10 etiquette rules every good guest should know
By Kate Tighe
Being a guest at another’s soiree is a welcome chance to relax and socialise, with the only demand on you being to arrive with a bottle in hand, and graciously thank your host on departure.
That may be the case in 2017, but in times gone by, the rules of etiquette demanded much more from the model guest. You may be eating supper with your neighbours more often than you take tea with the Queen, but how familiar are you with traditional dining-table protocol? Moving from the sensible to the stress-inducing, do you have the knowledge to avoid history’s dining faux-pas?
Salt & pepper
Ask for things to be passed, never lean or reach over another guest. Equally, if you see someone after a particular item, lend them a hand. Always pass the salt and pepper together, and taste your food before you salt it. It’s insulting to the host if you presume it lacks seasoning.
“What’s on the menu?”
It’s common courtesy to eat what the host has prepared despite personal preferences – the hard work and tender feelings of the chef are more important. If you have any genuine dietary requirements, inform the host well in advance – they’re not obligated to provide anything else for you outside the menu on short notice.
Take your time while you eat. Don’t cut up more than three bites at a time, take frequent breaks, and don’t take a sip of beverage while your mouth is full of food. Watch your alcohol intake by frequently taking sips of water, too – drunkenness is never appropriate.
There should be no phones, computers, tablets or any other kind of portable electronic device at the dinner table. This includes showing pictures on a device of holidays/children/pets, etc. Do not check emails or texts at the dinner table, and if it is an emergency, ask to be excused. Food is to be eaten and not tweeted.
Zip the lip
Conversation on the following topics should be avoided: sex, politics, value of personal property, medical conditions, age, religion and income or gossip. However, guests should respect one another’s right to free speech, and if you’re among close friends, you might be granted a little leniency.
Are you familiar with the correct cutlery positions? The rest position (knife at twelve o’clock, fork across the middle at twenty past twelve) lets your host know that you are simply resting. The finished position (fork and knife together pointing diagonally to the middle from the right hand corner) tells your host that you are finished eating and that your plate can be taken away – handy. The rules say to never push away or stack dishes yourself.
At an informal affair, put your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down. At a more formal occasion, sit down first and wait for the host to unfold their own napkin and place it on their lap. If you leave the table temporarily during the course of the dinner, place it on the chair. At the end of the meal, fold your napkin neatly and place it to the left of your setting. Never use it as a tissue (but we hope that goes without saying!).
When eating bread always place it on the side plate to your left, if provided. Break the bread with your hands and never the knife. Take a modest knob of butter and place on your side plate before passing on the dish. Only butter a small chunk of bread at a time, never a whole or half slice.
Time for tea
When stirring a cup of tea or coffee, never touch the sides of your cup with the spoon to avoid a clattering din. Do not leave your teaspoon inside the cup, but place it on your saucer facing the same direction as the handle of your cup instead.
Soup should be spooned away from your body. Tilt the bowl away from you as you skim the surface and take a spoonful, then sip daintily from the side of the spoon with minimal slurping. Remember not to blow on hot food or drink, simply allow it to cool and take a little at a time.