Dining Etiquette Series – It’s Soup!



“Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
~ From Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

As the Mock Turtle attests, soup can be beautiful, but to truly be so it should be eaten correctly.

Whether it’s served as a course in a formal dining setting or you’re having it for lunch at school, on campus or at work, the following etiquette guidelines will help you to become soup savvy:

Some “Don’ts” To Start With: 

  • Don’t slurp your soup, but sip it quietly.
  • Don’t blow on, stir, or wave your hand or napkin over soup that appears to be hot. Instead, wait a few minutes for your soup to cool down; pass the time by sipping your beverage and conversing with your dinner companions. If your soup still seems too hot, you may blow gently on the first few spoonfuls.
  • Don’t break so many crackers into your soup that it resembles a landfill; break one or two saltines or drop a few oyster crackers into your soup at a casual lunch or  dinner. Avoid doing so, however, at a formal or informal lunch or dinner.
  • Don’t hold your bread in one hand while holding your spoon in the other. Instead, put down your spoon, eat a bite or two of bread, and then pick up your spoon and resume eating your soup.  

The Soup Bowl

There are a few different types of soup bowls that you are likely to come across while dining at home or as a guest in a private home, restaurant, banquet hall, cafeteria or campus dining facility:

  • All-Purpose Bowl – Used for soup, cereal, pudding, ice cream and so on; this type of bowl is good for standard soups, such as chicken noodle or tomato.
  • Soup plate (pictured above in the graphic) – Shallower than a bowl and featuring a rim, this style is appropriate for all soups, but more commonly thicker soups and stews.
  • Onion Soup Crock – A heavier, oven-proof version that comes with a lid and one or two handles.
  • Soup Cup – A smaller, more delicate, vessel that can have one or two handles and come in a teacup or loving cup shape and used for a clear soup that is served at lunch or as a first course at a formal luncheon or dinner.

Ladeling soup from a tureen into guests’ soup bowls is performed by the server or host, and can be a very elegant service.

How to Use Your Soup Spoon 

Your soup spoon is larger than the other spoons at your place setting and usually rounder, although sometimes it will be oval, and will be located to the right of your plate and table knife.

Holding the handle as you would a pencil or pen, dip your spoon sideways into your soup near the edge of your bowl closest to you. Push your spoon away from you and fill it about 2/3 full; this method helps to prevent drips from landing on you, and looks more graceful. Lift the spoon to your mouth and if the soup is clear sip it gently and quietly from the side of the spoon; if the soup is thick, to avoid making slurping sounds as you eat you may insert part of the spoon into your mouth as though you were eating pudding. Don’t leave any soup on your spoon when you remove it from your mouth. When spooning up the last of your delicious soup, it’s permissible to tip your bowl slightly away from you.

Special Challenges

  • Two-Handled Soup Cup – Theoretically, if the cup has two handles, after you have eaten any solids and the broth or consommé is completely clear, you may lift the cup by both handles, take a sip and replace the cup on its underplate; repeat process until the soup is gone. Just be sure the broth is clear. Once, I was served consommé with a seaweed garnish that wrapped around my spoon like a jellyfish; had I drunk the consommé with the seaweed floating in it, the garnish likely would have attached itself to my mouth, which was not the image I was going for. In any case, I would avoid drinking consommé from a two-handled cup at a formal luncheon or dinner unless you see the hosts doing so.
  • French Onion Soup – If you are familiar with this scrumptious soup, you understand the challenges it presents. This is not a soup to order if you are in a hurry, or at a business meal. First, there is the bulky topping of French bread, and then there is that stretchy Gruyere cheese. To eat this soup properly, first twirl a small amount of cheese around your spoon; then separate it by pressing the edge of your spoon against the soup crock and turning your spoon. If this doesn’t work well – and it seldom does – it’s fine to use your table knife to cut the cheese. (If there is no table knife available, ask your server to please bring you one!) Try to cut the gooey cheese mess neatly with your teeth to avoid strings of cheese clinging to your chin, which will be as alluring as seaweed adhering to your mouth. The liberal use of your napkin will greatly help in this process. Finish eating the cheese and bread – using your knife on the bread as well, if necessary – and then eat the soup, which you should eat in one of the two manners previously described, depending on the thickness of the soup.  Finally, unless you are home alone where no other humans will see you, leave all the tempting crusty cheese on the side of the crock right where it is. But, if you are home alone, go to it and share it with the dog.

When You are Finished Eating Your Soup

If your soup bowl is sitting on a underplate that is large enough to hold your spoon securely, place your spoon there when you are not using it; that is the resting and the finished position for a soup spoon. However, if the underplate is too small or if there is no underplate, you may rest your spoon in the bowl. Usually the plate on which a cup of soup sits is sufficiently large enough to rest your spoon.    

You can now enjoy eating your beautiful soup with aplomb!

Until next time,


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