Black Women's Improvement Project (BWIP)

Etiquette 101: Five Things You Should Never Do During a Meal, Plus More Dining Tips


A prominent Etiquette Professional warned me that once I began teaching on etiquette and dining, people’s dining habits (good and bad) would be a lot more noticeable. She was right; I saw things that made me never want to eat in public again. Some of the common faux pas I notice on a regular basis are:

1. Finger Licking.
2. Talking with a mouth full of food.
3. Hunching over their plate.
4. Eating too fast
5. Using cell phones, Ipods and other technology at the table

Don’t think I was mentally policing other peoples behavior, I wasn’t, in fact, it made me more aware of my own dining conduct and served as the inspiration for this post and as a platform to share some dining etiquette tips that would serve us all well to remember. The following are some western dining practices, as I understand that eating habits vary in different cultures.

Continental vs. American Dining

When you use a knife and fork, (Fork in the left hand and knife in the right) there are two ways to eat your food. and in both cases, when you cut a piece of your food, you place the knife blade in at the 12 noon and 3 o’clock position on your plate. With continental, you pick up your food, fork tines down and eat your portion. With American dining you switch the fork to the right hand, fork tines up, pick up the portion and eat.

The Proper Handling of a Few Familiar Foods

Bread and Butter: Break off one bite size piece and butter it, put the knife back on the plate and eat the portion you just buttered. (Do not cheat and butter the entire roll at once!) Do not use your roll to “sop up” gravy and sauces!

Spaghetti: With your fork in your left hand, twirl a few noodles around your fork and form a ball. If you need a little help, use a spoon and/or a small piece of garlic bread to twirl the noodles. The second option is to take the fork in your right hand and cut the spaghetti into bite-sized pieces.

Soup: There is a childhood rhyme that provides the proper instruction for enjoying soup:

“As ships go out to sea
I spoon my soup away from me”

When eating soup, the spoon goes away from you so you don’t spill it on you. With clear broths, you eat the soup from the side of the spoon, when it is a thick cream soup or a soup or stew with vegetables and meat; the spoon goes directly into the mouth. No slurping is allowed!

Sorbets, Ice Creams, Puddings, Fruits, or any desert served in stemware: Hold the base of the stemware ( to keep the stemware from tipping over) and eat small spoonfuls. Do not lick the back of the spoon or leave some of the desert on the spoon and re-insert in your mouth (that is akin to double dipping with chips and dip and it looks disgusting!)

Dealing with gristle or fat from poultry or beef: Discreetly remove from your mouth and put on the side of your plate.

Dealing with foods you do not like: If it is a part of your meal, try a little of it (unless you have a food allergy in regards to the food in question) and just focus on the portions of your meal you do enjoy. If you are in a situation where your host/hostess insists you try it you can either thank them and politely refuse or take a little, try it and thank them. I personally would try to politely refuse so that I do not risk insulting the host/hostess if I do not like the item.

Finger Foods

Barbecue Ribs, Corn on the Cob, Pizza, Fried Chicken, and sandwiches are a few of my favorites (in moderation). The ribs, pizza and fried chicken can actually be eaten with a knife and fork, but if you are in a relaxed atmosphere and want to use your hands like everyone else, along with any other appetizers like hot wings or jalapeño poppers for example, enjoy with discretion and for the love of peace, do not lick your fingers! Use your napkin!!!!

In closing, I want to say that these suggestions are not to take the fun out of enjoying your dining experiences, I want to convey the opposite, the suggestions are presented to enhance your dining experiences and the bonus I have found in implementing these practices, is that it has forced me to slow down and I actually eat less, it gives my body time to digest the food and I realize I am actually full before I finish the entire meal and if I am dining in a restaurant, I have it wrapped up and it is tomorrow’s lunch! In France and Italy, a meal can take 2 or 3 hours because people savor each other’s company as much as they do the food. In America, we rush so much it is no wonder we get heartburn. If we take the time to eat properly, it will slow us down and hopefully make us enjoy our meal more and the company of the people we are dining with.

Bon Appetit!

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