Learn to read body language. - Most women make it clear when they do not want to be approached or bothered. Reading facial expressions, body positioning, & tones will save both of you time, embarrassment, & awkward situations.
Do NOT touch a woman unless it is clear they have given you permission. - This goes back to the body language. If someone is giving you negative body language, don’t make it worse by going in for a uninvited hug, kiss, or any sort of caress.
MOST IMPORTANT: A NO is a NO. - It doesn’t mean “convince me further” or “try harder”. I cannot stress this enough. It eventually escalates & becomes harassment. Give women the respect & space when they turn you down.
I know a good amount of gentlemen in my life, but I often come across boys that feel they absolutely deserve the attention of any woman despite their disapproval. Please don’t be one of these jackasses. Use these basic rules in parties, on the street, in your workplace, & everyday life for the sake of women.
Intro to Upper Class Culture, Part 5: Dining Etiquette
“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” -Clarence Thomas
I think this is my longest segment so far…
So I’ve gotten a few requests regarding this little series I’ve been doing, and dining etiquette is one that keeps coming up. Before I begin, I want to point out that this is American dining etiquette; every culture has different rules and accepted norms, especially when it comes to dining, so if you are going to be dining outside the US or if you are from outside the US these rules might not necessarily fit your circumstance.
Also, I sort of fell off the bandwagon writing these because of some personal things in my life, and work..and Ramadan. But without further adieu, here is Dining Etiquette.
A note: I’ll be kind of dividing this into two main scenarios, dinner parties and nicer restaurants, but even within those two scenarios there are differences in behavior if it’s a business lunch versus a date, or depending on how well you know the host of the dinner party etc. but this is just an overview.
First, the invitation. Focusing more on dinner parties, if you’re invited to a dinner party it’s fine to say no. You don’t even necessarily have to give a reason, just saying you have a prior engagement is fine. However, once you say yes you’re locked in unless there is some emergency. The season finale of the Bachelor being on is not an emergency. Deciding you’re too tired after work to get dressed and drive somewhere is not an emergency. Why am I stressing this so much? Dinner parties are expensive to throw, especially if the host is using a professional chef, and the price goes up as more people RSVP. They also have saved a seat for you and accounted enough drinks for you, so cancelling at the last minute will basically be saying to your host that you’re fine with them throwing money down the drain. No matter how wealthy your host is, that isn’t cool, and it’s just rude. So, if you say you can attend, you need to attend. This also applies to if you’re attending a group meal or a one-on-one meal, obviously, but I would say it’s especially important for dinner parties.
Second, the arrival. For meals at restaurants, you need to be on time, if not ten minutes before your reservation. If you’re going to be more than fifteen minutes late, it’s considered polite to call ahead and let the restaurant know you’ll be late. For dinner parties, it’s a little different. I personally usually try to arrive about fifteen minutes after the stated time, but I think within thirty minutes is acceptable and an article online agreed so officially, you have a thirty minute arrival from the stated start time to arrive. If you are going to be later than thirty minutes, call your host or hostess and let them know that you aren’t simply bailing on them, and apologize because really you should plan ahead to be there on time. Now, a side note, I wouldn’t necessarily choose to arrive exactly at the set time, and certainly not early. Why? Because your host or hostess will probably still be rushing around to set things up and if you arrive fifteen minutes early, they’re going to be even more stressed by having to entertain you and having to finish making the final preparations for the evening. Don’t put them in that situation. My rule of thumb: fifteen minutes is long enough that they won’t be running around like a chicken with their head cut off, but early enough that they won’t be worried you aren’t coming.
Third, to gift or not to gift? I would say if you’re going to a restaurant, unless it’s a special event like a baby/wedding shower, engagement party or birthday party, no gift is needed. As far as dinner parties go, I’ve run into some debate with a friend. She says bringing a gift is tacky, I say it’s rude to not bring a gift. So, I went to the internet and asked and came to this conclusion: bring a gift if it’s a more casual dinner party, and/or if the host/hostess is a friend. Otherwise, a gift isn’t necessary. I tend to err on the side of bringing a gift when in doubt, but make sure it’s something tasteful. Emily Post had this to say about it:
“Gift possibilities include wine, Champagne, flowers (preferably in a vase), a potted plant, chocolates, specialty food items such as jams and jellies or other condiments, fancy nuts, olives, olive oil or vinegars, or items for the house, such as cocktail napkins, guest soaps and lotions , a picture frame, or a scented candle. A CD or book is also appropriate if you know your host’s taste.”
If you aren’t sure what your host or hostess would like, or if you feel uncomfortable about picking out a gift at all, just don’t do it. It’s not important enough to stress over, but know that your host will probably appreciate any little gift because it’s the thought that counts.
