How Good Are Your Table Manners?

October 11, 2011 | By | Comments (11)

Emily Post's Etiquette Book

I recently received a copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette, a newly updated 18th edition (wow!), which will go on sale October 18. As I flipped through this tome, I realized that I had actually never browsed through a copy before. It’s been seven years since the last update, and I wondered what it said about today’s dining etiquette—eating in restaurants, hosting parties, being a proper dinner guest, and just plain old table manners. I learned a few surprising things.

Here are some etiquette rules in the book that I didn’t know:

1.    “Whenever you excuse yourself from the table, put your napkin to the left side of your plate. Just leave it in loose folds, keeping any soiled parts out of sight. Don’t leave it on your chair.”

This kind of shocked me. I always thought it was proper to leave your napkin on your chair when you got up. And if you’re in a better restaurant, someone will usually notice and fold it up nicely for you. I’ve never heard of leaving it next to your plate, unless you’re actually done with the meal and leaving the table entirely (which, according to Emily, is also the proper thing to do).

2.    “At a restaurant or an event such as a wedding when you’re seated at a large table of eight or more, begin eating once at least three of you have been served.”

This surprised me too. I always wait for the entire table to be served before starting to eat a meal. Unless I’m eating in a Chinese restaurant, where everything is family style and a lot of these etiquette rules don’t apply.

3.    “As for keeping your elbows off the table, this drummed-into-us taboo applies only when you’re actually eating. Between courses or when you’re finished, it’s fine to lightly rest your elbows on the table.”

Phew! I was happy to read this one. I put my elbows on the table all the time—before a meal, in between courses, and after. Not while eating though.

4.    “It’s okay to sop up gravy; just be neat about it. At home, you can hold a piece of bread in your fingers to sop—just don’t get your fingers wet. At a restaurant or someone else’s house, use a fork: Put a bite-sized piece of bread into the gravy, spear it with your fork, sop, and eat.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone use a fork to sop up gravy with a piece of bread. I know I haven’t. I just dive right in with the bread in my hand. Who knew?

5.    “Gristle, bones, or pits. There are two ways to remove something inedible from your mouth. One: Use your fingers to remove the item quickly and discreetly and place it on the side of your plate. Cup your hand in front of your mouth or raise your napkin to shield the removal. It’s better not to put the food into your napkin—it’s unpleasant for your server or it could fall into your lap.”

I was also happy to read this one. This is usually how I deal with stray bones or olive pits, but it always seemed uncouth to me and I assumed I was doing it wrong. I thought the “proper” way to do it was to spit the offending item into your napkin and then either leave it there or place it on your plate, depending on what it was, I guess. Thanks, Emily!

6.    “Coughing and sneezing often lead to nose blowing. Never blow your nose at the table. If you need to, excuse yourself and go to the restroom where you can blow your nose and wash your hands afterward.”

This one wasn’t surprising to me, but I admit, I’m very guilty of it. In my (weak) defense, I’m often plagued with allergies and frequent nose-blowing is a fact of life for me. But I resolve to make a greater effort to avoid doing this at the table.

7.    In a restaurant: “The first thing you do after being seated and settled is put your napkin your lap.”

I always thought you put your napkin in your lap only after you received your menu. I have no idea where I heard that from, but I thought that was the correct etiquette. Oh, well.

Do any of these rules surprise you? What etiquette rules do you find yourself breaking?