Dinner Table Etiquette

No matter how easy-going you might consider yourself to be, or how old-fashioned etiquette appears, everyone conforms to etiquette within their social circle. Etiquette is really another word for manners, which are simply a set of rules developed so that everyone instinctively knows what to do in certain situations and can therefore be comfortable within the group. Manners are constantly changing, however, and certainly social etiquette is no longer as rigid as it used to be. The overriding point of good manners is to be considerate to others and to make them feel at ease, and this is no less true at the table.

Before you lay the table, decide on whether or not you would like to include mats with your table setting. If you have a table with a fine polished surface, you may well want to show it off by using tablemats, and that is acceptable. It is also perfectly correct to put a cloth on a table for a formal dinner. Traditionally, this is white, although nowadays coloured cloths are also used.

When it comes to a seating plan, if equal numbers of men and women are present, they should be seated

Glass Shapes and Sizes

Glasses for different drinks are usually of different sizes. They go up in this order: liqueur, port, sherry, white wine, red wine, and water. Champagne should be sipped from tall, slender glasses, not wide, shallow ones. Water can be served in a tumbler. It is normal nowadays to provide glasses for water and a jug of water at every meal.

For very formal dinners, the whole name of the guest, including the title, should be used: Dr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Mr. On less formal occasions, using just the first name is equally correct.

Serve each guest from the left. Although a formal dinner will probably be attended by a number of waiters and waitresses, this is not viable for most people, so pass the dishes around from the left, instead. This leaves the right hand of each of the guests free to do the helping. Then, once the main course is over, clear the table and everything on it – including condiments – before serving dessert.

Laying the Table

Formal tables are laid according to traditional etiquette, the purpose behind the ordered positions of all the items being the smooth running of the meal. More informal meals certainly do not have to adhere rigidly to the rules: indeed, many restaurants ‘break the rules’ to create more imaginative settings. However, the correct way to lay a formal table is outlined here.

Cutlery (flatware) should he laid on either side of the plates so that implements for the first course are on the outside, with those for subsequent courses arranged so that diners can work in towards the plates as cads course arrives. Forks go on the left side and knives on the right. If the first course needs just a fork, this will he put on the outside at the left, despite the fact that most guests will use it in their right hand. Butter knives may be put on side plates, and dessert spoons and forks may he placed on either side of the table mat or it.

When just one glass is used, place it the knife or knives. Where more than one is used, these can be arranged in order from left to right or from right to left, or in a triangular pattern the knife. It is correct to set all the glasses on the table before the meal begins. However, if there is not enough space, port and liqueur glasses can be brought to the table when they are needed at the end of the meal and the table has been cleared of everything that was needed for the main course.

Place the bread-and-butter plate to the left of the place setting. Warm plates are brought to the table as they are needed. If the starter is cold, it can he placed on the table before the guests are invited to be seated.

Finally, place salt and pepper containers on the table at regular intervals so that they are within easy reach of everyone. If nor placing in the actual serving dish, servers should be laid within easy reach of them.