50 Table Manners Everyone Needs To Know

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Formal etiquette classes are pretty much a thing of the past, but that doesn't mean manners have disappeared as well. Did you know you should be doing these 50 things while at the table enjoying delicious meals with guests?

1. Don’t Use Your Phone at the Table

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If you go to any restaurant, there’s a good chance you’ll see at least a few people checking their phones. It’s become such a problem that there are now “zombie dates,” where two people will spend the whole meal looking at a screen instead of interacting with each other. 

A meal at a restaurant or friend’s house is an opportunity to connect and converse. Turn your phone on silent and put it away for the brief time you’re sitting together. 

2. Keep One Hand Free During Hors D’Oeuvres

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Say it’s before the main meal, and you’re munching on appetizers. Try to time your eating and drinking appropriately so you don’t end up with both hands full. If that does happen, and you meet someone new, you’ll have to awkwardly find someplace to put down your drink or plate to shake hands. 

3. For Utensils — Start at the Outside and Work Your Way In

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This is a great tip for anyone who is faced with a more formal dinner party. If there are three different forks and spoons, it can be a little intimidating knowing which one to use for what. 

In these cases, remember to start at the outside and work your way in. 

4. Place Your Napkin to the Left of the Plate When You’re Finished

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There is a lot of unspoken etiquette that revolves around the napkin. For example, you should place it in your lap shortly after being seated. 

At the same time, the napkin will indicate where you are in your meal. If you’ve decided you are finished, you can place the napkin to the left of your plate, which will signify to the server that they can remove your dishes. 

5. Pass Food Items to the Right

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At a family-style dinner, sometimes it seems like the dishes get passed across, left, and right, but somehow still manage to not get to you. 

To avoid this, pass all food to the right. This can include bread in a restaurant, actual dishes at a friend’s dinner party, butter, or salt and pepper. 

6. Don’t Salt Your Food First if Someone Asks for It

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Speaking of salt and pepper, if someone asks you for the salt, don’t grab it and sprinkle it on your own food first. Instead, pass the seasoning to the person, then ask for it back after they’re done with it. 

Additionally, if someone asks for just salt, also pass them the pepper. The two are a pair and should be passed together.  

7. If Someone Is Toasting You, You Shouldn’t Drink

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This is a piece of etiquette that you might not be familiar with. Say it’s your birthday, and your friends and family have thrown you a party. If your spouse says kind words about you and raises a toast to your name, you can raise your glass. But you shouldn’t drink. 

Drinking after a toast to yourself is seen as boastful, almost like you’re celebrating yourself. Instead, soak in the sweet sentiment and wait a few moments before enjoying a sip.

8. Don’t Clink Glasses During Toast

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While we’re on the subject of toasting, most of us have an idea of what a toast looks like. Someone says, “Here’s to the weekend,” and everyone raises their glasses and clinks them together. 

However, cheers-ing all your fellow partygoers isn’t the most formal thing to do. Clinking glasses can result in spills or even broken glasses, so it’s often advised not to tap them together at all. 

Instead, you should simply raise your glass and drink. 

9. Minimize the Perfume/Cologne

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This is a good rule of thumb for life, but it applies even more so to table manners: don’t overload it on the perfume or cologne. 

Everyone wants to smell good, but an overpowering smell can be unpleasant for the people around you. And when you bring food into this mix, this is even more true. 

Your sense of smell accounts for roughly 80% of your overall sense of taste. So if you overdo it on your perfume or cologne, your strong scent can actually affect how food tastes. 

10. Be Careful With Explosive Foods

Cherry tomatoes
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There are certain foods that are just explosive in nature. If there’s a cherry tomato in your salad, there’s the chance it could spray red goo across the table when you bite into it. Eating a dumpling? The hot broth could shoot out when you grab a mouthful. Even egg yolks can have a mild spray if you’re not careful. 

When eating these kinds of foods, try to put the whole item in your mouth if possible to avoid blowback. At the very least, be mindful when you cut into them to avoid as much fallout as possible. 

11. Don’t Blow on Food To Cool It Down

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Certain foods are just sizzling hot when they’re placed in front of you. One of the main food items that springs to mind is soup. 

