Proper dining etiquette requires good posture when approaching the table, pulling out your or someone else’s chair and when seated, conversing and eating. Further benefits to walking and sitting tall and straight include making you appear taller, slimmer, more confident and smarter. So all those years when your mother told you to “stand up straight,” “sit up straight,” or “stop holding up the wall,” she knew what she was talking about! Go mom!
Head in the Clouds
Here’s a tip I learned years ago from watching my daughter in her dance classes: imagine that there’s an invisible, unbreakable string attached to the top of your head near the back, and that this string is holding you up and stretching your entire body upward. Keep that string in mind as you walk and sit. You will feel an instant surge of energy and power with your head held high, neck slightly extended, shoulders relaxed and arms close to your body, swinging back and forth gracefully with your finger tips lightly brushing against your thighs. At first, you’ll have to remind yourself about the string, but after awhile it will become second nature. It’s an instant fix to your appearance! Keep in mind that you should be comfortable while walking and sitting tall; if you have any discomfort or questions associated with your posture, you should check with your parents or see your doctor.
Feet on the Ground
When pulling out your chair, stand tall, grasp the back with both hands and pull the chair gently away from the table just enough so that you can slip into it easily and gracefully. When you’re sitting in the chair with your feet on the floor, grasp the arms – or if your chair has no arms, the sides of the seat — and lifting yourself up slightly and using your feet pull the chair forward so that you are close to the table. Your hand should fit comfortably but snugly between your diaphragm and the table. If any part of your body above the diaphragm is even with the table’s edge, you probably need a higher chair.
When pulling out a chair for someone else, follow the same procedure, allow the person to be seated and then gently push the chair closer to the table (the seated person should be helping, but you are making it easier).
Upon being seated, remember to remove your napkin and place it in your lap.
While seated, keep your feet flat on the floor. Avoid crossing your legs, shaking your foot, tapping your toes and other such movements that could make your body twitch, shake the table, or kick another guest. Throughout dinner, also avoid fidgeting, twirling your hair, drumming your fingers, waving your utensils to point at something or to make a conversational point, or scraping your plate with knife, fork or spoon, which is almost as upsetting as the sound of nails or chalk on a blackboard.
Elbows Off The Table
While seated, keep your elbows tucked in to avoid bumping your neighbor as you eat or drink. Elbows off the table is a centuries old rule that works well today, although for different reasons. During the Age of Chivalry in the European Middle Ages (1100-1500 A.D.) , the so-called “common folk” often dined at long crowded tables where there was little room to maneuver or place plates, utensils and platters of food. Elbows were kept off the table because one might wind up in the middle of someone else’s plate!
It was expected, however, that hands would be in plain sight at all times, to ensure that a) a weapon was not concealed in the hand, and b) that one was not conducting inappropriate behavior under the table. Today, while resting one’s elbows on the table signals poor manners, it is acceptable while eating American style to rest one’s wrist on the edge of the table or in one’s lap. There’s an old rule of thumb about the parts of the arm with regard to dining etiquette that says: wrists always, forearms sometimes, elbows never.
Today in some cultures, however, such as in France, you’re expected to keep both hands in sight at all times, so it’s advisable to rest your wrists or forearms on the edge of the table. To avoid faux pas, it’s always wise to research and prepare for a country’s dining and other etiquette customs before you visit.
There is an exception to the elbow rule: after the last of the dishes have been cleared and only coffee, tea and other drinks remain, if discussing business or another topic you may place your elbows on the table and lean forward toward another guest. If you are uncomfortable doing so, or see that no one else is resting their elbows on the table, you may simply rest your forearms on the table and lean forward.
Hand to Mouth
Another rule of thumb when dining is to bring the food to your mouth, not take your mouth to the food. I’ve seen some people lean over their place settings so far that their faces are practically in their plates! Continue to sit up straight and bring your hand with your fork or spoon straight up and lean in ever so slightly to intersect your mouth with your hand and utensil. Do so carefully and slowly enough so that you don’t spill or drop your food back onto the plate, your clothes or on the table. However, if a bite of food does drop off your utensil onto the table, pick it up with your fork and place it on the edge of your plate; then, take another bite. If you dribble your soup or ice cream, use your napkin to blot up the spill; hope that it’s your dessert instead of your soup that dribbles, so it will be toward the end of the meal! Because of the possibility of such mishaps I think it’s a good idea for a man to carry an extra tie in his pocket and for both genders to pack one of those great “Tide to go” stain sticks.
Leaving the Table
If you must leave the table briefly for any reason, quietly excuse yourself with a smile. A simple, “excuse me a minute,” is sufficient; there’s no need to explain or elaborate. Place your napkin, loosely folded, to the left of your plate. Gently and quietly push your chair back from the table, stand up, and then push your chair back toward the table so it’s not in anyone’s way. When you reseat yourself, take your napkin and replace it in your lap.
How Not to Go to the Dogs
To end this entry on a light note, please take a look at this example of do’s & don’ts (mostly don’ts) of dining posture by some good You-Tube sports.
Until next time,