I grew up in the Midwest and to be frank my parents came from very modest backgrounds. My mom lost her father when she was 13 and my grandmother only had an 8th grade education. My father grew up on a 150 acre farm with an alcoholic father. So they didn’t come with silver spoons in their mouths. Ironically they both knew how to have proper manners at the table.
These are simple rules that work whether you are eating at home with friends or lovers, out to dinner at casual dining, or dining with a customer at a fine dining establishment. These are easy things to do regardless of where you came from.
Remove your hat
Unless you are dining outside where it is cold, or at a sports game, remove your hat before you sit at the table. This is just a sign of respect for your dining partner. Hats are generally worn outside and by wearing it you are signaling to your dining companion that you are not there to enjoy their time. It’s very simple, remove it and put it on another chair, or off to the side.
Put your napkin on your lap
When you sit down for the first thing you should do is take your napkin, unfold it and put it on your lap. This allows you to catch crumbs and then no one needs to look or see your dirty napkin.
Pull your chair up
We used to joke that my Uncle Rupert wore a tie to catch the crumbs from his eating. It never failed that he left the table with something on his tie. It is simple, when you have sat down, pull your chair closer.
Elbows off the table
This is one I have an issue with myself. When you are engaging in a conversation it is easy to lean forward and put your elbows on the table. I know I do. And some etiquette people will tell you that is ok. In general, in between courses, as you engage, feel free to use your elbows. but once food starts getting served. elbows off the table.
Put your phone away
In our society this one is the one that bugs me the most. It is the one people have zero courtesy and respect for. Very simple, a meal is a time to connect. TO understand a customer. To see how your wifes day was. What did your kids learn in school. What interesting news story did you hear.
Instead we stick our heads in our phones making you wonder, why are you even at dinner? Simple, put your phone away and engage. If you do get a call and NEED to take it, excuse yourself from the table, go to the lobby and take your call.
No one wants to hear your conversation. Not the tables around you. Not your dinner companions. It is the height of rudeness to take a call at home. In fact, many times friends and I would have a rule, if you had to pick up your phone, you paid for the meal. If it is an important call, you will take the risk. But to check out that instagram notification, that $200 meal bill may not be worth it.
This goes for your kids as well. I know the Ipad is now your baby sitter since you can’t be bothered to teach your kids manners or engage them in civil discourse, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to shitty cartoons over shitty iPad speakers. Get that kid headphones and put them on if you insist. Or even better, engage your kids.
“But my kids can’t sit through a whole dinner”. Then you are a shitty parent.
Let prayers finish
I am not one that prays or says grace at dinner, but that doesn’t means others don’t. If someone wants to say grace and you don’t want to, bow your head, give thanks for something in your life and let them have their moment. Even the Japanese say “Itadakimasu” (eet a da kee mos) which essentially is saying, thank you for the food.
Server others first
Whether you are sitting at home with a bowl of vegetables, or have a bottle of wine, before you serve yourself, offer to serve those at the table first. Poor the wine for them, or the carbonated water. Then serve yourself.
Chew with your mouth closed
No one wants to see your chewed up food in your mouth. No one wants to hear the lip smacking as you chew your food. Every time I see a girl chewing gum with her mouth open, all I can think of is a cow chewing their cud. It is exactly what they look like. If you have to say something, its simple, finish chewing, swallow, then answer.
Drink out of a glass
This is where I am bad myself. I don’t drink soda anymore, but I do drink bottled carbonated water. Many times we will share a large bottle of Pellegrino and sometimes we grab for the bottle to drink out of it. It is simple. poor the water into a glass. You are not a drunk drinking out of a paper bag with cheap 40 ouncer.
If someone made you a nice meal, thank them. Someone put the effort in show them that you appreciate it. If we look back towards the Japanese again, we can see that when they finish a meal, they say “Gochisousam” (Go chee so sa ma), which is essentially thanking them for the meal. If your culture uses tipping, then provide a generous tip for well done work and tell the manager you enjoyed the food and service.
Why are these manners important?
I think manners are important because they help connect us with those around us. Manners require you to think beyond yourself. They require you to think about how these actions affect those around us. In today’s Me Only world, enforcing manners is one of the simplest ways for us to connect. Appreciate the work others have done, whether a spouse or a chef.
Are these old fashioned? You bet they are. The irony is, I look at my grandmother. She only had an 8th-grade education and was very old fashioned. Many would look at her and scoff at the lack of education. Yet, yet spoke Latin, Polish and English. She raised a family by herself. She did it without out teenaged pregnancy, or jail.