Table manners

Q. Is it considered rude to take a sip of your drink while still chewing?

A. It is considered good manners to wait until you have finished chewing and have swallowed your food before taking a sip of your beverage.

Q. What is the correct position for a coffee cup in a formal place setting?

A. The coffee cup and saucer is placed to the right of the place setting, to the right of the furthest utensil. Since most people are right-handed, the handle should face to the right.

Q. How should I fold a large napkin before placing it in my lap?

A. Large dinner napkins should be folded in half after opening and before placing on one's lap.

Q. Is it proper for a woman to apply lipstick at the table after a meal?

A. It is appropriate for a woman to excuse herself and apply lipstick in a private area such as a restroom.

Q. When should the host/hostess of a dinner party be served?

A. The host hostess of a dinner party should be the last one served. If the meal is getting cold, the host/hostess may state something to the effect, "Please begin while the food is still warm".

Q. At a formal dinner party, how do I properly serve and remove the dishes and glasses?

A. When entertaining formally, dishes are presented or served at guest's left and removed from the right side. Glasses are filled from the right.

Q. When dining at a fine restaurant should you eat different types of food on your plate individually or eat all the food groups together?

A. It is appropriate to eat all items together as the different foods complement one another.

Q. When eating meat, should you cut one piece, put your knife down, then eat the piece, or should you cut all of your meat up first, and then eat the meat?

A. When eating meat, should you cut one piece, put your knife down, then eat the piece, or should you cut all of your meat up first, and then eat the meat? When eating meat, always cut and eat one small piece at a time. If you are eating American style, you may put your knife down, switch your fork to your other hand and eat your bite. If you are eating continental style, you may cut the piece of meat and eat it without putting setting your knife on your plate. Continental Dining Style is becoming more prevalent today and is considered the preferred method of eating.

Q. What direction should food be passed at the table?

A. Food should be passed to the right, or counter-clockwise, For additional information on dining etiquette, please consult Manners 2000 Volume I Social Graces and Table Manners Video.

Q. Is it wrong to stand when a lady excuses herself from the table? What is the proper etiquette when the woman excuses herself and returns?

A. What is the proper etiquette when the woman excuses herself and returns? Answer: In a social setting, it is always appropriate for a male to stand when a female is taking her leave. However, in a business setting, it is not always necessary for a male to rise whenever his female coworker(s) leave the table.

Q. Should you dismiss yourself from the table if you need to sneeze or blow your nose?

A. Yes, excuse yourself from the table, and at no time should you use your napkin as a handkerchief.

Q. When dining out, is it okay to share your food with the others at the table for tasting purposes?

A. Yes, it is appropriate to share when others at the table are also willing to share. However, always request additional small plates and clean utensils for dividing the shared food.

Q. Where do I place my napkin when briefly excusing myself during the meal?

A. Place your napkin on the chair when excusing yourself during the meal as it is not appropriate to place a soiled napkin on the table while people are still eating. At the completion of a meal, carefully place the napkin at the left of your place setting or if the plates have been cleared, place the napkin in the center without actually refolding to original state.

Q. Who pays the bill when dining out?

A. When entertaining a guest, such as when out for dinner or cocktails, the person who extended the invitation (regardless of gender) is responsible for paying the bill.

Q. When do I use the salad fork?

A. When served a salad as the main entr�e, use your dinner fork or entr�e fork. Also, if your salad is served as a side dish on your main entr�e plate, use your dinner fork. Otherwise, use your salad fork for your salad!

Q. What is the correct way to butter bread or a roll?

A. When served bread or a roll on a bread/butter plate; break the bread with your fingers into pieces small enough for one or two bites; butter a pulled apart piece and then eat it. Do not butter the entire roll or piece of bread at one time.

Q. Which side of the guest should I pour wine from at the dinner table?

A. Pour wine and all beverages from the right, while standing behind and to the right of the guest.

Q. When should charger plates be removed from the dinner table?

A. The charger plates should be on the table when the guests are seated. The soup, fish or salad course are served on top of the charger. It is customary for the charger plate to be removed prior to the serving of the entree or dinner course. Some people however, prefer to leave the charger plate on the table during the entree because they enjoy the appearance of the charger. Regardless of if you remove the charge after the soup, fish, salad or entree, the charger plate should always be removed before the dessert course.

