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where to sit
what to eat
The idea of table etiquette may sound like a stuffy relic from the beginning of the last century, but good manners have their place even on the most modern table. “When we have knowledge of etiquette — which could basically be summed up as the do’s and don’ts of behavior — we take the pressure off,” says etiquette coach Maggie Oldham. “We don’t have to ask ourselves how to behave appropriately and can focus on the more important parts of the dining experience: enjoying a good meal with friends, family or business colleagues and customers.”
Whether you’re hosting or a guest at a friend’s birthday dinner, a celebratory family brunch, or an important business dinner, the following tips will help you feel comfortable and confident every time you sit down at the table.
See also: These are the 5 most common mistakes hosts make when setting a table
where to sit
In most situations, you know where to sit: “Where the host asks you!” says Oldham. “And if you’re the host, prepare to provide guidance to your guests.”
If you find yourself standing awkwardly with the rest of your group around an empty table, ask the host for help or choose any seat except one. “Usually when you are Not the host or guest of honor — say, the birthday child — is not at the head of the table,” says Oldham.
When to order a cocktail
Whether it’s appropriate to order a cocktail depends on the situation — you should probably skip tequila shots at a wedding dinner, for example — so follow your host’s lead. “If they order a glass of wine and they offer you one, then it’s okay to order a glass of wine, too,” says etiquette expert Myka Meier, whose East Coast manners lecture tour begins in October.
“Remember, if they’re hosting you and therefore paying you, you never want to be seen as taking advantage of that situation,” she says. While you don’t have to order the exact cabernet your host chose if you prefer a pinot grigio, you should opt for something in a similar price range. “If the host orders a glass of wine, order a glass of wine or a cocktail,” says Oldham, “but don’t order a $95 split from Veuve Clicquot!”
what to eat
If you’re not sure whether to consider the surf and turf entree or the burger and fries, let the person paying order first. “You can do this by stalling — try, ‘Hmm, I’m still deciding,'” says Oldham. “Listen to what the host orders and order something in a similar price range. If the host orders a $30 pasta dish, don’t order the $75 filet.”
This technique also works at brunch with the in-laws or at a business lunch, says Meier. “You don’t want to order a three-course meal when everyone is only ordering one course,” she says. “And you never want to order the most expensive thing on the menu when you’re likely to be treated by someone else.”
Where to put your phone
Traditional etiquette, Meier says, is that “nothing goes on the table unless it’s part of the meal — so no phones, wallets, purses, or sunglasses.” Put it in your pocket or otherwise hide it , mute it, and if you get an urgent call, excuse yourself from the table before answering.
When you have reason to expect a call, Oldham says—for example, when your tween is home alone for the first time; You have hired a new babysitter; or you have a relative in the hospital – tell the rest of your dining partners in advance. And don’t fetch tissues, lip gloss, or mirrors from your purse while you’re eating either: “No personal grooming at the table,” says Oldham. “Applying hand sanitizer or lipstick, blowing your nose or pulling your hair back should all be done in the toilet.”
Understand place settings and cutlery
Short answer: yes. “The placement of glasses and cutlery hasn’t changed in over 100 years,” says Oldham. “Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right, glasses on the top right next to the main plate, bread plates on the left next to the main plate.
When we all know which glass of water and which plate of bread is ours, we avoid the awkward situation of drinking from someone else’s glass—and having to request a new one. And if you are faced with several forks and knives? Just work your way into it, use the outermost utensil for the first course, and so on.
Pass right or left
However, one rule has relaxed a bit, she says: “It used to be proper etiquette to always go to the right,” Oldham says of shared appetizers, family-style platters and bread baskets. “Now we etiquette experts tell our customers that it doesn’t really matter as long as the dish gets passed around and everyone gets it.” When you start passing, go right; If someone else starts the circle to the left, you don’t have to break the flow and make everyone switch directions.
Checkout vs Share Tab
“Whoever invites and accommodates usually also pays, ie if someone has selected the restaurant and invited you, they have selected something within their budget,” says Meier. This applies to date nights, business dinners — where the seller is most often the person who suggested the meal — and birthday dinners where the host treats.
How to split the bill
Of course, it’s also possible to split the bill – and offering to share the cost of the meal is the right thing to do. “In some cases, the group can step in to pay to take out and treat the birthday VIP,” says Meier. “Unless the person specifically says they’re treating you, I think it’s a nice touch in many cases to offer to pay when the bill comes, so it’s not seen as expectant.”
If you plan on hosting but your guest would like to contribute, Oldham says, you can accept that. “If your dinner guest offers to pay, you can politely decline their offer once,” she says, “but if they insist, then offer to split the bill.”