That’s My Bread Plate: Primer on Dining

Let’s just get this out of the way first: I have no formal training in etiquette. So, take this advice for precisely what it is: a mixture of practical observations from a lot of corporate travelling and a fair bit of research on the “rules.”

Someone may be judging you on which fork you are using, but that is doubtful, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  People are watching whether you have good manners overall: how you carry yourself and how you engage with others, including the wait staff. The primary focus of etiquette is to set others at ease. If you can focus on that, the rest will flow naturally.

Without further ado, here are 6 tips to rock your next dinner party:

1. Following the Leader, the Leader, the Leader
The host of the table is the conductor of the symphony: follow their lead, and you’ll stay in the melody. When you arrive at the dinner, wait until they invite you to sit at the table. When you are at the table, wait for the host to eat, drink, or basically do anything. You are welcome to sip on water before the host, but that’s about it.

2. Just like a Book
Food moves around the table the same way you read words in a book: from the left to right. If you are eating family style, offer the dish to the person on your left, and then pass it to your right. At a restaurant, the wait staff will serve your food on your left, and take it away on your right.

3. BMW
Bread. Meal. Water. Your bread plate is on the left and your water (and all your beverage glasses) will be on your right. Your meal, of course, is in the middle.

4. Eat with Your Hands
A select number of foods can be eaten with your hands. I know it seems crazy, so I’m going to go ahead and quote the experts on this one. (

Here are some (but not all) of the foods you can eat with your fingers: Artichokes, sushi, corn on the cob (though at a formal dinner it should be cut off the cob and served in a bowl), and bread. For bread, put the butter on your plate. Then, tear off a bite-sized bit, place a bit of butter on it, and pop the whole piece in your mouth.

5. A Fork in the Road
I have rarely seen a table set with more than two forks and spoons, but some particularly thorough dinner parties may just get zealous with their flatware and then you are faced with a scene like what you see below. Aye! What to do. Option 1, just follow your host. They tend to know which fork to use. Or, Option 2, simply work from the outside in. The cutlery at the top of your plate will be for dessert, so save some room if you see that magical little fork and spoon waiting at the top of your plate.


5. Make Bridges, not Ramps
Once you have started eating, your flatware should not touch the table again. In between bites, put your fork and knife down on your plate with the edges extending off the edge, but not touching the table: make bridges, not ramps. When you are done eating, place the cutlery together inside the rim of your plate at the angle of 10 and 4. This will let the wait staff know you are done eating.

6. Inedible Morsels
For this sticky section, it is worth mentioning again that the purpose of etiquette is to set others at ease. Therefore, it is up to you to do whatever you can to make dinner a pleasant experience for your fellow diners. If you find a hair in your food, discreetly tell the wait staff in a way that does not create a ruckus or ruin the appetites of those around you.

If you end up with a bone or some other inedible morsel in your mouth, the rule is that it should exit your mouth the same way it went in. If the bite went in with a fork, the bone should come out with a fork, as discreetly as possible, and placed on the corner of your plate. Note, as much as you may be tempted, morsels of inedible food should NOT be spit into your napkin.

Because Grandma is Always Right

Before we end this primer on dining etiquette, here’s a quick review of some tidbits you may or may not remember learning in childhood.

1. Take small bites and wait to speak until you’ve finished chewing

2. Ask for food to be passed rather than reaching for something across the table

3. If someone asks for something, don’t use it first
This I learned from Kenny and Rudy etiquette training

4. Cut your food into bite size pieces using your knife in your right hand and fork in your left hand. When taking a bite, put the knife down and switch the fork to your right hand to take the bite, prongs up.
If you’re eating European style, the knife stays in your right hand and the fork in your left as you take a bite, with the fork prongs pointed down down

5. Put your napkin in your lap and use it frequently to keep your face clean
Note: napkins are not handkerchiefs, so excuse yourself if you need to blow your nose

6. Make sure your elbows are off the table
Some experts do say that elbows on the table are acceptable between courses

7. Spoon the soup away from you to avoid dripping and do not make any slurping noises
Exception to this rule is in certain cultures where slurping is a sign of appreciation

8. Eat at the same pace as the rest of the group

9. Keep the conversation flowing (more on this in a future post) 

10. Thank the host for the meal, whether purchased or prepared




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