In social situations, eating demonstrates manners and shows what kind of a person you are. Of course, anyone can get by without understanding dining manners. One can eat steak with a fish knife or drink champagne from a tumbler but as Oscar Wilde said, “it’s only a fool who does not judge by appearances”.
1. Table setting
Recognise a properly set table – forks to the left of the plate, knives and spoons to the right. Utensils at the top of the table are not to be used until dessert is served. The blade of the knife is always turned inwards towards the plate so that you don’t cut yourself when you pick up the utensil next to it. Use your utensils course by course, working from the outside in.
As soon as you are seated, place your napkin on your lap. The napkin is not a bib, so do not tuck it into your shirt or blouse, no matter how drippy the food might be. Fold it diagonally and if you need to, use the highest point of the napkin to dab, never to wipe. If you wish to leave the table temporarily, drape the napkin on the arms of your chair or on the more spacious side of the table.
At the end of the meal, put your napkin to the right of your table. There is no need to fold it neatly.
3. Placing your orders
When the waiter comes round to take the order, the gentleman should place the order with the waiter, giving the lady’s order first. e.g. “The lady would like the fish and I would like to have the chicken”. To give the order like this, “one fish and one chicken” is not good enough as the waiter needs to set the table accordingly.
4. Don’t show off
Don’t try to fake it. If you don’t know French, don’t be shy about asking your waiter to translate. If you don’t know wines well, ask the waiter or wine steward to suggest something appropriate. You will be offered a taste of your selection before it is poured. Even if you are a connoisseur, don’t make a song-and -dance of it. Showing-off is in the worst possible taste. A sip will tell you instantly if it is corked (a sharp vinegary taste) in which case you should quietly suggest that another bottle be served.
5. Buttering the bread
Place butter at the edge of your side plate (on your left). Never dissect your bread roll into halves with your butter knife. Instead, break it apart with your fingers and then tear off a piece at a time to butter.
Scones should be halved, from right to left in the middle and not top down before spreading one half with cream or jam.
Crumpets should be halved.
Cut each slice of square buttered toast into quarters before eating. When talking, the bread or scones should be placed on the side plate, not held in the air.
6. Dunking your bread
Only at home for private pleasure but in restaurants, bread should not be dunked into your soup.
7. Drinking Soup
The soup is always spooned away from you, unlike the Chinese way of drinking soup. To get to the last spoonfuls, tip the soup bowl away from you or you risk spilling it on yourself. Generally, wine is not appropriate with soup. When finished, place the soup spoon in the soup bowl or if there’s a saucer, on the right side of the saucer.
8. Finger Foods
Bacon served at breakfast is fried so thin and crispy that it is only practical to use your fingers.
Asparagus, served with a dip, should be picked up with the fingers, unless it is cooked with other foods.
Frog legs are too small to be eaten with a fork and knife. So just use your fingers.
Spareribs, whether Chinese or American, are to be eaten with the fingers.
Corn-on-the-cob is usually not served at formal dinners. Simply hold it up with two hands, dip it into butter, season it if you wish and bite off the corn, moving it like a harmonica.
Canapés and hors-d’oeuvres served at cocktails are considered finger foods. Observe the rule of no double-dipping when you eat celery or carrot sticks served with a dip.
Cheese is to be eaten after the main course and before the dessert as it is salty. However in England, cheese may be served after the dessert, with port wine.
Caviar and Pate, like cheese, caviar (pickled sturgeon-roe) and pate (smooth paste of meat) are to be eaten with bread or toast. The difference is caviar is eaten with cold toast and pate with hot toast.
9. Oysters, Mussels and Clams
If served raw in its shell, each may be seasoned with a squeeze of lemon juice or a chilli sauce. Then use an oyster fork to lift it out and swallow it whole.
Snails or ‘escargots’, a French delicacy, may or may not be served with their shells intact. If served with shells, hold the snails close to the plate with the special pair of thongs provided. Many snails have been sent a-flying because of this rather intricate tool. Try not to grip the thongs too tightly and with the fork, extract it with a twisting motion. It may be dipped in the sauce before eating.
Pasta is eaten only with a fork. Long pasta, like spaghetti, should not be cut up. You may use the fork to pick up a few strands of the pasta and twirl it, (with the tines of the fork against the plate) into a neat bundle. If a spoon is available, pick up a few strands and rotate the fork in the bowl of the spoon, held at an angle on the plate.
Lasagne and cannelloni are cut into smaller portions using the side of the fork.
Pasta may be mixed and that portion eaten, not mushed and stirred. When parmesan cheese is added, it should stay on top, never stirred and mixed.
11. Eating Steak the American or British way
The American way to cut meat is to place the fork in the left hand to secure the meat in place and the knife in the right hand to cut the meat. Then put down the knife and switch the fork to regular hand to pick up the bite-sized pieces to eat.
The British way is to not switch the fork, but to eat the meat with the fork in the hand you don’t normally use. This saves the step of switching hands each time you need to cut the meat.
It does not matter which style you use, as long as you are not talking with your mouth full!
12. Handling vegetables or salads
Use your fork to pick up the bigger pieces of vegetables and push the smaller bits, like the peas into the tines of the fork. The fork is to be brought to the mouth with the hump facing upwards.
13. Turning the fish over
When eating a whole fish and reaching the bones, carefully lift up the bones and put them at a corner on the plate. Do not flip the fish over. The Malays and Chinese, (traditionally fishermen) will frown upon seeing this. The notion resembles that of a boat being capsized and therefore bad luck.
14. Removing pits from your mouth
Form a loosely clenched fist with your hand and gently place the pits into the opening of your fist. Then leave the pits at one corner of your plate.