OK, here we go. I receive more questions about table manners than any other etiquette skill. I also receive more complaints from parents regarding their children’s table manners than any other complaint; which honestly, I find quite humorous. Didn’t someone, somewhere along the way teach us that our children do what they see, not what they hear? So maybe we all need a little “refresher” course in table manners and I’m just the girl to help. This article is Part 1 of a “3 Part” series in dining etiquette.
Let’s begin with table linens. Table linens are table cloths, napkins and sometimes placemats. The most important thing for us to remember and teach our children about table linens is…we always protect the table linen. It seems a little ironic that the very item meant to keep our mouths and hands clean, is the same item we are suppose to try not to get too dirty. However, this is true. Linen napkins (including other fabrics) are not meant for scrubbing our faces, blowing our noses or giving ourselves a quick bath. They are only to be used to DAB; say it with me, DAB. Yes, very good. “Dabbing” is when we take our napkin from our lap and gently “dab” the corners of our mouths to dry or remove small amounts of food or beverage. As we sit down to dine, our napkin is folded in half, placed across our lap; where it remains until we exit the table. We never “tuck” our napkin in anywhere. If during our meal, we need to excuse ourselves for a moment; we simply stand and place our folded napkin in our seat, not on the table. Once we have placed a napkin in our lap, the napkin is considered “used” or “dirty”, and we never place a dirty item on the table while we are dining. It is not acceptable to place or blow anything unexpected into our napkin. Think of it this way, we never want to leave any unexpected surprises in our napkins for the host or waitress to find later. This would not be polite. When it’s time to leave, we may place our used napkin on the table if there is not a tablecloth present; however, if there is a table cloth, we should place our napkin on top of our plates.
Table cloths and placemats are also to be protected and respected. This means we never place used utensils or dirty napkins directly onto the linen. We always want to be extremely careful around table linens, as many are cherished family heirlooms. Sometimes of course, accidents do occur. When this happens, quickly act. Sincerely apologize, try to help clean up the spill and then offer to have the linen professionally cleaned. It’s not polite to “continue on” speaking of a misfortune. Once you have apologized and offered to clean the item, allow the dinner conversation to move on to more “cheerful subjects”. Of course, we would never use a table cloth as a napkin. OK, that covers table linens. I hope that helps.
Let’s move on. One of the most common complaints about children in restaurants is their inability to sit still. First of all, we’re not talking about babies or toddlers. Of course “little ones” can’t be still, however by the age of five, children should be able to sit at a dinner table relatively still. This does not mean they’re a statue. It simply means they are not “ducking” under the table, getting up and down out of their chair, crawling under the table, running around the table, rocking in their chair or any other distracting movement. We cannot expect our child to be one way out in public and allowed to be another way at home. These are skills that must be practiced at home, so they become a habit regardless of where they are. If you know that your child struggles with being “fidgety” at the dinner table, bring along a coloring book or a small quiet toy to keep their attention while waiting to be served in a restaurant.
I find that one reason children “end up” disrupting mealtime is: they are simply striving to get attention. We must remember there are two purposes why we sit down to eat: #1; to fill our bellies, #2; to reconnect with those we love and care about. If this is true, then it is not polite for the adults to monopolize the conversation. There should be an equal amount of “talking time” for everyone present. Ask the children about their week, their day at school; however, instead of saying, “So honey, how was school today?” which usually doesn’t produce a lot of conversation; ask something like, “So honey, what was the best thing about your day?” If children feel their thoughts are important and their opinions are respected, they will reciprocate these feelings towards you. Children can also be taught that it is polite to ask the adults at the table about their day as well. We will discuss conversation etiquette more in the future. For now, realize that conversation plays an important role in helping children and adults to have a positive dining experience. The next article will cover the finer points and details of proper etiquette at the table. For now, determine what your family’s goal to dining together is. I hope mealtime for your family is a time of soft words, listening ears, words of encouragement and a lot of laughter.
CEO/The Etiquette Factory