Dear fellow diners,
I’ve tried to ignore it. I’ve tried not to care, but I just can’t go on like this any more.
We need to have a talk about table manners.
You heard me.
I love the experience of a good meal. That experience is made up of a lot of things…the taste of the food, the presentation of the meal, the service, atmosphere, décor. That’s not a newsflash for most people. What doesn’t often get included in that list of the intangible, but important, aspects of the dining experience is that it is influenced by table manners. Both your own and those of others around you.
As Miss Manners would (and did) say. The whole point of manners is to put in place rules so that everyone is comfortable and life is agreeable for all. How can you fault that. And what part of life is more worthy of being agreeable and comfortable than the dining experience. None, I say.
Bearing this in mind, I have taken the liberty of setting out below a few basic pointers that I’m sure you’ll agree will make the dining experience much more agreeable for all concerned. I am sad to say, all of these pointers are inspired by direct observances of actual people around actual tables in the recent past.
About cutlery and the use thereof:
- Your fork is not a front-end loader. Don’t overload it, it makes you look greedy. Besides, you have to open your mouth super wide to get it in and then your dining partner is forced to become acquainted with your tonsils. Eeeewwwwww.
- Learn to hold your fork properly, it should be used as a platform to convey food, not as a spear or pitchfork. Never, under any circumstances, should your fork be held in a clenched fist.
- The only thing with any business conveying food from plate to mouth is cutlery. Fingers are not cutlery. Unless you are having Indian or Ethiopian food, neither is bread.
- Cutlery is not a laser pointer or conductor’s baton. Do not use it to punctuate sentences or point stuff out to your dining companions.
- Wait until you are finished chewing and swallowing what is in your mouth before loading up again. Seriously. Otherwise you have to display mouth full of partly chewed food to the person opposite you in order to get the next load in which is gross beyond belief. Plus, it makes you look like a giant piggie.
About food and its path from table to mouth to stomach:
- Licking cutlery is gross. And dangerous. I know a guy whose tongue got pinched between fork tines. Ouch.
- Do not ever chew with your mouth open. It’s absolutely the grossest thing to have to look at. You might not mind so much, but it’s positively loathsome to those in whose line of sight you sit. If you have sinus problems take Sudafed before dinner. If you’ve got a cold, stay home in bed.
- No talking with food in your mouth. Using your hand to shield the fact that you are in fact talking with food in your mouth does not count. What you have to say cannot possibly be so important that it can’t wait 10 seconds, until you swallow, to be said. Unless, of course, it is “FIRE!”, in which case, you are excused.
- Lip-smacking, slurping, noisy chewing, and other similar noises are gross and irritating. Cut it out.
- Do not reach across someone elses’ plate to help yourself to something. Ever. Even at home. Ask politely for the item to be passed.
Some other helpful basics:
- Under absolutely no circumstances is it acceptable to answer a cell phone or attend to a blackberry during a meal. To do so implies that the real live people with whom you are dining are less deserving of attention than some remote communication device that humankind managed to live without for the first million years of its existence. It’s the modern day equivalent of saying to someone at a cocktail party, “Oh, do excuse me. John’s just walked in and he’s far more important than you.” If you can’t help yourself, excuse yourself to the restroom or lobby to indulge – although never more than once per meal and not for any longer than it would take you to use the facilities normally. If you really can’t tear yourself away from the cell phone or blackberry for more than 30 minutes, you’re obviously too busy and important to be taking time for meals. Have lunch by yourself at your desk instead.
- I am deeply, profoundly disturbed by the fact that this next statement is even necessary: Please don’t fart (or belch) at the table. It’s just so very, fundamentally wrong.
- There are some foods that should only be eaten at home with people you love and who love you back: corn on the cob, crab and lobster come to mind.
- Ribs and wings should never be eaten in any restaurant that has cloth napkins. Yes, even if they are on the menu.
- Under no circumstances should your particular style of eating result in a later discovery of bits of food in your hair or that of your dining companions.
- Do not pick your teeth at the table. Excuse yourself to the bathroom. Plus there’s a mirror there which should make the job easier.
- Ladies: no applying makeup or looking in your compact mirror. That’s what the ladies room is for.
- Please do not snap your fingers, gesticulate wildly, clap or whistle to get your waiter’s attention. Brief eye contact and a nod will do the trick. If you do snap or whistle, your waiter has every right to ignore you. Or spit in your wine. Or both.
- The totally unnecessary rapid clinking of your spoon as you stir your coffee is the culinary equivalent of repeatedly clicking your pen in an exam. You may be okay with it, but it’s ruining someone else’s experience. It is possible to stir your coffee without making such a highly irritating noise. Same thing goes for obsessive dish scraping.
Let me also point out that table manners at home in the privacy of your own four walls and in the presence only of those who are required by law or direct blood bond to continue to love, or at least tolerate, you are different from the manners required when out at a fancy restaurant. Every other experience falls somewhere in between. This is not to say you shouldn’t be mindful of your manners around your family and friends, just that you can relax a little bit and know that there will likely be no social consequences if you manage to get a splash of sauce on your chin. The “no farting” rule stands though.
I think I’ve managed to get out all the really important stuff.
If you’ve got something to add, chime on in…