If soup is hot, what do most of us do? Pick up a spoonful and blow on it. 

However, blowing on food doesn’t follow the proper dinner etiquette guidelines. Instead, you should stir your spoon slowly (without clinking the sides) to add air to the broth to cool it down. 

12. Tell the Server Before Ordering if You Want Separate Checks

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How many of us have been in this situation before? You’re out at a restaurant with friends, and you just finished your meals. The server comes over and asks how you want to split the check, and you look at each other blankly. 

To avoid any confusion, decide how you will split the check at the beginning of your meal and tell the waiter or waitress accordingly. Then, they can also know how to divide the bill as they go. 

13. Don’t Assume You’ll Split the Bill Evenly

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Let’s stay with this scenario of eating out with friends. If a server comes over and asks how you’ll take the bill, some people will automatically respond, “Oh, just split it evenly.” 

Splitting the bill often isn’t truly fair. If you need a visual of this, check out the Friends episode “The One With Five Steaks And An Eggplant.” 

While Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe order side dishes or appetizers at a fancy restaurant, Ross, Monica, and Chandler order expensive entrees, with Ross telling the waiter that they’ll split it all. It’s clear to see the first three friends’ frustration finally explode at this. 

14. Remember To Split the Beverage Bill Accordingly if Someone Doesn’t Drink

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In the same vein, even if you all order similarly priced entrees, it’s important to keep drinks in mind. 

Often, cocktails can make up a good chunk of the overall bill, so if one person has a Pepsi and another has three martinis, it’s not fair to expect the first person to foot the bill for the latter’s thirst.

15. Tip Accordingly

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Being a bartender or server is hard work, and most of the time, tips are factored into their overall pay. 

However, there are also other people in the service industry who are customarily tipped that some of us might overlook. 

Below is a handy reminder of how much to tip for different services while going out to eat:

15-25% for servers

10-15% for bartenders

$1 per coat for coat check

$2-$5 for valet

16. Tip on Full Amount Before Gift Certificate/Coupon Applied

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Coupons or gift certificates can be a great way to get out and enjoy a meal while saving a bit of money.

However, when you use a coupon, some people look at the final number on the check and tip off of that. 

Remember, you want to tip on the value of the food, not the amount you actually pay if you utilize a promotion. 

17. Never Use a Metallic Spoon to Scoop Out Caviar

Caviar
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Not all of us have had the pleasure of tasting one of the most expensive foods money can buy. 

But, if you do happen to serve caviar at your next dinner party, make sure not to use a metal spoon to scoop it out. The metal will oxidize the eggs, leading the whole mouthful to have a metallic taste. 

Instead, it’s recommended to go with a mother-of-pearl spoon. And if all of your pearl utensils are dirty, a wood or plastic spoon will also suffice. 

18. Don’t Double Dip!

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Any Seinfeld fan knows the potential altercation that can erupt from a double dip. Essentially, George proudly scoops up some dip on a chip, bites the dip, and then re-dips the chip — creating a complete kerfuffle at a party.  

This is, arguably, pretty rude to do, as it’s now accepted that double dipping gets your mouth germs all over the dip. 

In reality, Mythbusters tested just how many germs transfer from your mouth to the shared container after a double dip, and they found the number of microbes to be negligible. However, avoid double dipping to avoid the social stigma that is still associated with it. 

19. Don’t Stack Plates

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When we’re eating somewhere outside our home, it’s natural to want to help clean up. To do this, we might find ourselves stacking our bread plate on top of our dinner plate. 

While this does make transportation easier, it dirties the underside of the top plate, which could then make dishes more work than they need to be. 

Instead, allow servers to stack plates if they choose (or follow their lead if they stack plates). 

20. Chew With Mouth Closed

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You would think this is an obvious one, but yet there are still people who chomp their food with their mouths open.

Some foods are naturally loud: popcorn, chips, and nuts. But rather than smack your food like bubblegum, the courteous thing to do is chew your food in a closed mouth as quietly as you can.

21. Pace Yourself With Other Dinner Guests

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If you want to conduct your own social experiment, try watching how quickly your friends or family members eat. 

