Table manners and etiquette 101

Table manners are practical guidelines to help you interact positively with other people during a meal.

Table manners are based on what is customary for the time and may differ by culture, environment and generation. According to Michigan State University Extension, table manners should be used on a daily basis no matter if you are eating at home with your family or out to dinner at a five-star restaurant.

Good Manners, a Michigan 4-H resource provides the following information on table manners. According to Good Manners, the following are ways a person should act during a meal.

  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help before and after the meal.
  • Sit up straight with your chair pushed in and your elbows off the table.
  • Pass dishes of food to the right.
  • Cut food into small bites and avoid putting large portions in your mouth.
  • Chew with your mouth closed and avoid making loud chewing or smacking noises.
  • Cut your food with the knife in your right hand and fork in your left. Once cut and ready to eat, transfer your fork to your right hand and set the knife down on your plate.
  • At home, carry your plate, utensils and glass to the kitchen when the meal is finished.
  • Thank the cook for an excellent meal.
  • Fold your fabric napkin and leave it alongside your plate – if it is paper, toss it in the trash when you help clear the table.
  • Pass the salt and pepper together even if they only asked for one or the other.
  • Ask permission to get up when you are finished with your food; “May I be excused?”

There are also a few things a person should not do during a meal.

  • Do not begin eating until everyone is seated and let your host be the lead.
  • If the meal is being served individually, do not start eating until everyone at your table has been served.
  • Do not reach across the table or in front of someone else; ask for items to be passed to you.
  • Do not talk with food in your mouth.

Good Manners, also provides information on making introductions, being interviewed during a meal and being a host. More information on workforce preparation topics can be found on the 4-H Career Preparation website. Workforce preparation refers to the skill-building and educational programming and training done with individuals to prepare them for work.

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