Now, onto the actual meal! I’ll start with a restaurant. If you’re a woman, often times whoever you’re with or the waiter will pull out your chair, so give them the chance to do that. Once seated, the first thing you should do is figure out where to put your stuff. Putting it on the table is not an option. Also, putting your purse on the back of your chair is also not a good option, and I’ve seen that lead to women’s purses falling over, leaving their belongings scattered on the floor, so logically it really isn’t a great idea either. The best things you can do are put your purse on our lap (this works ok for clutches, but personally I find it annoying) or put it at your feet. Regarding dinner parties, I know a lot of the ones I’ve thrown or attended have places set aside where you can put your belongings. Really you don’t need to be carrying around your purse at your friend’s home dinner party or not, so set it down in the designated area.
This next paragraph will be a little bit of a rant. Feel free to skip it, the bottom line is do not use your cell phones. Do not pull them out while you are at a restaurant. Do not leave them on the table. Nothing should be on the table except for your dining utensils and food, really. Put your phone on silent, or turn it off, and keep it in your purse for the duration of the meal. The same applies for dinner parties. Do not be on your phone, especially at the table. If there is some sort of emergency going on, you need to let the person you’re with or the host/hostess know ahead of time, and you can politely excuse yourself if need be. If you really feel the need to check your phone, excuse yourself to the restroom, and go check it there. Otherwise, it’s very rude. VERY rude. If you are reading this, and you still pull out your phone while dining with someone, I will personally pop out of a bush, take your phone, and smash it. If you get nothing else out of this, then I want it to be: do not use your cellphone at the table. It’s my biggest pet peeve and universally is very rude, so please, I promise you will survive a couple hours without it.
Moving on, to the oh so exciting napkins. If you’re at a restaurant, after you’ve situated your belongings and turned your phone off, the first thing you should do is place the napkin in your lap before you eat or drink anything, even a sip of water. If the napkin is fairly small, feel free to completely unfold it, but if it’s larger fold it in half with the crease facing you. If you have to get up, I’ve heard two different things, but I’ll share the one I’ve found to be most common and in my opinion is more polite. When you stand up, fold your napkin (maybe in half, don’t get crazy this isn’t time to practice your origami) and set it on the left side of your plate. Some people say to leave your napkin on your chair, but I don’t really find that to be the common practice and personally I think it’s weird. At the end of the meal, place your napkin to the left side of the plate. Napkins are meant to catch food. Don’t blow your nose with it, and don’t necessarily wipe your entire face with it. It’s meant to dot your lips and fingers and catch food, anything else is kind of gross.
As for a dinner party, follow your host’s lead. When they put their napkin on their lap, you should do the same. This also applies to eating. Once your host has taken the first bite (which should be after everyone is seated) then you’re free to also start eating.
Ok, so one thing I know people sometimes struggle with is the silverware. Instead of a standard spoon, fork, knife, plate and cup, there is a multitude of silverware and dishes at your disposal. To start, there are a few solid rules that will help get you through most situations. Use your utensils from the outside in, and, you eat from the left and drink from the right. The first part is fairly self explanatory: as a general rule, there should be roughly three forks to your left side, and then probably two spoons and a knife to your right. The first fork (from the outside, left) is for salad, the second for dinner and third for dessert. On your right, the first spoon is generally for soup, the second a “teaspoon” and then your knife is for your dinner. The second common rule (eat from the left, drink from the right) means this: if you are confused about which objects are meant for you or the person next to you, apply this rule. Napkins, bread and butter places, etc will be placed on your left. Water goblets and wine glasses will be to your right. I’m going to include some fun infographics at the end of this segment that will help you keep everything straight, but those are the two most useful, easy to remember rules.
I’ve seen some people be confused at dinners regarding the glasses. There is usually a glass called the water goblet, and it’s for, you guessed it, water. Then, there’s usually a wine glass. I’ve seen a lot of infographics floating around about the different wine glasses, but in general, red wine glasses are more stout and white wine glasses are more long and slender. The most slender of all are champagne flutes, which you will probably encounter while fine dining.
Regarding bread and butter: This is something you’ll often see at restaurants depending on what sort of food is being served. It’s common to have this to snack on while eating your salad or waiting for the meal. The proper etiquette for eating bread and butter goes like this: when the bread is passed to you, take off the amount you want, and also be sure to take the amount of butter you want with your knife and leave it on your plate. It’s rude to keep dipping into the shared butter source or asking that the bread be passed to you over and over. Once you have your portion in front of you, it’s best to tear off smaller pieces and butter them as you go.
