Hello and welcome to Part 2 of Table Manners Etiquette. Today we are going to dive into the “dos and don’ts” of dining etiquette. May I suggest that you plan a meal time for the intent of learning and practicing dining etiquette. We do this so there is a designated time to discuss what is proper and what is not. Of course, when children can actually “see” what we’re talking about, it helps their memory and this learning environment gives them a time where they can feel safe to practice without worry of ridicule or admonition. Remember, we want meal time to be a pleasant experience for everyone. We don’t want to become the “etiquette police” at the dinner table. I would encourage you to review all the skills at these designated learning meal times and encourage parents to simply compliment their children when they observe them using these skills. We never want to embarrass our children, especially in front of others. If a child is distributing behavior at the dinner table that simply must not continue, the parent should politely excuse themselves and their child from the dinner table and privately discuss the unacceptable behavior.
As we sit down at the dinner table, we begin demonstrating with our words and our actions the proper way to dine. If I may, I would like to give you an example of how this conversation at meal time would progress. I would begin, “Welcome my beautiful family (friends). I’m so glad we have this time to practice our etiquette and have a wonderful meal together. The first thing we do when we sit down at the table is thank the cook or the host for the meal we are about to enjoy. Something like, ‘Thanks Mom, dinner looks great!’. Next, it’s important to honor the traditions of the home you are in. For instance, if the family we’re visiting blesses the food before eating; it is polite for us to participate, regardless of our religious views. If the family we are visiting does not bless the food, it would be rude to suggest that they need to do so. If we wish, we may simply say a silent prayer to ourself. We follow the customs of the family we are dining with, politely and without judgments or comments.”
“We never begin to eat until everyone is served or the host announces for us to please start. It would be rude for us to ‘dive into’ our food while someone at the table is still hungrily waiting to be served; difficult, yet necessary and polite. As we begin to pass the food, let’s remember a few things. If serving ourself, take a sensible helping of food. We can always get seconds once everyone has been served. Hold the serving plate for our neighbor or gently place beside them. Warn our neighbor if a plate is warm or heavy. Be aware of others at the table by asking if anyone needs the butter, salt-n-pepper, gravy, etc. If someone asks for the salt, pass the pepper with it. We always want to keep the salt-n-pepper together. We never stretch our arms out across the table, because we don’t want to knock anything over, get our sleeve in other’s food, etc. We try to keep our arms and elbows “in” and as still as possible, so we don’t bump our neighbors. If we would like something, we simply say, ‘Would you please pass the butter?’ or ‘May I please have the peas?’
“The American style of dining is the way in which it is polite to eat while in America. It is always courteous to be aware of different dining etiquette as we travel to other countries. We of course, will concentrate on the American style of dining. We start by cutting a bite size piece of food with our knife in our dominant hand and a fork in our opposite hand. We pierce the food with the fork, tines down and then cut the food with the knife as we press down on the base of the handle with our pointer finger. We keep our elbows in close to our bodies. When cutting is done, we place the knife down on the side of our plate and switch the fork back to our dominate hand. We place the food in our mouth with the tines of our fork facing up and we remove the food with our lips, not our teeth. As we get older, it is not polite to cut up all our food at once, but while we’re young, it is perfectly acceptable. We eat a little of each item on our plate. It is improper to eat all of one item and then ‘move on’ to the next. Dining is supposed to be a leisurely experience, so please no ‘wolfing down’ our food. As we pause during our meal to perhaps speak or take a sip of water; we lay our fork at 4:00 and our knife either on the side of our plate or at 6:00. This signals our host or waitress that we are still dining. When we are completely finished eating, we lay both utensils at 4:00 with the handles hanging over the edge. This signals we are indeed finished. We always lay our utensils down between every bite. This helps us ‘slow down’ and enjoy our meal.”
Parents and educators, this is a lot of information as you can see. It really takes some time for our children to perfect these skills. Use pieces of bread to allow the children to practice cutting until they feel confident to move on to real meat. As your children gain confidence in these skills, the whole family will enjoy “dining out” more and your children will have less anxiety about being around other adults at the dinner table. It really does take some time and patience.
CEO/The Etiquette Factory