Someone from a big family might eat quickly, as they had to in order to get seconds growing up. Then there are the chatters, who talk so much between bites that their food is cold by the time they finish a meal. 

If you can, it’s best to try and notice the pace of the rest of the dinner party and match it as closely as you can. 

22. Arrive 10 Minutes Early

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This is a general courtesy people fail to follow. If you have a reservation at a restaurant, try to get there at least 10 minutes early and, at the very least, on time. Some restaurants are very strict, and if a member of your party isn’t there at the requested time, they might give your table away. 

Even worse, if the whole party needs to be present to sit and you’re the only one late, you could ruin the dinner for everyone with your tardiness. 

23. Bring a Gift for the Host They Don’t Have To Use That Night

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Most of us know that it’s polite to bring something for the host of a dinner party. But did you know that the most common gifts are some of the least recommended?

For example, flowers are actually not a great gift to offer a host. Why? Because they have to stop what they’re doing, find a vase, trim the flowers, and find a spot to display the flowers. 

The next one is a little controversial. Some etiquette experts even advise against bringing wine or chocolates because the host may feel compelled to now offer that to their guests. 

You should never expect your gift to be used the night of the party. So, if you make it clear to the host that the wine is for them to enjoy another night, then it can be okay. 

24. Transfer Butter to Your Plate Before Spreading It on Food

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At home, many of us would cut some butter off the stick and then butter up our bread before passing the butter along. 

But this isn’t proper etiquette. Instead, you should cut a pat of butter off the bar, then put the pat on your plate. Then, using your own butter knife, you can apply the butter to your roll or bread. 

25. Butter Pieces of Bite-Sized Bread One at a Time

Woman buttering bread at dinner table
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Remember how you pulled off that pat of butter and put it on your plate? Well, you don’t want to go ahead and butter up your whole piece of bread or roll. 

Instead, you want to rip off bite-sized pieces of bread and butter them individually. This might take a bit longer, but it might also help you avoid filling up on bread before your meal. 

26. Eat Bread With the Meal, Not Before

Bread on dinner table
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On that note, anyone who has been to The Cheesecake Factory knows how easy it is to fill up on the complimentary bread served to your table. 

However, if you follow proper table manners, you’ll realize that you’re actually not meant to eat bread before a meal at all. Instead, you’re supposed to eat it along with your meal. This prevents you from getting too full before eating your main entree. 

27. Stand Up To Meet Someone If They’re Standing

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Say you’ve taken your seat at the table, but someone comes up behind you and wants to introduce themselves. 

Rather than stay seated, it’s polite to stand and shake their hand to meet them at eye level. You can then stand for the remainder of the conversation and sit back down afterward.

28. Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Full 

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When we’re with people we’re comfortable with, we tend to let our guard down. This can mean talking through bites if you’re in the middle of a really good conversation. 

However, as we all know, talking with your mouth full is one of the biggest faux pas one can make at the dinner table. So next time, take a pause, swallow your bite, and continue your story with an uninhibited mouth. 

29. Taste Food Before Seasoning

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Some people love their seasonings. They’ve gotten used to putting salt and pepper on everything. 

But if you’re at someone else’s home, it’s impolite to start shaking salt or pepper on your food before you’ve even tried it. 

And, who knows — they may already have added a healthy amount of seasoning. By not taste-testing it first, you could be pushing it past the tasty level and into a my-lips-burn place. 

30. Cut Small Bite-Sized Pieces

Man cutting meat into small pieces
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If you have a small child with you, it’s normal to cut up their food into small pieces. However, as an adult, it’s not a great look to cut up your entire meal from the get-go. 

Instead, cut off a bite-sized piece of whatever you’re eating before placing it in your mouth. Once you’ve finished that bite, cut off another small piece. 

31. Tell the Host of Allergies and Dietary Restrictions Ahead of Time

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If you’re going to a dinner party at a friend’s home, they are likely putting a lot of time and thought into planning the menu. The last thing you want to do is show up and realize you can’t eat the food. 

To avoid this awkward situation, tell a host as soon as you’re invited if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies. 

