Friday, 26 December 2008

Restaurant table manners

Eating out a lot as I do plus having been bought up by my mega-anal mother (born in 1926) and grandmother (born in 1896) in regard to etiquette and manners, I have noticed over the years the erosion of manners in general, and table etiquette in particular.

Watching one of my granddaughters eating her Lamb Shanks at CafĂ© Mojo the other day prompted the traditional grannies criticism of her “style” (or lack thereof) in tackling this already-hard-to-eat meal.

When people hold their knife like a pen or biro, and the fork as if it were an instrument of torture it seems to me to make it nearly impossible to tidily and successfully eat such a dish in public.

In restaurants these days nothing is guaranteed to give me the shits more than when, after arriving, you’ve been seated at your table and the waitperson goes round the table to everyone: individually taking your serviette, unfolding it and placing it on your lap.

According to my grandmother, it is extremely bad manners to do two of those things.
Firstly, to take your serviette from the table until your food is in front of you is extremely bad manners. It is tantamount to banging the table with your knife and fork impatiently, and repeatedly singing “Why are we waiting”! When the food arrives, you should take up your serviette, unfold it and place it on your lap.

For someone else to touch an article which will ultimately be used to wipe your mouth (this saving the back of your hand from doing the job) is also not on. Ideally, if waitpeople feel they must do the serviette thing, they should pick up the serviette by one of the corners, using their thumb and forefinger, and place it, without touching any part of it except that tiny edge bit between your thumb and finger, carefully on your lap in a roughly triangular shape. It’s a hygiene issue guys. I for one don’t want someone shaping my serviette to their requirements, during the course of which they’ve managed to transmit any number of germs onto the serviette which will be used for delicately and genteel-ly dabbing my mouth with!

I Googled ‘etiquette’ on the net and thanks to projectbritain.com, have found the following:

The British generally pay a lot of attention to good table manners. Even young children are expected to eat properly with knife and fork.
We eat most of our food with cutlery. The foods we don't eat with a knife, fork or spoon include sandwiches, crisps, corn on the cob, and fruit.

Things you should do:
If you cannot eat a certain type of food or have some special needs, tell your host several days before the dinner party.
If you are a guest, it is polite to wait until your host starts eating or indicates you should do so. It shows consideration.
Always chew and swallow all the food in your mouth before taking more or taking a drink.
You may eat chicken and pizza with your fingers if you are at a barbecue, finger buffet or very informal setting. Otherwise always use a knife and fork.
Always say thank you when served something. It shows appreciation.
When eating rolls, break off a piece of bread before buttering. Eating it whole looks tacky.
On formal dining occasions it is good manners to take some butter from the butter dish with your bread knife and put it on your side plate (for the roll). Then butter pieces of the roll using this butter. This prevents the butter in the dish getting full of bread crumbs as it is passed around.
When you have finished eating, and to let others know that you have,
place your knife and folk together, with the prongs (tines) on the fork facing upwards, on your plate.
In a restaurant, it is normal to pay for your food by putting your money on the plate the bill comes on.

Things you should not do:
Never lick or put your knife in your mouth.
It is impolite to start eating before everyone has been served unless your host says that you don't need to wait.
Never chew with your mouth open. No one wants to see food being chewed or hearing it being chomped on.
It is impolite to have your elbows on the table while you are eating.
Don't reach over someone's plate for something, ask for the item to be passed.
Never talk with food in your mouth.
It is impolite to put too much food in your mouth.
Never use your fingers to push food onto your spoon or fork.
It is impolite to slurp your food or eat noisily.
Never blow your nose on a napkin (serviette). Napkins are for dabbing your lips and only for that.
Never take food from your neighbours plate.
Never pick food out of your teeth with your fingernails.

Things that are ok to do:
It is ok to pour your own drink when eating with other people, but it is more polite to offer pouring drinks to the people sitting on either side of you.
It is ok to put milk and sugar in your tea and coffee or to drink them both without either.

