Table and Dining Etiquette Field Guide
A wine lover’s guide to the often-bizarre and complicated traditions surrounding the simple act of eating.
—The Editors of Wine Enthusiast
Six Weird Dining Facts
1: Salt Worthy
Salt containers used to be the only “silverware” on the table. To sit next to the salt was considered a place of honor.
2: BYO Cutlery
In the 17th century, spoons and knives were never furnished by the host, but brought by guests.
3: Down With Forks
Before the 16th century, using a fork (invented in 4th-century Persia) was considered by European nobility to be gimmicky and gauche, and a threat to the tradition of eating with their hands or a knife point.
4: Let’s Spoon
When Americans use a spoon to help twirl noodles around the fork, Italians giggle. They traditionally employ just the fork. However, we usually eat from a flat plate, while they tend to eat spaghetti from bowl, a vessel that makes the stringy stuff easier to manage. Bottom line: Emily Post declared it perfectly acceptable to use the spoon.
5: Soup To Gut
Etiquette dictates you should dip your spoon in the bowl, push away from you and lift—not scoop toward you like a shovel. Never slurp straight from the bowl (unless in Asia).
6: Tea’d Off
To avoid irking grand-ma-ma or your British royal pals, never touch the sides of the cup while stirring in the milk and sugar.
Americans have a long tradition of purposefully doing things differently than our European cousins: fruit-forward wine, tackle football, taxation with representation—and how we formally wield a knife and fork.
On Holding (above)
Americans use the same hand for both the knife and fork. This necessitates the complicated business of laying the knife down to pick up the fork. Europeans hold the knife in one hand, and the fork in the other, and usually keep the tines down.
When you take a break mid-meal, Americans place the knife along the upper edge of the plate, and the fork below, at 5 o’clock with the tines up. In Europe, the gentry place the knife and fork tips (tines down) near the center, creating a “V,” making us Yanks think of pizza.
The “Take It Away”
To signal you’re done, Americans should place the knife and fork at 4 o’clock, the start of Happy Hour. Europeans choose to place them at six o’clock, GMT.
Whine and Dine
Like you, we love exploring new wines and dishes at restaurants—usually. Here are some of our biggest pet peeves when eating out.
—Servers interrupting mid-story… Wait for a lull, please.
—Elbows on tables? Yes, fine. (Sorry Nana!).
—Music? Cool. But make sure the speakers are evenly spaced and not directly under our table.
—You have 30 specials? Come on. Five, tops.
—Cramped waiting areas are not fun. Please get your feng shui in check.
—If we say we don’t want dessert, don’t bring the menu “just to peek.”
—When the server, or a man, insists the woman orders first. If she says, “Go first,” order dude.
—If my plate hasn’t arrived, and I say, “Go ahead and start,” begin eating, for crying out loud.
—Two questions about the menu is O.K.; three is pushing it. Four is grounds for being heave-ho’d. Decide already.
—Punctuality must go both ways. We’ll wait a few minutes even with a reservation, but don’t make us wait until the entire party has arrived when most of our group is standing there (secretly hating you). Seat us.
—…But if we have a reservation and you make us wait too long at the bar, you need to buy the drinks.
—Don’t bring the second course before we’ve finished the first.
—After finishing a course, don’t place my dirty fork back on the table… Bring a fresh one.
—No keys, or face-up phones on the table. Period.
—Do I want cracked pepper on the dish you just placed in front of me? Um. I don’t know. Let me taste it first to see.
—If you want butter, get some with your knife and place it on your plate. Never go from dish to bread. It’s like double dipping.
—No more providing jackets for men. Why would you want a room full of men in ill-fitting blazers? While we’re at it, no more “Jackets Required.” We’ve made the reservation, have faith we have some semblance of decorum and style.
—Why am I asking for more water?
What are your dining pet peeves? Let us know in the comments!