Additionally, you could offer to bring something you can eat. For example, if you’re gluten-free but you’re going to a build-your-own-pizza night, you can offer to bring your own crust. 

32. Don’t Clean Up Spills With Your Napkin

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We’ve all done it — we drop some sauce on the tablecloth, or a rogue meatball slides off the plate onto the table. 

Many of us might be tempted to use napkins to clean up the splatter. But our napkin is meant for our hands. Instead, if you’re at a restaurant, ask the waiter for an additional napkin to clean up the mess. 

33. Don’t Use a Toothpick at the Table

Toothpicks
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It’s not a great feeling to realize you have something stuck in your teeth. As much as you try to nonchalantly get the food out with your tongue, sometimes the piece just won’t budge. Rather than being self-conscious about the rogue spinach all night, a toothpick can be a great way to rid yourself of the issue. 

At the same time, no one wants to see you dislodge the food from your teeth. Rather than use a toothpick at the table, go to the bathroom and use a mirror to get the job done.

34. Say “Excuse Me” Rather Than “I Have To Go to the Bathroom”

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It’s normal to have to use the restroom during a dinner party. No one is going to judge you for needing to do so. 

However, you also don’t have to announce where you’re about to go/what you’re about to do. Instead of saying, “I gotta run to the bathroom,” simply say, “Excuse me for a moment.” 

The exception is if you need to ask a host where their bathroom is if you haven’t been to their home before.

35. Rest Utensils on the Plate, Not the Table

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Resting your utensils on your plate between bites is the polite thing to do, and it’s also the hygienic option. 

For example, if you’re at a restaurant, you don’t know how well they cleaned the table before you sat down. They might have just given it a quick wipe — so you really wouldn’t want to put the fork you’re putting in your mouth on the half-cleaned surface. 

Additionally, if your host has a tablecloth, you don’t want to put a mucky, saucy utensil on their clean fabric. Stick to always placing your utensils on your plate. 

36. Hold Hand Over Glass To Signal You Don’t Want More

Hand over glass indicating no more wine to drink
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If your glass is empty, there’s a chance that a host or server will refill it without asking. 

If you notice someone coming over with a wine bottle or water pitcher, but you don’t want anymore, simply hold your hand over your glass. 

Now, you’ve quickly signaled you don’t need more without having to break up the conversation.

37. Twirl Pasta — Never Slurp

Twirling pasta with fork and spoon
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There are certain sounds no one wants to hear at a dinner table: someone smacking their lips together, someone sucking up their soup, and someone slurping their pasta. 

Never slurp your spaghetti up into your mouth. Instead, use a spoon to twirl your pasta around your fork. And make sure to only get a reasonable amount on your fork so you don’t have to unhinge your jaw to eat the mouthful. 

38. Don’t Rub Chopsticks Together To Remove Splinters

Chopsticks
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Many of us have been taught that when you pull new chopsticks out of their paper package, you rub them together to get any splinters off. 

Yet, de-splintering your chopsticks doesn’t follow table etiquette. 

If you really don’t want to end up with a wooden shard in your tongue, however, the best bet is to discreetly rub the chopsticks together under the table. 

39. Take One Piece of Sushi at a Time

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Say you’re enjoying family-style sushi with a group of friends. If you grab a roll off the center plate, you’re agreeing to eat all the pieces of that roll. 

You don’t want to be the person to eat one piece of sushi, realize you don’t like it, then put the rest of the roll back on the sharable plate. 

Whatever you put on your plate, you commit to eat. 

40. Wait To Drink and Eat Until All Have Been Served

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Depending on what family you grew up in, some people were taught to eat immediately once you sit down so your food doesn’t get cold. 

However, this doesn’t follow true table manners. Instead, you’re supposed to wait for all to be seated and served before you take your first bite. 

This also extends to drinking. Don’t take your first sip until everyone has been served. Then, you also save your first drink for after a toast if someone chooses to do one.

41. Keep Your Elbows Close to You

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Some restaurants with small dining rooms tend to place tables very close to each other to maximize the number of customers they can serve at a time. 

