Attention! We British can be a stickler for proper table manners, and when it comes to quintessential British etiquette, there are few niceties to observe!
When one is invited to dine, you are absolutely at liberty to accept or decline the invitation. The single biggest social faux pas would be not to respond at all. If the invitation is formal, respond in writing before the date given, and don’t even think about changing your mind, it’s unspeakably rude! If circumstances absolutely stop you from attending, always let your host/ess know as soon as possible.
All in the timing
On the day, to minimise grief and being frowned upon, try arriving within half an hour of the stated time on the invitation. Too early and your host/ess will be running around organising the meal and themselves, and too late and you’ll be greeted with burnt offerings! A gift of wine or flowers is always appreciated.
Observe if there’s a theme and don’t be the odd one out. If it’s formal or business then gentlemen are no longer expected to wear a dinner jacket, but if your lovely lady is making an effort to wear a dress, then equalling the effort is jolly good manners. Tucking one’s shirt in is the absolute basic requirement for all men over the age of 5. For ladies, too much exposed flesh can often put other guests off their food, great British modesty is key.
Eat your food…
If you have specific dietary needs then do share them with your host/hostess a few days before so the appropriate preparations can be made, otherwise button it and just eat up…this is the rule of basic, old-fashioned, common-or-garden manners.
Do’s and Do Not’s…
- Social manners are expected and appreciated when it’s time to sit, men should seat the ladies first and rise when they leave and return to the table.
- Do make sure that you wait for your host to start eating first or to give the signal…
- You may eat Chicken and Pizza with your hands only at a barbecue…otherwise you use a knife and fork!
- If bread rolls are served, break them with your fingers not with your knife. Only a small piece of roll at a time (never the whole thing) should be buttered, with a butter knife.
- Soup should be spooned away from you with the bowl tilted away and even if it’s steaming hot, never embarrass yourself by blowing on it!
- Never mix, mash, scrape, or move food with your fingers – goodness grief!
- Please don’t chew or talk with an open mouth or lick your knife, it’s just tacky.
- Tricky peas can be slightly crushed or use mashed potato to stick them to your fork but never use your fork like a shovel to scoop them up!
- Using any form of gadget at the table is an absolute no-no and contrary to popular trends, at a formal dinner party, food should never be shared with the entire social-media world.
- Food stuck between teeth is tricky…do not use toothpicks, fingernails, knives or napkins to dislodge the food at the table. Excuse yourself and take care of it discreetly.
When it comes to cutlery, according to Debretts (the recognised authority on etiquette, influence and achievement since John Debrett’s first edition of The Peerage in 1769.) ‘The fork and spoon are the only things that should go into the mouth’.
Place your serviette (no it’s not a napkin!), in your lap and keep it there until you leave the table, and then place it by the left side of your plate, never on top. Never ever, tuck it into the collar of your shirt or blow your nose on it.
When it comes to cutlery, start from the outside and work your way inward with each course. The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right. The fork should have the prongs facing down, and the knife is used to move food closer to the fork or support food so the fork can pick it up. Formally rest your knife and fork (prongs down) on your plate during mouthfuls and whilst chit chatting.
Both your dessert spoon and dessert fork should be used to devour your dessert, with your fork in your left hand and your spoon in your right, break the dessert with your spoon, one bite at a time and manoeuvre this morsel with your fork onto the spoon and eat.
In all instances avoid lunging across the table, it’s polite to request that something is passed to you and if you’re doing the passing, always pass to the right.
When eating is complete, place your knife and fork side by side in the middle of your plate, fork prongs down, knife to the right with the blade turned inward toward the fork. All spoons should be placed on the side plate and please don’t start stacking the dishes like you work at a diner!
Finally, at the dinner table, absolutely never ever….
Smoke, rock on your chair, apply your make-up, drink from the finger bowl, be a bore, or pass out from over consumption of wine ;-)
The best table manners are always those that no one notices.