I am not used to eating with a knife and fork. What do I need to know?
We eat continental style, with fork in the left hand and the knife in the right (or the other way round if you are left handed). At the top of your plate will be a dessert spoon and dessert fork.
If you are eating at a formal dinner party, you will come across many knives and forks. Start with the utensils on the outside and work your way inward with each subsequent course
How to eat with a knife and fork in England
The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right.
If you have a knife in one hand, it is wrong to have a fork in the other with the prongs (tines) pointed up.
Hold your knife with the handle in your palm and your folk in the other hand with the prongs pointing downwards.

When eating in formal situations, rest the fork and knife on the plate between mouthfuls, or for a break for conversation.
If you put your knife down, you can turn your fork over. It's correct to change hands when you do this, too, so if you are right handed you would switch and eat with the fork in your right hand.

If it is your sole eating instrument, the fork should be held with the handle between the index finger and the thumb and resting on the side of your middle finger.

How to eat Soup
When eating soup, tip the bowl away from you and scoop the soup up with your spoon.
Soup should always be taken (without slurping of course) from the side of the spoon, and not from the 'end' as in most of the rest of Europe.

How to eat peas
To be very polite, peas should be crushed onto the fork - a fork with the prongs pointing down. The best way is to load the fork with something to which they will stick, such as potato or a soft vegetable that squashes easily onto the fork. It's sometimes easier to put down your knife and then switch your fork to the other hand, so you can shovel the peas against something else on the plate, thus ensuring they end up on your fork.

How to eat pudding (desserts)
To eat dessert, break the dessert with the spoon, one bite at a time. Push the food with the fork (optional) into the spoon. Eat from the spoon. (Fork in left hand; spoon in right.)

How to use a napkin or serviette
The golden rule is that a napkin should never be used to blow your nose on. This is a definite no-no. Napkins should be placed across the lap - tucking them into your clothing may be considered 'common'.

What do you say or do if you've accidentally taken too much food and you cannot possibly eat it all?
Say:
"I'm sorry, but it seems that 'my eyes are bigger than my stomach'.
or
"I'm sorry. It was so delicious but I am full".
The main thing is not to offend your host.
Posted on by Rita
45 comments

45 comments:

ut si said...

Can't wait for Sir G to read this!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rita,
Hope you had a brilliant Christmas!! Bet your food was wonderful.
Little problem: I have a friend who often eats out with me but she drives me nuts with two things: she fills her mouth and then starts talking and she double dips with bread, etc.
What do I do??? It irritates the tripe out of me. It is visually nauseating and unhygenic.
Am I just a pretentious prat?
Yeah - I probably am. But basic manners are the oil of our socialisation.
xxx
Kzee

Rita said...

Ut si - our Sir G has been noticeably silent since being savaged by the masses a few weeks back. Let's hope this prompts him into some kind of response!
Kzee - yes, food was fine, but as usual, I always find fault with my own food, so always wanting to improve something or other next time! Hope yours went well too.

Totally hearing you with your issue with your friend, particularly the double dipping thing. That annoys the hell out of me too. I think generally people just haven't thought that particular aspect of eating through. If you were at home, you'd double, treble and quadruple dip - and it wouldn't matter as it's just you and your family (who obviously share and transmit the same bugs). However it's obviously different when you're out.
If it's awkward or embarrassing, I'd go for a white lie, and tell her I think I've got a cold sore coming, and ask her to use a knife to dip into the dip, as of course I will too!! You may well find that the conversation actually can be steered into speaking about that very issue in the guise of your being apologetic for your possible upcoming cold sore!

With the speaking with your mouth full, I have to 'fess up to committing that crime myself - although one of my friends has always pointed this out to me by saying "You know I don't understand you with your mouth full!" I try not to do it, but usually have so much to say that I find it hard to wait till the mouth is empty. Still - I know it's really impolite to do it, and continually work on remembering not to do it!

