Skip to main content

How to Have Top-Notch Table Manners

Impress dinner companions with your flawless manners—it’s as simple as observing a few key rules.


  • Step 1: Know the basics As soon as you take your seat at the table, place your napkin in your lap and obey the basic rules: Sit up straight, keep your elbows off the table, don’t begin eating until everyone has been served, chew with your mouth closed, and silence your cell phone.
  • Step 2: Act “well-bread” Your bread plate is to your left. Place a chunk of butter on your plate—enough so that you don’t have to keep dipping into the communal butter dish. Break off one bite-sized piece of bread at a time, buttering it just before eating it.
  • Step 3: Know what’s yours Take the water glass to the right of your plate. (Remember, the 'DR' in 'drink' stands for 'drink right.') As courses arrive, use the utensil farthest from your plate first, and then work your way in.
  • TIP: If a spoon and fork are at the top of your plate, use them for dessert.
  • Step 4: Sip your soup Eat soup by skimming your spoon along the surface of the broth, away from you. Then, bring it to your lips and sip it, without slurping, from the side. Should you find it excruciatingly hot, don't blow on it; simply wait for it to cool off. When you’re done, rest the spoon on your plate. If the soup bowl came with a saucer, lay your spoon on it.
  • TIP: Never let a used utensil—including the handle—touch the table.
  • Step 5: Enjoy your salad days Cut your salad if the leaves are too big. Just don’t hack up the entire salad at once.
  • Step 6: Don’t hold the salt hostage If someone asks for the salt or pepper, hand it over immediately—even if you need to season your own food. Always hand over both, even if your dining companion only requests one.
  • TIP: Don’t season your food without tasting it first. And don’t over-season, especially at a business meal: It looks childish.
  • Step 7: Spit happens Remove something from your mouth the same way it came in. You can remove an olive pit with your fingers, but a bone or piece of gristle should be daintily spit onto your fork and then placed on the edge of your plate.
  • TIP: Artichokes, crisp bacon, small fowl like quail and squab, strawberries, and shrimp served with a tail may be eaten with your fingers.
  • Step 8: Send the right signals When you’re finished eating, lay your utensils parallel, the tops pointing at 11 o’clock. If you’re merely pausing, cross your knife and fork on your plate like an 'X' with the knife on the right. If you excuse yourself from the table mid-meal, put your napkin on your chair. When you are ready to leave, place it on the left of your dinner plate.
  • FACT: In Japan, slurping your soup is a sign of good manners—it shows your host that you are enjoying your food.

You Will Need

  • A crash course in dining etiquette

Popular Categories