Q. What is the correct way to serve yourself a portion of brie cheese? Do you just cut a piece from the soft part or try to cut off a portion including the hard skin?

A. Do you just cut a piece from the soft part or try to cut off a portion including the hard skin? Serve yourself an entire piece of cheese neatly and then you may cut away the crust on your own plate.

Q. When you have some food in your mouth that you don't want to swallow, what should you do?

A. Move the food forward with your tongue onto the fork and place it back on the side of your plate.

Q. Where do I place the finger bowl after cleansing my fingers?

A. When using a finger bowl, after cleansing your fingers, place the finger bowl and the doily on the upper left side of the place setting; this clears the dessert plate for the dessert.

Q. Where are the dessert utensils placed in a formal table setting?

A. When setting the table, the dining utensils (or flatware) used for eating dessert should placed using one of the following options:

1) At the top of the place setting with the fork (handle pointing left) placed above the plate and the spoon (handle pointing right) placed above the fork.

2) The dessert spoon placed to the immediate right of the plate.

3) The dessert fork and spoon placed on the dessert plate along with the finger bowl and presented immediately before the dessert.

Q. What do you do when the salad has big pieces of lettuce? Can you cut them with your knife?

A. Years ago, when knife blades were still made of silver, this was true, as the vinegar harmed the blades. However, today, most knife blades are stainless steel and therefore, may be used to cut lettuce into smaller bites.

Q. Should a child stand or sit while the adults are being seated at the dining table?

A. When at a dining table, a child should stand behind his/her chair until all the adults have been seated.

Q. Where should I put my napkin at the completion of the meal?

A. At the completion of a meal, carefully place the napkin at the left of your place setting or if the plates have been cleared, place the napkin in the center without actually refolding to original state.

Q. In a family setting, which direction should food be passed for serving?

A. Food is passed to the right, or counter-clockwise.

Q. What should you do if you spill a beverage on yourself while dining?

A. Clean up the spill at the table or excuse yourself to the restroom if needed. Apologize to anyone your slight mishap may have inconvenienced.

Q. When a fellow diner asks to "please pass the salt," is it standard etiquette to pass both the salt and the pepper?

A. We recommend first passing the salt and then inquiring if the other guest would also like the pepper.

From India, Nasik
Dear Shyamali,

Thanks for this wonderful article. At a time in history when some think they could eat, drink, speak and do whatever ignoring the accepted norms your article is a timely reminder of the values of social graces and etiquette.

Very often candidates considered for senior positions are taken for a lunch or dinner by directors with an observant eye on his table manners.

Here are some points I came accross recently that may be useful.

Business etiquette is made up of significantly more important things than knowing which fork to use at lunch with a client. Unfortunately, in the perception of others, the devil is in the details. People may feel that if you can't be trusted not to embarrass yourself in business and social situations, you may lack the self-control necessary to be good at what you do. Etiquette is about presenting yourself with the kind of polish that shows you can be taken seriously. Etiquette is also about being comfortable around people (and making them comfortable around you!)

People are a key factor in your own and your business success. Many potentially worthwhile and profitable alliances have been lost because of an unintentional breach of manners.

Dan McLeod, president of Positive Management Leadership Programs, a union avoidance company, says, "Show me a boss who treats his or her employees abrasively, and I'll show you an environment ripe for labor problems and obviously poor customers relations. Disrespectful and discourteous treatment of employees is passed along from the top."

Most behavior that is perceived as disrespectful, discourteous or abrasive is unintentional, and could have been avoided by practicing good manners or etiquette. Weve always found that most negative experiences with someone were unintentional and easily repaired by keeping an open mind and maintaining open, honest communication. Basic knowledge and practice of etiquette is a valuable advantage, because in a lot of situations, a second chance may not be possible or practical.

The Solution

There are many written and unwritten rules and guidelines for etiquette, and it certainly behooves a business person to learn them. The caveat is that there is no possible way to know all of them!

These guidelines have some difficult-to-navigate nuances, depending on the company, the local culture, and the requirements of the situation. Possibilities to commit a faux pas are limitless, and chances are, sooner or later, youll make a mistake. But you can minimize them, recover quickly, and avoid causing a bad impression by being generally considerate and attentive to the concerns of others, and by adhering to the basic rules of etiquette. When in doubt, stick to the basics.

