Dining Etiquette Series – Saying Grace Before Dinner



“In some families and at some events it’s customary to say a blessing or prayer before the meal begins. If that’s not your custom and you’re a guest, just sit quietly until the blessing is finished. If asked, do join hands around the table—doing so will complete the circle.” ~ Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition, Manners For A New World

In the U.S., the freedoms of religion, speech and assembly are held in very high esteem. But, along with freedom should come civility. That means that we should not only respect the rights, beliefs and customs of others, we should also extend courtesy, consideration and understanding when we or when others exercise those rights, express those beliefs and celebrate those customs. In each the following dining scenarios, consider the response that you believe would be most appropriate:

Scenario 1

You’re invited to attend a black-tie charity dinner dance in which your company has purchased a table. As everyone is being seated , the sponsor of the event asks a well-known member of the clergy, who is also a guest, to offer grace before the servers bring out the first course.

A) You’re not a member of the same faith as the member of the clergy who is offering the before-dinner prayer; therefore, you do not want to give the impression that you are by noticeably declining to partake in the prayer.

B) You’re not religious at all and are offended by the offering of a prayer at a charity event in which you and/or your company have contributed money to attend; you feel you must go on record about how you feel and state your outrage to the others at your table.

C) While you don’t adhere to the same faith or beliefs as the member of the clergy who is offering the prayer, you politely defer to the ceremonial beginning to the dinner by following along with the other guests, or by simply bowing your head slightly and closing your eyes. You need not participate in your heart or mind, but simply by your body language indicate your respect for the sponsors and the occasion. Out of respect for the sponsors and other guests, you would not dream of making a scene or disrupting the proceedings.

Scenario 2

You’ve made a new friend at college, and have been invited to spend a holiday weekend at her home. As you are sitting down to dinner, you learn that the family says grace before meals. While your family attends church occasionally, it’s not customary at your house to offer a formal prayer before meals. As one of the family members begins the prayer, everyone bows his or her head slightly and all clasp hands around the table.

A) As a guest and not a family member, you don’t feel that you need to participate in the prayer; thus, you refrain from clasping hands or bowing your head. Instead, you stare at your plate and rest your wrists on the edge of the table.

B) You don’t mind bowing your head during the brief prayer of thanks, but you don’t want to hold hands.

C) As a gracious guest, you follow the lead of your new friend’s family, bow your head slightly and clasp hands with those on either side of you. Whether or not you choose to participate in the prayer or its sentiment, you certainly will choose to demonstrate courtesy and respect for your hosts.

Scenario 3

Your girlfriend’s parents are very religious. You come from a family of agnostics and atheists. When you and your parents dined recently at your girlfriend’s home, you all respectfully bowed your heads and closed your eyes while the family offered a prayer of thanks for the food on the table. Now it’s your parents’ turn to host.

A) You and your parents proceed as you normally do, and do not offer a prayer before dinner. This is your house and your girlfriend and her parents must follow your family’s customs. If they want to pray, they should do so silently and unobtrusively.

B) You want to impress your girlfriend’s family, and insist that your parents offer a prayer before dinner, even though they are not religious and never do so.

C) Although you and your family are not religious, you understand the importance to your girlfriend’s family to offer grace before dinner. You state your desire to your parents that, as a kind gesture to make them feel at home. you would be pleased to ask your girlfriend’s parents if they would like to say grace.

Scenario 4

Reverse Scenario 3, and now you’re the religious guest who is dining at the home of acquaintances that you know to be non-religious. When everyone is seated, everyone begins chatting happily and placing their napkins in their laps.

A) You’re offended that no one asked if you would like to offer a prayer; therefore, you ostentatiously begin your prayer ritual.

B) You interrupt the hostess as she is placing her napkin in her lap, and politely ask her to excuse you while you pray.

C) You respect the host’s customs and silently and unobtrusively say your prayer, and then join in fully and enthusiastically with your host and the other guests. Or, you say your prayer to yourself before being seated.

“C” is for Correct

In my view, “C” would be the correct answer in every scenario above in terms of etiquette, which is always about respecting and making the people you’re with feel comfortable. Subtlety, respect and appropriate participation are the guidelines to saying grace when dining with others, whether you’re in a private home, banquet hall or restaurant. And, it can be enjoyable and rewarding to be generous to others and open to learning about their customs.

Until next time,


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