Anonymous said...

I can understand the napkin comment when you are dining at a friends house - granted the napkin can stay in place as assumadly the meal decisions have been made for you!
But for a Restaurant...doens't the placing of a napking signal the start of service? Where does the menu go when you have finished reading it? How many cases of food poisining have been documented where the cause has been inproper handling of napkins?
Agree with the minimal handling of napkins though!

Anonymous said...

you drink soup.

Anonymous said...

Lot of valid things in what you are saying Rita. Many of the old traditions (etiquette if you will) have seemingly passed in the modern dining environment.
On a personal note, I am relieved to see some of them pass.
Relaxed informal dining with plenty of laughter. Seems to be the go, certainly where we're at.
You know I remember having to dress in a suit to dine out. Minding my P's n q's, terrified of the Maitre D . It was a very stuffed shirt occaision, very unrelaxed and you felt as though you should be grateful to be there and priveledged to pay them. Mind you dining out back then was a serious treat.
Nowdays we dine out more frequently. The modern Australian restaurant, it could be argued has dropped its standards slightly, but upped its diversity in its food offered with many cultural offerings added. More emphasis on fun, less on formality. I suppose maybe this is the rock 'n' roll genre creeping in. God knows what will happen when punk kicks in.

Pesonally so long as we don't have out right rudeness, I like this rock 'n' roll era.

Cartouche

archbishop hung-up said...

bare less brother cartouche. the weight of your wallet is drowning your credibility,

hrv said...

Couldn't agree more on the napkin issue Rita. I'm way too polite to tell you what I said to the last waitperson who did that to me.

sebastian said...

you may be 'way too polite', hrv; but it seems that you have no generic decorum at all to mention it,

Anonymous said...

Hey Rita how is the taste going. Need a foot spa yet? Looking forward to hearing about your experience.
Archbishop, I neither need your praise or am I looking for your respect. love me hate me, find me un-credible, keep it coming. You know I could be harsh, but hey I'm in hospitality not hostility, so, have a happy new year. Hope somebody out there meets your standards.
Well Rita, me and the family are off for a well earned break, so I will be quiet until the 8th or so.
To all out there in blog land, hope 2009 is a cracker.

Cartouche

Rita said...

Anon 8.55 - the napkin activity in a restaurant certainly does not indicate the start of service. That ideally has commenced the minute you and your dining companions entered the restaurant and were greeted politely and welcomingly at the entrance, and shown to your table, then offered a drink, and being provided with the menu and explanations of any specials, or items which are currently not available, noted.
The menu stays in front of you till the order has been taken by waitperson, who then takes it away. The fact that a waitperson can see a table with menus in front of them is an easy, visual way for them to know who still needs their order taken.
There probably have been no reports of food poisoning due to a thorough handling by waitperson of the serviette, but, apart from the fact that the etiquette rule is as I described, the fact remains that I for one don't want to add to the number of people who have already handled my serviette prior to the waitperson. Obviously at the laundry (if it's a linen one) it has already undergone an amount of handling, then at the restaurant, someone has shaped it when they set the table prior to service, and I have had no control over that - but hands off the serviette when I sit down, please!

Anon 11.44 - what do you mean "you drink soup"? Do you mean you yourself pick up your soup bowl and slurp it from the bowl, ignoring your soup spoon? Do you mean that the terminology is that one "drinks" soup? Moot point - as I'd like to see anyone drinking the many chunky meat & vege soups, like a Minestrone, we have over winter. I think the more common term for devouring soup would be to eat soup, rather than drinking it.
But you have a point if you're Chinese (or Asian), as I believe it's acceptable to pick up your bowl of soup and drink it from the bowl, given that a lot of their soups are clear with minimal bulk.

HRV - glad to hear you're with me on the serviette issue. We must form a club!

