

3. Do not go to the table with a lighted cigarette in hand. Smoke only after the meal.

4. Maintain your bearing at all times. Don’t bend your head too low like a chicken pecking at a grain on the ground.

5. When circumstances permit, it is highly recommended to say graces before meals.


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1. The napkin is placed on the lap by guests after the host has taken his. Dinner napkins are folded once (in half) while others are spread out.

2. Avoid wiping your mouth. Dabbing or patting the lips is more proper.

3. After meals, the napkin should not be refolded but laid in loose folds such that it will not spread. Place it in the right of and under the side of your plate.


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1. When several sets of spoons and forks are placed before you, start from the outside, working in. You should distinguish a butter knife from a steak knife and use each properly.

a. During formal dinners, starting at the left side of the plate and going outward are salad fork, the meat fork, and then the fish fork. At the right side of the plate going outward are the salad knife, the meat knife and the fish knife. Following the fish knife is the soup spoon.

b. The goblet or the glass of water is placed above the knives at the right side of the plate. At the right side of the water glass may be placed the wine or champagne glass.

2. Never wipe the glass and plates with the napkin. This is indicative of poor manners; hinting that the wares were improperly washed. Again, I must reiterate that this is in the formal dining/ haute cuisine scenario – invited family dinner functions included. (Of course, when you’re in a side street or open cafeteria in a third world country such as mine, I’d say follow your gut and don’t be careless about cleanliness.)

3. When not actually used, the silver should be left on the top of the plate. The spoon should not be left in the cup. Its place is on the saucer.

4. Wet spoons should not be used to scoop sugar, creamer, or salt.

5. The tines of the fork should be turned upwards when lifting food in the mouth.

6. You may use your left hand to convey food to the mouth after cutting meat or fish. Zigzag eating (changing the fork from left to right hand after cutting meat) is unnecessarily complicated and not pleasing to look at.

7. The proper place for the knife is on top of the plate, with the sharp edge facing you.

8. Use your knife when cutting meat, never the edge of your spoon.

9. The teaspoon is never used to drink coffee or tea. Sip the liquid directly from the cup.

10. Don’t use the knife like a carpenter’s saw. Cut perpendicularly in one direction to your front.

11. Jellies, jams and butter are spread on bread with a knife, never with a fork. The fork may be used in applying jelly or butter to vegetables or meat only.

12. When two dinner plates are provided, use one for the fish course and the other for the meat course.

Read also Dining Etiquette Tips: How to Eat What

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Comments (3)

Good information. I always mix up these rules.

Nice article. I totally forgot some of the reminders you have there.

I hope these general guidelines for etiquette are maintained for years to's always good to have some refinement in our lives (even if we "misbehave" in our own homes from time to time!). Wonderful article, Athena!