The food. Ok, so you’ve made it to the actual dinner portion and you’re ready to dig in. There are rules for that too! First, you should wait for everyone to have their food in front of them. It’s rude to start eating while others are still waiting on their food. Second, there are specific ways to hold your utensils. I tend to use my utensils in a more “European” fashion (because I am European by birth) but I can tell you that in the US while eating, and more specifically while cutting meat, that Americans cut with their right hand (assuming they’re right handed) while holding their fork with their left hand, then they place their knife at the top of their plate, and switch hands. Cut one bite at a time, at most two. As far as how to hold various utensils, there are a million and one youtube videos out there. I don’t really stress out about it too much. Unless I’m having dinner with the Queen or Emily Post I don’t stress about the tiny details.
There is also an entire language with knives and forks. I’m going to include an infographic (yayyyy for infographics) at the end rather than explain them, because visuals will help you so much more, but just know that there is an unspoken language regarding utensils. I think the infographic I’ve found disagrees with this, but I know this is the commonly accepted etiquette in the US for when to signal you’re done eating: “To signal that your are done with the course, rest your fork, tines up, and knife blade in, with the handles resting at five o'clock and tips pointing to ten o'clock on your plate (4:20).”
As far as the actual food goes, you need to at least attempt to eat what’s being served. Even if it looks horrible, you need to choke down a couple bites. The only excuse for not eating something is a food allergy, and I mean a real food allergy, not your I’m-trying-to-lose-weight-so-I’m-cutting-out-gluten food “allergy”. Somebody slaved away to make your meal, you need to at least eat a few bites. If you have dietary restrictions, you need to make them known far in advance-probably when you accept the invitation. The host or hostess will try to make arrangements for food you will actually eat. Depending on where you are in the world, there are rules about cleaning your plate versus leaving food on your plate. In the US, the rules aren’t so strict. Do your best to eat most of the food on your plate, but no licking it clean or spooning the sauce into your mouth. That’s disgusting.
WaitStaff. This applies to upscale dinner parties and restaurants. Do not ever shout for your waiter. Attempt to make eye contact with them, and once you have done that you may slightly raise your right hand and slightly raise your index finger to signal that you need them. Be nice to the wait staff, smile, make eye contact, always say please and thank you. Being a waiter or waitress sucks enough, don’t make it worse.
Payment. So you’ve made it through the meal (this is for restaurants only) but what about the bill? If you’re on a date, it’s customary for the man to buy the meal. If you’re in a large group, generally the person who invited the group is supposed to pay. It’s considered particularly polite if they give the restaurant their credit card information even before the meal begins. And when in doubt, tip well. It’s good karma.
Instead of vocab like I normally I do, I’m going to just add in other tips that didn’t really fit in a specific section.
Don’t slurp your soup
If somebody has something in their teeth, the best protocol is to make eye contact with them and subtly touch your finger to your own teeth. They should get the hint.
Don’t drink too much and get drunk, especially if you’re with certain company
Don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t talk with a full mouth
The no elbows rule only applies while you’re actually eating; if it’s between courses and you’re just talking, feel free to rest the elbows on the table
Don’t reach over people, ask for it to be passed your way. Side note: if you want to share food with someone, don’t pass your entire plate, but put some on your bread plate and pass that instead
Eat quietly. Don’t chew loudly. Don’t scrape your utensils together.
Sit up straight, and don’t lean over to eat your food, bring it to you with your utensils
Hold your wine glass by the stem
If you need to leave the table, just say “Excuse me, I’ll be right back”. You don’t need to say you’re going to use the restroom, or that you’re checking the football score, or dealing with a family emergency. Less is more.
These are all of the basics I could really think of. There is so much information out there about meal etiquette and there are people out there who are sticklers for following every single rule, but most people are pretty reasonable and as long as you follow the basic rules, you’ll get by just fine. For the sake of being polite, most people aren’t going to point out if you happen to hold your fork with a finger in the wrong place. I’ve taken a few etiquette classes and found them to be really helpful, but there are so many videos and articles online that honestly you could pretty much teach yourself how to fit in meal etiquette wise.
If you liked this article, feel free to check out my other segments in the Intro to Upper Class Culture tag. Also, if you have any requests for future segments, send them to my ask box.
P.S, below are the handy dandy info graphics. I like them, they’re pretty useful and easy to understand.
also with the bar etiquette tips: you don't have to ALWAYS do this but if you can, bring you glasses back to the bar, especially if it's a big place that's busy, the waitstaff will appreciate it and if it's a smaller place with just one or two bartenders that bring you drinks, they'll remember it as well, same for piling dishes at a restaurant. I usually just bring empty cups back on my way to the bathroom or something, and more than half a time, a price of a drink is removed from my bill !
This is a great tip. Do any little thing you can to help the wait staff, wherever you go. Stacking your dishes or simply moving them to the end of the table is so easy, but it makes a huge difference to the people who are almost always overworked and mistreated. Bringing the glasses back to the bar is a lovely thing to do.