Cartouche - glad you've found time to stop and smell the roses. Have a well earned rest, along with your wife and family. My Taste offer to work hasn't as yet been taken up (which I'm totally happy with) despite him calling to see when I was available, so I assume he's got enough available staff on tap. Hence don't need the foot spa! Obviously, apart from actually working there if called on, I won't be making an appearance, so don't expect an account of this years delights! We'll have to rely on our regular Taste devotee, Anon2, to keep us abreast of how it's going.

sir grumpy said...

I have NOT been quiet, I've had a break, Rita. Savaged, nay not I. Tis but a red flag to a capitalist.
Your list of etiquette does not cover burpin and fartin.
Now, I'm a bloke who will use the excuse of ripe magoes to have a bath and eat the mangoes there. It's a messy business.
Then there's eye gouging, take out your opponent's (fellow diner) eye early in the piece and you can see your way to all the best bits of turkey and ham.
Always drink too much, speak too loudly and too long, laff stupidly and generally make an arse of yourself. Spew if necessary.
Boxing day is for REMEMBERING in SHAME.

sir grumpy said...

PS See cartouche has picked up his own silver fairy.
Still it got what it deserved in reply, well done cartouche.
PS I wish I knew where your place was, I'd go there. Maybe I've been but don't know....

Rita said...

Ah, Sir G - back in fine form I note, burping and farting your way through the bs!
What are we remembering in shame on Boxing Day?

Anon2 said...

Welcome back sir grumpy!
My mum has actually written, with pride, of her way of eating crayfish in public - "The waiter quickly brought a finger bowl and extra serviettes, observing that I was intent on devouring the lot, picking every succulent piece of meat from the carcass and legs. No dainty eating for me where crayfish are concerned. I just can't restrain myself. Patrons sitting nearby were dodging flying crayfish shell." (from her short story "Doyles on the Beach")

sir grumpy said...

We are remembering our lack of etiquette on Christmas day, Rita.
Hello Anon2..love your mum's style. My granddaughter is a cracker...when we first gave her a boiled egg (she was a toddler) she ate the lot, shell and all...we were busy making toast soldiers for her when she swooped...and quickly cruched it all up, smiling.

the silver fairy said...

i am no mans' fairy faux knight. seasons greetings to you.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your napkin issue. While I think that you have valid comments, the lapping of serviette in many restaurants is regarded as good service. Most people, when they get up from the table dump their serviettes on the seat- imagine how many arses have been on them? How many staff have hndled your cutlery & flatware yet do you complain? To me the lapping and neatning of servirttes shows a level of care. I recognise that old fashion household etiquettes have validity however restaurant service has evolved to a better caring level of service. Z

Rita said...

Hi Z - thanks and welcome. Your opinion is the prevalent one which caused me to write the post, so your comment doesn't phase me at all. My post was merely to comment about the fact that things have changed so much from 50 years ago, and I think you're agreeing with me.
The fact that I don't want or like the lapping and neatening of serviettes is my perogative, and I myself don't regard it as good service, as you and most others do.
I think we'll have to agree to disagree with the lapping, I'm afraid. But thanks for being so honest and respectful with it.

archbishop hung-up said...

Don't protest so much Brother Cartouche. The reply to criticism of the contented man is silence. Perhaps something to work on in what I hope is a peaceful new year for you.

the silver fairy said...

i have been advised that ' mega anal' is neither a sexual predilection nor a physical abnormality so i apologize for my youthful ignorance. i still maintain, even more vehemently now that i know what it really means, that it is an inelegant way to start an article on food etiquette.

Rita said...

Silver Fairy - thank you for your advice. You're totally correct. It is indeed an inelegant way to start an article on food etiquette. It's the way I wrote it, which is the way I would speak to you as if you were a friend of mine, standing in front of me chatting about this issue. That's the way I view this blog: that everyone reading it is like-minded in their love of food, or prepared to have a stimulating discussion about same.
The blog is my friend. My diary. The repository for my internal thoughts. I hold out the hand of trust and love to you when I write here. I expect no less in return.
Thank you for your apology for your youthful ignorance. I hope you will continue to contribute here.

