Dining Etiquette Series – The Appetizer Course 1



 “…since people still needed them shrimps for shrimp cocktails…”
~Forrest Gump, in Forrest Gump 

“These are Escargot. It’s French for snails. It’s a delicacy. Try it.”
~ Edward to Vivian, as their appetizers were served
during the dinner scene in the movie, Pretty Woman

Whether you’re dining on a spectacular shrimp or seafood cocktail like the one pictured above, or indulging in one of Edward’s favorite delicacies, Escargot, as Vivian did, or tried to (I think those who recall the scene in question know how that turned out), you will be enjoying your appetizer course. Depending upon where you are dining or the host’s preference, your appetizer will appear with either the first or second course.

If it’s the first course, you might find your appetizer already on your charger (service plate), usually on or over shaved or crushed ice; otherwise, your appetizer will arrive after you’ve been seated and your napkin has been laid properly in your lap. Alternatively, it will be served as the second course, after the soup and before the salad or main course – again, depending on the custom or preferences of the host.

Upon being seated, you might find that your cocktail fork is resting in your soup spoon – to the right of your charger, or luncheon or dinner plate. The tines of the cocktail fork will be nestled inside the bowl of your soup spoon. This is one way of setting the flatware to accommodate the first two courses; or your cocktail fork might be brought out with your appetizer.

How to Eat Shrimp Cocktail

If the shrimp are small and do not have their tails, use your cocktail fork to spear one, dip one into the cocktail sauce and eat it with one or two bites. If, however, the shrimp are large or jumbo, spear a shrimp, place it on your underplate and use the side of your cocktail fork to cut a piece, dip it into the sauce and eat, and repeat. If it’s too difficult to cut the shrimp using only your cocktail – or salad – fork, you may use your salad or table knife as well. When the tails are still attached, you may also use your salad knife to slice off the tail, or use your fingers to dislodge it; then, holding the tail in one hand, use your cocktail fork in the other to remove the flesh inside of the tail. 

How to Eat Escargot 

Escargot may be served in two ways:

The first way an individual serving of the dish called Escargot is presented is with the snails in their shells, sizzling in garlic butter, on a special Escargot plate that has six or more little round indentations into which the shells fit. Accompanying your plate of Escargot – or they might already be included in your table setting – will be two utensils: Escargot tongs and a cocktail fork. Pick up the tongs by the handle with your left hand, squeeze the handle to open the clamp, and gently grasp one of the shells. So that the slick shell stays put, make sure the entire shell is snugly inside the clamp and hold it closed without squeezing it, keeping it low to the plate rather than up holding it up in the air. That way, if you do lose your grip, the shell will likely drop back onto your plate rather than shooting across the table! I confess that this happened to me the first time I tried to eat Escargot. I squeezed the clamp and the shell indeed shot across the table, over the edge and landed on my date’s highly polished shoe! So, if you plan to sample this tricky tidbit when eating out, to keep your dating life healthy it’s important to master the correct technique for handling these “slippery little suckers.” Thus, once you’ve secured the shell, use your cocktail fork to extract the snail meat and eat it in one bite. The texture might surprise you, as snails tend to be a bit chewy. If you like the taste and texture, savor them; if not, chew quickly and swallow. Either way, keep your face composed with a pleasant expression. Try not to drip melted butter on your clothing or table cloth. Blot your mouth, and wipe your fingers if necessary, with your napkin. (If you’re left-handed, simply reverse which hands you hold the tongs and cocktail fork; but you’re still not allowed to lose your grip!)

Note: The type of snails that are served in the dish, “Escargot,” are land snails. But, there’s another type of snail, a tiny sea snail commonly called a “periwinkle,” that should not be confused with Escargot. The land snails that are served as Escargot are considered a delicacy, whereas periwinkles are plentiful and considered to be more common, casual fare. And, if served in the shell, periwinkles can be difficult to eat because of their size; instead of eating them with tongs and a cocktail fork, a pin is used – often with great difficulty – to dig them out of their weensy shells and eat them with your cocktail fork. Of course, if periwinkles, or “winkles” as they are often called, are served without the shell they can be just as enjoyable as the classier land snails. But the whole snail mystique might come down to perception.

And speaking of serving without the shell, that is the second way to serve Escargot, in the same sizzling garlic butter sauce. And for this version, you need only use your cocktail fork.

There are, thankfully, far less challenging appetizers that don’t involve wrestling your food out of a shell, which can be eaten with a fork, spoon or even your fingers, and might be better choices for that first date or job interview luncheon. I’ll be writing more about those choices later.

Until next time,


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