While there’s nothing wrong with this, it can make for a very intimate meal with whoever is sitting next to you. 

In cases like this, or even if you have ample room, be mindful of your elbows. If you’re cutting up a steak, don’t put your elbow way out. Keep your limbs close to you at all times. 

42. Don’t Sneeze Into Napkin — Sneeze Into Shoulder

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No one wants to be that gross person. It’s relatively easy to avoid this: don’t pick your nose or your teeth in public. 

Another thing to avoid? If you need to sneeze at the dinner table, sneeze into your shoulder or the pit of your elbow. Never sneeze into your napkin. Because if you do, you’re now faced with using that dirty cloth for the rest of the evening. 

43. Offer To Help Clean Up

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If you’re at a dinner party at someone’s home, it can be easy to get caught up in conversations post-dinner. However, the polite thing to do is offer to help clean up the table. 

It’s really a toss-up on how the host will respond. Sometimes, they’ll wave you off, telling you to go enjoy the company. Other times, they’ll gladly take you up on the offer. If they do, follow their lead for how they stack the dishes and where to place the dirty ones. 

44. Ask About the Dress Code

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It’s not a fun feeling to arrive at an event and be drastically over or underdressed. 

Luckily, there’s an easy way to avoid this. If a friend or family member is hosting the party, ask what the dress code is. If you’re meeting up with a group of people at a restaurant, ask one or two people what they’re wearing. 

You can also look up the restaurant online to see how fancy of a vibe it has. 

45. Use a Knife to Push Rice Onto Your Fork 

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Certain foods are just harder to pick up than others. One of these is rice, particularly if it’s a dish like fried rice with peas. 

At home, when we get to those last bites of rice, we might enlist the help of our finger to push the remaining bits onto our fork. But in a restaurant, using your finger isn’t a great look. 

Instead, hold your knife in your nondominant hand to push the rice onto your fork. If you can’t get every last morsel, leaving a few grains on the plate is just fine.

46. Keep Purse and Sunglasses off the Table

Black Purse
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When we sit down at a restaurant, we want to get comfortable. This means taking off our coats, sunglasses, and purses. 

It can be easy to plop these items down on the table in front of us. But it’s not proper etiquette to do so. 

Instead, utilize coat hooks if they offer them. If your purse won’t easily sit on the back of your chair, put it in your lap or behind you in the chair.

47. Hold Stemmed Glass by Stem

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When we’re drinking wine, it’s natural to hold the glass by the largest part: the bowl. 

However, technically, it’s best to hold any stemmed glasses by the stem. This will also help prevent the warmth of your hand from warming up your glass of Chardonnay. 

Whatever you do, don’t hold a wine glass by the base. This grip doesn’t provide much control and can result in a dropped glass or spilled wine. 

48. Use Spoon To Eat Cheesecake, Adding Garnish With Fork

Blueberry cheesecake
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Cheesecake is a unique type of dessert. Its soft middle texture mixed with the hard graham cracker bottom means it’s a bit of a mystery what utensil to use to eat it. 

The best way to tackle a slice of cheesecake is to use a spoon for the dessert itself and then a fork to apply any fruit or chocolate garnishes. 

49. Remember To Respond to an RSVP

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If a host has gone through the trouble of sending out RSVPs, they’re likely depending on those responses to decide how much food to buy and prepare. 

This means that it’s polite for you to respond whether you’re attending or not. Don’t assume that not responding means they’ll assume you aren’t going; instead, you might just be putting the host in a tough spot where they’ll have to awkwardly reach out to ask you about your plans. 

50. Even If You Don’t Like Something, Eat a Little 

Woman refusing to eat food
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Some people are naturally pickier eaters than others. Yet, all of us can understand that sinking feeling of being served a plate and spotting that dreaded food on the porcelain. 

As much as you might not enjoy the food, you’re at a dinner party, and your host has prepared it. This means that you should at least try the food and eat a few mouthfuls. You don’t have to finish it, but at least show that you appreciate their effort. 

Author: Emily Pogue

Title: Contributing Writer

Expertise: Travel, entertainment, lifestyle, health, mental health, beauty, current events