Freud said...

More etiquette. See esp. items 116 and 17.

Freud said...

That should have said 16 and 17 not 116! Mummy will be cross. Talking of Mummy, here she is.

Rita said...

Thank you Freud - I checked out both those links. They are American, which is a tad different to our traditional British etiquette.
The two ladies in the videos seem to provide conflicting advice in some instances, but it's interesting all the same.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Rita, I apologise as well - I didn't mean that service magically occurs when the linen goes down and that waiters have been surly up until that moment (very Fawlty-esque!). Moreso that diners that have just joined the table, or that people who have come in from a pre-dinner in the bar know that the very aspects of restaurant service that you described are forth-coming - the menus, specials, winlist etc.

Fully understand your perogative regarding handling of linen now you've explained it - I personally can't stand barmen who clear glasses by using their fingers to clasp 5 or so together thereby dipping their fingers into other peoples spittle and then making my drinks - brrrrrr!
Anon 8:55

Anonymous said...

Oh for goodness sake! You're worried about someone touching your napkin when the cutlery and plates have all been handled, not to mention the preparation of food,especially the plating up. I think you have 'issues'.

Rita said...

Og course I've got issues, Anon 1.44! You expect me to live for 60 years and NOT have any?
I don't want germy people touching my food and related 'stuff'. I hate it when people use the toilet and don't wash their hands. I press lift buttons, or 'Walk' buttons at the traffic lights with my knuckle.
Yes - I have a germ and hygiene issue. Happy to put my hand up for that.

Anonymous said...

How can you eat out then?

Anonymous said...

It seems very strange to me Rita that you eat out at all, so obsessed are you with someone touching your napkin, cutlery, glasses and plates, when the whole thing about eating out makes it inevitable that this must happen throughout the whole process from your meal being prepared in the kitchen ( often hands on!) through to it entering your mouth.
Your logic seems very topsy turvy.

Anonymous said...

Knuckles on lift buttons? Logic doesn't have any thing to do with it anon..

Anonymous said...

True, there's something else amiss, isn't there?

Anonymous said...

At least Rita uses her knuckle on the traffic crossings, I get strange looks for using my bell-end!

sir grumpy said...

Well, Rita, Silver Fairies and their ilk everywhere.

Rita said...

Hmmmm, Sir G. Methinks you're right!

Christina said...

If it makes you feel any better Rita I'm a little anal myself.
Ask Phil and he'll tell you mega.
I say this safe in the knowledge that you know exactly what I mean.

Hey Sir G, missed you.
Merry Christmas.

sir grumpy said...

Cheers, Christina, and all the best.
I remember having to wash out my mess tins in the British Army's field trough.
Dirty tins into the first, soapy tub after several hundred others, then into the ``rinse'' tub to get them ``clean''.
Scary really.

archbishop etc. said...

I hear sense from the flock Brother grumpy; don't be persecuted, I suspect the silver fairy is an angel in disguise. Wishing you peace for the new year.

highly amused said...

Well, I don't think Phil will appreciate that.

the silver fairy said...

don't throw sunshine on my wings holy man. Oberon will eat you alive,

oberon said...

please come hOme.

the silver fairy said...

please come hEre.

the silver fairy said said...

Joined a million angels on a pinhead the other day and was disgusted when one told me it had found evidence of a human fingerprint under their feet

the silver fairy said...

please don't impersonate me 10:30

Restaurant Table Base said...

Hello,

The theme of your blog is very beautiful and the article is written very well. Table manners are the rules of etiquette used while eating. It is beneficial as it will help the eating place staffs to have an idea on the choice of visitors they’re going to be having and the visitor too will have a assurance on getting a table. Thanks a lot............