Basic Table Manners: A Refresher

Brush up on your etiquette basics to wow fellow diners (and make your mom proud).
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Today: Brush up on your etiquette basics to wow fellow diners (and make your mom proud).

The holiday season will be here soon, and with it come tons of parties. Before the onslaught of cookie swaps, company dinners, and your mother’s holiday brunch, take a moment to brush up on your dining etiquette. Even if you’ve learned it all before, a quick refresher course will help you feel confident and in control before breaking bread with your boss or etiquette-obsessed aunt. Here's how to mind your manners at the dinner table:

  • First things first: Mind the little details -- you've heard them all before. Respond to invitations in a timely manner; remember that it's always better to be overdressed; be fashionably on time; bring a hostess gift; and remember to silence your phone and keep it tucked away and out of sight.

  • After you sit down: The first thing you should do is place your napkin in your lap. Leave it there until the end of the meal, or until you excuse yourself from the table. There’s some debate about what to do with your napkin when you get up, but the most common practice is to place it on your seat until you return. If you’re worried that your napkin has food on it that could stain the seat or your clothes when you sit back down, place it to the left of your plate instead.

  • To locate your bread plate and drink: When in doubt, look to your hands. With your palms facing each other, connect the tip of each pointer finger with your thumbs. You’ll see that your left hand will form a lower case 'b,' and your right hand, a lowercase 'd.' These stand for "bread" and "drink," which you will find to your left and to your right, respectively.
  • What to do with all of that silverware: Your safest bet is to start from the outside (the utensils farthest from your plate) and move inward as the meal progresses. However, dessert utensils may also be found above your plate (like in the picture below).
  • More: Hosting your own dinner party? Learn how to properly set the table.

    • How to hold utensils: There are two proper ways to hold your utensils -- the first is Continental (or European) Style; the second is American Style. For American Style, hold your fork and knife as you would a pen. With your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right, cut a piece of food; place the knife down on the edge of the plate, then swap the fork to your right hand (if needed) and take a bite. Repeat. For continental, just keep your fork in your left hand when you take a bite.

  • Resting utensils: If you are taking a break from eating, imagine your plate is a clock and place your knife and fork down at the 3 o'clock position. You can indicate that you are finished eating by placing your utensils in the 10 and 4 o'clock positions.
  • When to start eating: Wait until the host or hostess starts to eat -- even if others at the table begin before him or her.
    • Foods that can be eaten with your hands, even in a more formal setting: Though this rule varies by culture, most allow that certain foods are too difficult to eat with a fork and knife: Among these are bread (which should be broken into bite-size pieces), chips, sushi (if you are not provided with chopsticks), and most passed appetizers. Otherwise, it's best to try to eat with a fork and knife when at the dinner table.

  • When in doubt: If you’re not sure about something, watch the host or hostess for cues. See how they handle the situation and act accordingly. This will almost always be the proper course of action.
  • After the party: Don't forget a thank you note. It should be sent within two weeks after the event (but a late thank you note is better than none at all).
  • What etiquette questions still have you stumped? We want to hear about them in the comments!

    This article originally appeared on Basic Table Manners: A Refresher

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