Miss Debrett on... Table Manners
The cause of much social anxiety, table
manners are all too often associated
with an arcane list of duties and
proscriptions. Many anxious
diners have been brought to
the verge of nervous collapse
when faced with a daunting
array of cutlery and
tableware, a battery
of servants or waiting
staff, and a bewildering
selection of glasses.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, console yourself with the fact that only a deeply sadistic host would actually take pleasure from your embarrassment, and remind yourself that an over-punctilious insistence on the niceties of table performance is probably a sign of entrenched snobbery or social discomfort.
That is not to say, however, that table manners do not matter. There are certain basic codes of conduct that matter very much indeed. At the bare minimum, you should eat with your mouth closed, never talk with your mouth full, help other diners to food before serving yourself, ask for food to be passed across to you (rather than reaching across the table), and sit up squarely to the table, with your elbows tucked in. If you adhere to these simple rules, your manners will never cause revulsion or distaste, and - better still - you will not bring attention to yourself.
If you are in a formal situation, and you feel more is being asked of you, observe your fellow diners closely and copy what they do. Work the cutlery from the outside in, and bear in mind that the bigger, rounder wine glasses are for red, and the taller, thinner ones are for white. Put your napkin on your lap, don't tuck it in your shirt. That's really good enough.
If your concentration lapses, and you find yourself eating the meat with a fish knife and fork, drinking mineral water from the wine glass, slurping water from the finger bowl, just carry on. With any luck no one will notice, and if they do, your fellow diners may actually admire your insouciance.
Mistakes of this sort are only serious if you let your embarrassment get the better of you… On the other hand, eating with your mouth open and grabbing food from under other people's noses is genuinely offensive.
Miss Debrett's Top Tips
- An over-punctilious insistence on the niceties of table performance is probably a sign of entrenched snobbery or social discomfort.
- Basic good table manners will ensure that you never cause offence to your fellow diners.
- If you feel out of your depth, just copy your fellow diners. A few minor errors should never count against you as long as you remember the fundamentals...