From eating with fingers to holding forks in a fist, the list of etiquette violations one can commit at the table is virtually endless. So let’s zero in on 15 faux-pas decorous diners should avoid.
People with good table manners…
…Never text at the table.
Ask people if they have a significant other and they pull out their smartphone. Despite these bonds of affection, it is rude to elevate an electronic gadget to the status of a dinner guest. Keep your phone out of sight. If you are expecting and must take an important call, let your companions know in advance. Rudeness foretold and apologized for morphs into courtesy. Put your phone on vibrate. And if your call comes in, your thigh will get a thrill and you can discreetly excuse yourself to take the call.
…Never start eating before the host.
Nothing is more basic to good manners than waiting for your host to be seated before you chew the chow. He or she has either toiled all day to prepare the meal; forked out a fistful of cash to a caterer; been a nervous wreck getting everything ready; or all of the above. This deserves respect. Some hosts will exhort guests to go ahead and start before everything gets cold. In such a case you may begin, but do so very slowly so that you won’t be ready for dessert just as your host sits down for her first mouthful.
…Never play with food.
While it is tempting to create mashed potato dams or catapult the cauliflower across the table, you must resist the urge. Food should rest serenely upon your plate until it is ready for the solemn journey into your mouth.
…Never complain about the food.
With the exception of two-year-olds flinging oatmeal across the room in disgust, it is never appropriate to disparage vittles set before you. If it’s simply not your favorite, try to eat as much as you can. If you truly can’t stomach the thought of eating it, engage in covert food rearrangement so as to reduce the surface area of the detestable comestible. This will fool casual observers into thinking you have been eating.
…Never take more than their fair share from a platter making the rounds.
Communal dining often involves the passing of platters full of food. Be mindful of the number of persons who will be serving themselves after you. Make a quick calculation by putting yourself (#1) in the numerator, and the number of people remaining to be served in the denominator. So, if you and three other people still need to take portions, the resulting fraction would be ¼, which is the proportion of food you are allowed to take. (And who said math wasn’t useful!)
…Never hijack a platter on the way to someone else.
A platter on the move isn’t a football pass. You can’t intercept it if it’s heading towards another receiver. Wait until that person has finished serving himself, and then put in your own request for the tray.
…Never ask for seconds.
Unless you’re dining informally with people you know well (such as family), it’s risky and therefore impolite to ask for seconds. This is because your host may wish to hurry the meal along, hoard leftovers, or avoid letting on that she’s run out of food. Better to wait until you are offered seconds, and then you’ll need to make a quick decision as to whether others are likely to join you, or you will be the sole person holding up the progression of the meal while everyone watches you eat.
…Never perform a PDA with the table.
It is inappropriate to engage in a physical relationship with the table. Do not lean on it, rest your head in your hands on it, poke it with your elbows, or otherwise comingle your body with its surface. The only permissible contact, unless you faint onto your falafel, is the light resting of forearms along its edge.
…Never dunk, sop, or spit.
Pleasurable as these activities can be in the right context, it is improper to dunk the donut, sop up the sauce, or spit out the seed in a formal dining setting.
…Never belch, smack their lips or chew with their mouth open.
While expressions of appreciation can vary from culture to culture, in the United States it is never proper to compliment the cook by smacking one’s lips or belching. Similarly, chewing with one’s mouth open is not considered an acceptable form of gratitude; it is considered disgusting.
…Never blow on their food.
Unless your burrito bursts into flame, it is improper to blow on food to cool it. If it is too hot, let it cool while you dazzle your dining companions with brilliant commentary on world events.
…Never tuck their napkin under their chin.
It is assumed that your maturity and motor control are sufficient to keep you from dropping food onto your upper person. Bibs—and that’s what a napkin under your chin should be called—are for children under three and people willing to feel silly while eating lobster if it will protect their clothes from dribbles of melted butter.
…Never use their napkin as a handkerchief.
While emptying one’s nasal passages into a napkin may provide relief for the nose-blower, it will create acute discomfort for everyone else at the table who must now spend the rest of the meal picturing the coagulating mucus in your cloth.
…Never redip the bitten ends of veggies or chips into the communal bowl.
In today’s Purell world, people are sensitive to the spread of germs and do not wish to see teeth marks and saliva dive-bombing into the guacamole. Nothing spoils a party like someone yelling “EBOLA ALERT!! Desmond re-dipped his Dorito!”
…Never play footsie under the table unless they’re 100% certain to whom the feet belong.