The Basics

The most important thing to remember is to be courteous and thoughtful to the people around you, regardless of the situation. Consider other peoples feelings, stick to your convictions as diplomatically as possible. Address conflict as situation-related, rather than person-related. Apologize when you step on toes. You cant go too far wrong if you stick with the basics you learned in Kindergarten. (Not that those basics are easy to remember when youre in a hard-nosed business meeting! )

This sounds simplistic, but the qualities we admire most when we see them in people in leadership positions, those are the very traits we work so hard to engender in our children. If you always behave so that you would not mind your spouse, kids, or grandparents watching you, you're probably doing fine. Avoid raising your voice (surprisingly, it can be much more effective at getting attention when lower it!) using harsh or derogatory language toward anyone (present or absent), or interrupting. You may not get as much "airtime" in meetings at first, but what you do say will be much more effective because it carries the weight of credibility and respectability.

The following are guidelines and tips that weve found helpful for dealing with people in general, in work environments, and in social situations.

Its About People

Talk and visit with people. Don't differentiate by position or standing within the company. Secretaries and janitorial staff actually have tremendous power to help or hinder your career. Next time you need a document prepared or a conference room arranged for a presentation, watch how many people are involved with that process (you'll probably be surprised!) and make it a point to meet them and show your appreciation.

Make it a point to arrive ten or fifteen minutes early and visit with people that work near you. When youre visiting another site, linger over a cup of coffee and introduce yourself to people nearby. If you arrive early for a meeting, introduce yourself to the other participants. At social occasions, use the circumstances of the event itself as an icebreaker. After introducing yourself, ask how they know the host or how they like the crab dip. Talk a little about yourself- your hobbies, kids, or pets; just enough to get people to open up about theirs and get to know you as a person.

Keep notes on people. There are several "contact management" software applications that are designed for salespeople, but in business, nearly everyone is a salesperson in some capacity or another. They help you create a "people database" with names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, spouse and children's names; whatever depth of information is appropriate for your situation.

Its a good idea to remember what you can about people; and to be thoughtful. Send cards or letters for birthdays or congratulations of promotions or other events, send flowers for engagements, weddings or in condolence for the death of a loved one or family member. People will remember your kindness, probably much longer than you will!

Peers and Subordinates

Impressing the boss isnt enough.

A 1997 study by Manchester Partners International, says even in this tight job market, 40% of new management hires fail in their first jobs. The key reason for their failure is their inability to build good relationships with peers and subordinates.

Social rank or class is a cornerstone of social interaction in many cultures. The corporate climate in the United States is no exception. People tend to feel uneasy until theyve seen an "organizational chart" or figured out who reports to whom. They feel that it is more important to show respect and practice etiquette around superiors than around peers or subordinates.

The current social and economic climate is one of rapid advancement through technology, which make it very possible (and even likely) for a pesky salesman to become an important client, or an administrative assistant to become a manager.

Mergers and acquisitions add to this "class mixing," causing a former competitor to become a coworker overnight.

This can make things awkward if you treat people differently depending on their "corporate standing." If you show respect and courtesy to everyone, regardless of position or company, you avoid discomfort or damaging your chances in any unexpected turn of events.

Having a consistent demeanor improves your credibility. Even the people at the top will begin to suspect your motives if you treat VIPs with impeccable courtesy and snap at counter clerks.


The only thing you owe your boss above and beyond what you owe peers and subordinates is more information. Unobtrusively be sure he or she knows what youre doing, is alerted as early as possible to issues that may arise, and is aware of outcomes and milestones.

Never surprise your boss.

It goes without saying that you should speak well of him or her within and outside the company, and give him or her the benefit of the doubt. (Which you would do for anyone, of course!.)

International Business

The information in this article is presented from a Western point of view. It is important to note that etiquette in other cultures requires a bit of adaptation and flexibility. If youre travelling on business to a foreign destination, or have visitors here, it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about the culture they are coming from and make appropriate allowances.

Items to consider:

Language (learn theirs if possible, but don't pretend to be fluent unless you have many years of study under your belt!)

Time zones

Working schedules


Food customs (table manners, use of implements, etc.)

Generally speaking, as long as you are trying to be considerate and express an interest in learning, you should be fine. If in doubt, err on the conservative, formal side.

Cheers. keep up the good postings that , I am sure , are very valuable to the site members.


From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa

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