American Table Manners

Table Setting

  • Bread or salad plates are to the left of the main plate, beverage glasses are to the right. If small bread knives are present, lay them across the bread plate with the handle pointing to the right.
  • Modern etiquette provides the smallest numbers and types of utensils necessary for dining. Only utensils which are to be used for the planned meal should be set. Even if needed, hosts should not have more than three utensils on either side of the plate before a meal. If extra utensils are needed, they may be brought to the table along with later courses.
  • If a salad course is served early in the meal, the salad fork should be further from the main course fork, both set on the left. If a soup is served, the spoon is set on the right, further from the plate than the knife. Dessert utensils, a small (such as salad) fork and teaspoon should be placed above the main plate horizontally, or served with the dessert. For convenience, restaurants and banquet halls may not adhere to these rules, instead setting a uniform complement of utensils at each seat.
  • If a wine glass and a water glass are set, the wine glass is on the right directly above the knife. The water glass is to the left of the wine glass at a 45 degree angle, closer to the diner.
  • Glasses designed for certain types of wine may be set if available. If only one type of glass is available, it is considered correct regardless of the type of wine provided.
  • Hosts should always provide cloth napkins to guests. When paper napkins are provided, they should be treated the same as cloth napkins, and therefore should not be balled up or torn.
  • Coffee or tea cups are placed to the right of the table setting, or above the setting to the right if space is limited. The cup's handle should be pointing right.

Before Dining

  • Men should not wear a hat at the dinner table. Women should not wear hats inside their own homes.
  • The gentlemen stand behind their chairs until the women are all seated before sitting down to a formal meal.
  • A prayer or 'blessing' may be customary in some households, and the guests may join in or be respectfully silent. Most prayers are made by the host before the meal is eaten. Hosts should not practice an extended religious ritual in front of invited guests who have different beliefs.
  • A toast may be offered instead of or in addition to a blessing.
  • Do not start eating until (a) every person is served or (b) those who have not been served request that you begin without waiting. At more formal occasions all diners should be served at the same time and will wait until the hostess or host lifts a fork or spoon before beginning.
  • Keep your napkin on your lap. At more formal occasions all diners will wait to place their napkins on their laps until the host or hostess places his or her napkin on his or her lap.
  • Wait until your hostess picks up her fork or spoon before starting to eat.
  • When eating very messy foods, such as barbecued ribs or crab, in an informal setting, where it must be eaten with the fingers and could cause flying food particles, a 'bib' or napkin tucked into the collar may be used by adults. Wet wipes or ample paper napkins should be provided to clean the hands. In formal settings, bibs or napkins used as such are improper, and food should be prepared by the chef so that it may be eaten properly with the provided utensils.
  • Even if you have dietary restrictions, it can be considered rude to request other food at a private function, although this restriction has eased some in modern times due to food allergies being more common. If you must ask, do so as politely as possible, and as soon as possible, preferably when accepting the invitation.

General Manners while Dining

  • When a dish is offered from a serving dish (a.k.a. family style), as is the traditional manner, the food may be passed around or served by a host or staff. If passed, you should pass on the serving dish to the next person in the same direction as the other dishes are being passed. Place the serving dish on your left, take some, and pass to the person next to you. You should consider how much is on the serving dish and not take more than a proportional amount so that everyone may have some. If you do not care for any of the dish, pass it to the next person without comment. If being served by a single person, the server should request if the guest would like any of the dish. The guest may say "Yes, please," or "No, thank you."
  • When serving, serve from the left and pick-up the dish from the right. Beverages, however, are to be both served and as well as removed from the right-hand side.
  • Dip your soup spoon away from you into the soup. Eat soup noiselessly, from the side of the spoon. When there is a small amount left, you may lift the front end of the dish slightly with your free hand to enable collection of more soup with your spoon.
  • Taste food before adding seasoning, such as salt or pepper.
  • If you are having difficulty getting food onto your fork, use a small piece of bread or your knife to assist. NEVER use your fingers or thumb.
  • You may thank or converse with the staff, but it is not necessary, especially if engaged in conversation with others.
  • It is acceptable in the United States not to accept all offerings, and to not finish all the food on your plate. No one should ask why another doesn't want any of a dish or why he has not finished a serving.
  • There should be no negative comments about the food nor of the offerings available.
  • Chew with your mouth closed. Do not slurp, talk with food in your mouth, or make loud or unusual noises while eating. Constant clinking of utensils is not polite.
  • Do not over-chew your food. This is when you chew your food for too long or in an un-orthodox manner causing there to be a build-up of saliva, making an extremely repulsive noise.
  • Say "Excuse me," or "Excuse me. I'll be right back," before leaving the table. Do not state that you are going to the restroom.
  • Do not talk excessively loud. Give others equal opportunities for conversation.
  • Refrain from stretching or blowing your nose at the table. Excuse yourself from the table if you must do so.
  • Burping, coughing, yawning, or sneezing at the table should be avoided. If you do so, say, "Excuse me."
  • Never slouch or tilt back while seated in your chair.
  • Do not "play with" your food or utensils. Never wave or point silverware.
  • You may rest forearms on the table, but not elbows.
  • Do not stare at others.
  • Never talk on your phone or "text" at the table. If an urgent matter arises, apologize, excuse yourself, and step away from the table so your conversation does not disturb the others.
  • If food must be removed from the mouth for some reason, it should be done with the aid of a napkin to cover the mouth if possible, using the same method which was used to bring the food to the mouth. Refrain from spitting into the napkin.
  • Before asking for additional helpings, always consume the food on your plate first.
  • Gentlemen should stand when a lady leaves or rejoins the table in formal social settings.

Using Utensils

  • The fork is used to convey solid food to the mouth. Do not use your fingers unless eating foods customarily eaten as such, such as bread, asparagus spears, chicken wings, pizza, etc.
  • The fork may be either used either in the "American" style (use the fork in your left hand while cutting; switch to right hand to pick up and eat a piece) or the European "Continental" style (fork always in left hand). (See Fork etiquette)
  • Unless a knife stand is provided, the knife should be placed on the edge of your plate when not in use and should face inward.
  • When you have finished eating soup from a bowl or larger "soup plate," the spoon should be placed on the flat plate beneath, if one is present.
  • As courses are served, use your silverware from the outside moving inward toward the main plate. Dessert utensils are either above the main plate or served with dessert.

At the end of the meal

  • When you have finished your meal, place all used utensils onto your plate together, on the right side, pointed up, so the waiter knows you have finished. Do not place used utensils on the table.
  • Except in a public restaurant, do not ask to take some uneaten food or leftovers home, and never do so when attending a formal dinner. A host may suggest that extra food be taken by the guests, but should not insist.
  • When you have finished your meal, do not place the used napkin directly on your dinner plate. Leave it on the table to the left of your plate when you leave at the end of or during a meal. Do not leave it on the chair as it may soil the upholstery.
  • Wait for your host or hostess to rise before getting up from a dinner party table.
  • Thank your host and/or hostess when leaving a dinner party.
  • Once dessert, after-dinner coffee, or the equivalent is served, be wary not to overstay your welcome. The party who first wishes to end the event should rise and say something like, "This has been such a nice evening. We hope we can see you again soon."

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