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What the fork? Modern table etiquette 101

Mind your manners. Keep your elbows off the table. Don’t use your fork as a spoon. Eat with your mouth closed. Don’t lift your bowl off the table. Any of these sound familiar?

Growing up we all had varying degrees of dinner table rules dictated by our parents. And now, as we’re all full-on adulting, we’re expected to know and conform to the universal laws of the dinner table. But what are the rules anyway?

A little context

Table etiquette has been around for centuries in various forms. During the Middle Ages most dining tables were simply boards placed over trestles, hence the expression “set the table” – but that’s where their table manners started and ended.

Good table manners only became more of a trend during the Renaissance period (cue fancy classical music and images of people in wigs and over-the-top dresses, tut-tutting around). The introduction of the fork was revolutionary at this time. People became more aware of hygiene and took measures to prevent the spread of germs, dictating things like: “no double-dipping”. Which was (and is) fair enough – research has shown double-dipping food when you’ve already taken a bite of it, exponentially increases the bacteria in the dip or sauce. So they were on to something.

At the same time though, the Renaissance standards for table etiquette were quite inconsistent. If one needed to release some, shall we say, gas, you were expected to excuse yourself, or at least cough to hide the sound.

That’s right, it used to be acceptable to let rip at the table, provided you made some effort to disguise it. Thankfully, much has changed and evolved when it comes to table etiquette since then. So here’s a simple guide on the basic do’s and don’ts in 2019:


DON’T clear the table when people are still eating

A simple one that makes a lot of sense. Just as you should wait for everyone to have their food in front of them before starting to eat, you should also wait until everyone is finished the same course before starting to clear the plates. Why? It’s about allowing people the time to enjoy their food without being rushed (which is both rude and a choking hazard).

DO start outwards in

While it’s becoming less common, at formal and some semi-formal meals, the tables are pre-set with the cutlery already laid out. If that’s the case, remember there will be as many pairs of utensils as there are courses. Always start from the outside in, ending with the dessert spoon which is usually at the top of your place setting.

That said, the modern trend is for utensils to be set, cleared and reset with each course. This removes a lot of the adulting guesswork and angst by making it pretty clear what to eat with and when. Phew. Thanks modernisation.


DO use the correct glass for its intended use  

Last month, we looked at the wide range of glassware and which glass to use for which drink. Here are the cliff notes: At a formal event, you’ll likely have 2-3 glasses at your place setting. There’ll be a wine glass and water glass. If it’s a celebratory event, there may be a champagne glass for the toast. If you’d like another type of drink, politely ask the waiter/barmen and they’ll bring your beverage in the glass best suited to it.

Remember, your glasses will always be to the right of you, your side plate to the left, so don’t make the faux-pas of eating your neighbour’s bread roll, or sipping on their wine.


Do act politely

While the Renaissance period gave some bodily functions a little too much freedom, in 2019, the only sounds should be coming from polite conversation, while the only smells should be coming from the kitchen.


We’ll spell it out if we must: No releasing gas (from the top or the bottom). No blowing your nose (head to the bathroom for that). No slurping of soup, or sauces. Don’t talk with your mouth full. And, don’t lick your fingers.

The bottom line is simply this: Everything your mom told you about table manners was probably right. You’re welcome 😉

Got an important event coming up? Need help with logistics and equipment hire? That’s what the MPR Hiring team is here for. We’ve been pulling off incredible events for decades and we are always keen to help guide our clients when it comes to the details. Get in touch to start the conversation.