Basic Table Manners

Whether dining at home or entertaining a group, good manners put everyone at ease.


Flatware: As the meal begins, take silverware from the outside of the place setting for the first course and work your way in toward the plate. Never put used flatware back on the table. Generally, when not in use you may lay the knife across the back of the plate, slightly to one side, handle on the side. During the meal, lay the fork across the plate at an angle to you, with the handle on the rim.

Passing dishes (family setting): Pass to the right, from person to person. Don't pass over someone, unless it is a child who is unable to hold a large bowl or platter.

Passing dishes (formal setting): Pass to the right, and set the dishes in front of the person next to you; don't hand them directly to him or her.

Finger food? When it's not obvious whether a food should be eaten with utensils or with your fingers, watch the host, other guests, or other diners in a restaurant. If still in doubt, use utensils.

Napkins: At informal meals, put your napkin on your lap when you sit down. At formal meals, wait until after the host puts the dinner napkin in his or her lap. Leave the napkin in your lap when not in use until you leave the table. If you leave the table temporarily, place the napkin on your chair or to the left of your plate (folded to conceal soiled parts). At the end of the meal, leave the napkin loosely folded to the left of your plate; if the plate has been removed, leave the napkin in the center of your place setting.

Talking: Chew and swallow before you talk. Keep your mouth closed while you are chewing.

Smoking: As a general rule, it is not acceptable to smoke at the table.

End of the meal: Lay the knife and fork across your plate with the handles at the four o'clock position to signal you have finished eating. Remain at the table, making conversation, until everyone has finished.

Serving and clearing: Serve from a diner's left and clear from the right. The exception is beverages -- wine and water are poured from the right side. Do not clear plates from guests at the table until everyone has finished eating.

Table manners and children: The best way to teach table manners to children is to eat meals with them every day and to make dinner a special, pleasant family time. When you practice good table manners yourself, your children will learn by example.

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