By popular demand: more dining etiquette tips

Life Etiquette, it’s all about respect for ourselves, respect for others and respect for the world around us.

It seems that my March column titled “Are all those forks necessary?” caused quite a stir. In this column, I am taking time to address some of the questions and even the rebuttals that the column raised.

One person inquired, “How can four different forks be more convenient than one?” I’m glad you asked. The answer is, it’s a combination of convenience and practicality.

Here’s an example: Have you ever seen a “shrimp” or seafood fork? What about a butter knife? Now, picture an eight-ounce steak or six-ounce chicken breast. What would you rather have? What are the best implements (tools) for cutting and getting that steak or chicken breast into your mouth? Certainly not that shrimp fork and butter knife, right?

Here’s another practical example: Can you eat your dessert with your salad or dinner fork? You certainly can. In fact, in these cases, the size is in the same range, so size does not matter.

However, think steak and sauce; now think crème brûlée. Would you want those flavors blending? I think not! The crème brûlée experience would be ruined.

Yes, you can wipe off your fork, but then you stain the napkin with the sauce. And at an elegant dinner, who wants to be worried about wiping their silverware between courses?

When you are in the privacy of your own home having your everyday meals, it would be most impractical to set a full table every day; unless, of course, you have maids, butlers and servers. On those special occasions, however, bring on the full spread.

Photo by chuttersnap/Unsplash

Another question raised: “Why does it matter which side the silverware goes on?” I keep coming back to the practical. It’s about order and flow. The more people you have at the table, the more important it becomes to have the setting laid out in an orderly way.

Here’s an example: Your drinking vessels are on your right. No matter how close the drinking vessels are to your left hand, they belong to the person to your left.

Think about it. If I get your glass from my left, and you get the other person’s glass, things will get twisted and convoluted quite quickly. Picture in your mind people reaching, grabbing and asking “Is this mine?” “No, I think that’s mine!” “Can you bring me another glass?” etc.

So the short answer is, it matters which side the silverware goes on. In fact, it matters where each item in the place setting is situated because designated positions help to maintain order and flow, thus facilitating a smooth, refined, even elegant dining experience.

Here’s another question relating to dining etiquette: “Should one go out of his/her way to use utensils when he/she is eating finger food?”

Finger food, often referred to as an appetizer or hors-d’oeuvre, is just what it says, finger food. This means that the intention is for the food to be consumed using one’s fingers.

Depending on the foods selected by the host, utensils may or may not be available. For example, chicken wings and carrot sticks require no utensils.

If you tried to eat a boned wing or a crunch carrot stick with a fork, you’d probably make a mess of things and the food would end up in your lap or on the floor. Worse yet, it would pop over into someone else’s lap.

On the other hand, some meatballs are really big and maybe dripping with sauce. In cases where meatballs are served, yes, you should use a fork. By the way, to hosts, including me, hors-d’oeuvre forks are really cute, but not very practical for eating meatballs.

A final question for this column: “Where do you place the knife when you are eating?”

After you have used your knife to cut your food and/or pushed your food onto your fork, place the knife on the upper rim of your plate.

Some people place their knife at the top rim of the plate. Again, not very practical. You’re more likely to get food on your sleeve. I suggest placing the knife slanted across the upper right quadrant of the plate. Maybe I can show you better than these words can describe. I’ve placed an image here that shows you where the knife should be placed.

Please note that this pertains to American dining. In European dining, and perhaps in other countries, the knife and fork remain in your hand while dining.

When I told people that I was writing about dining etiquette, I got all kinds of questions and suggestions. I was told about the outlandish things that people do, or don’t do, so I’ll share a few of those pet peeves and tips here.

Wash your hands or use sanitizer before consuming finger foods. As much as possible, do not pick up finger foods from the serving tray with your hands. Tongs, forks or some other instrument should be available.

I know that sometimes, however, an instrument may not be available, so if you must, be ever so careful in using your fingers but do not “touch” anyone other portions. I know you are familiar with the idiom “if you touch it, it’s yours.”

Give people a break on the handshaking when finger foods are being served. People who know me know that I’m big on the handshake; but if one is consuming chicken wings, saucy meatballs and veggies with dip, well, you know. Could be a sticky situation. So you get a break.  A nod, a smile and a hello will do it.

Also, please remember that talking with a mouth full of food is still and always will be a faux pas.

Look for more dining etiquette tips in upcoming columns. Until then, remember manners are memorable; Always, but your best foot forward!


Ms. J helps people to put their best foot forward by giving them tips, strategies and techniques for success with her Social Education and Life Etiquette™ (SELE™) classes, workshops, seminars and individualized etiquette coaching. If you need help figuring out how to identify and navigate the place-setting so that you can claim your seat at the table, contact her at