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The Hill Life: Dining Etiquette

With the holidays and the accompanying parties approaching, a number of you have written in to ask for a post on dining etiquette.  Frankly, when I was on the Hill, I tried to avoid eating in front of work colleagues whenever possible.  But there are simply some situations where it cannot be avoided, so a grasp of basic dining etiquette is a valuable skill to have.

There are simply too many dining “rules” to learn.  But here is a diagram that outlines a few of the dining and eating basics:

From Pinterest.

These are just a few of the basic dining rules that you should know.  For a more comprehensive list, including how to pass food and condiments, how to eat soup, etc., click here

Advice on proper dining etiquette can vary, but there is one rule remains true everywhere: Be nice to the waiter.  Diners who are rude or condescending toward the wait staff make a terrible impression on the other people at the table.  The waiter is not your personal slave, and should not be treated with disrespect. 

If my boss, my employee or my guest was rude to a waiter, I would be mortified.  I would also start rethinking what kind of person I work for/with/alongside. 

Any bits of etiquette that you would like to share?  Leave them in the comments.

Leave a Reply to The Dash · cancel comment

    28 comments

  1. RachelRemarks says:

    Nothing screams “I'm at the grown ups table for the first time” like someone who butters the entire slab of bread/roll and takes a bite. The rule here is that it is considered a faux pas to leave that half circle of teeth marks when you take a bite, so tear off small pieces of bread and butter them individually.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  2. The Dash says:

    My absolute pet peeve is people who stack their plates at the table or put their napkin on top of their plate after they're done. So gross.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  3. Mel says:

    Chew with your mouth closed and don't speak with food in your mouth. I've been on so many business lunches where this has happened. It is so nauseating to see someone else's half masticated mouth mush.

    Also, along the same lines: don't smack your lips. Once you put the food in your mouth, lips stay closed until the next bite.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  4. Belle says:

    Mel- This is why I don't go to business meeting where I have to eat unless there is no way to avoid it. You're supposed to talk, you're doing business, if you obey the rules and keep your mouth closed while you chew either a) you get no business done or b) you take twice as long.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  5. bt says:

    if you are unsure or forget about which side your drink or your bread plate is on, my dad taught me a little trick. face your palms towards eachother and touch your index finger to your thumb. your left hand will look like a “b” for bread plate and your right hand will look like a “d” for drink. easy little trick so that your not the dummy who drinks someone else's beverage or eats off of the wrong plate.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  6. S says:

    @TheDash – I stack my plates and try to clean up as much as possible to follow Belle's rule of always being nice to the waiter. I think it makes their job easier. Is this a real rule or just a personal preference of yours? I had no idea I might be offending people!

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  7. Ashley says:

    @S – I used to waitress at a Country Club and was a banquet server at a few different hotels and it would drive me nuts when people would stack their dirty dishes. It is not helpful. When the wait staff is clearing the table and loading a tray, they do so in a systematic, organized order so that they can carry the tray of dirty dished on their shoulder back to the kitchen. Also, it makes your table look trashy when you stack the plates, bowls, etc.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  8. The Dash says:

    @S – good question. I don't know – it's just what I was always taught. I definitely understand the desire to be more helpful to the wait staff though.

    I know when I host dinner parties, it annoys me because there is actually a method to my madness in cleaning/organizing so I like to take them individually. Also, staked plates tend to be very unstable plates and the last thing I want to do is dump food on the table or a guest.

    At the very least, we can probably all agree that no stacking should ever be done while others at the table are still eating (also a pet peeve when waiters take one guest's plate while others are still eating)?

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  9. Zoe says:

    As a former server, I always stack my plates and always appreciated when a customer would stack them for me. I never thought this was an etiquette rule no-no, but hey to each his own.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  10. amy b.s. says:

    i have a few close relatives that are horrible to wait staff. i am always humiliated. but how do you get rid of your relatives!

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  11. Victoria says:

    Who eats asparagus with their hands??

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  12. Serena says:

    Okay, that link in the post to the more comprehensive rules of dining etiquette says that you should put your napkin on the table when you leave the table during the meal and never place it on your chair, but I learned that you should never place your napkin on the table while people are still eating and it should instead go on your chair. Which is right?

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  13. L.A. says:

    so this is kind of a dovetail off amy b.s's statement – but I have a close close friend that I go out to eat occasionally (we are both so busy that going out to dinner is pretty much our default get together – neither of us have time for too much else, but we have to eat) she is always very rude to waiters and a very VERY picky eater – she always makes a ton of substitutions to her dishes, to the point wehre she basically is just ordering a plain chicken breast or whatever. it's not allegeries or diet, just her preference. she also INSISTS every time that we split the meal, not halfway, but by adding up each item we each ate and itemizing it. We go out enough that im sure in the end, we'd come out a wash, but shes just very cheap. she also carries a calculator and whips it out to figure out usually 15 % tip – if i insist on paying any more tip, its coming out of just me. which i usually do, because I know how little waiters can make. Help! sugesstions.?! anyone have similar friends?

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  14. MM says:

    Re: different ideas on napkins, plate stacking etc., – I think this discussion illustrates how with manners everyone gets very obsessed with absolute rules and think other people are heathens for breaking these rules, when really the other person is probably just following the (contradicting) rules that they were taught. I'm trying to train myself (in general) to recognize that other people are probably just doing the best they can, and I should try to do that too, rather than judging others when they don't follow my “rules.” So for me if someone is trying to be a good/nice/helpful/polite person (like Belle's point about being nice to the wait staff) that shows better manners than where they put their napkin.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  15. PS says:

    Never start eating until all the guests are served (unless someone is waiting on a special order/mistake and has asked you to go ahead without him/her). And when in doubt, take your cues from your host(ess).

    Also, I believe stacking is against the rules. Part of respecting the wait staff is respecting their job. Let them do it.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  16. Sara says:

    To counter PS, I've read that if you are served hot food (e.g. a soup course) when dining in a group, it is appropriate to begin eating immediately, and you do not need to wait for everyone else to be served.

    Question for the group – how do you balance a drink and a plate of appetizers when at a cocktail party where tables or seating is limited? I'm not coordinated, so I usually end up eating, or drinking. Not both at the same time. Any advice?

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  17. RachelRemarks says:

    Sara – here is a tried and true tip for balancing your plate and glass at a cocktail party or reception.

    In your left hand:
    1. Hold your napkin between your pinkie and ring finger
    2. Hold your plate btwn ring and middle finger
    3. Put your glass ON the plate (close to the edge) and use your middle, pointer, and thumb to grip it

    That leaves your right hand free for shaking hands and also to pick up your glass to take a sip.

    Might be wise to practice this once at home before debuting it at a party 🙂

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  18. Whitney says:

    @ L.A. – I have a friend like that. I started to suggest that we meet up at her place or my place and either cook a simple, fun meal together or order a pizza. If this isn't an option b/c of logistics, could you meet up for happy hour specials instead of a sit-down dinner? That way you could each start a separate tab.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  19. Rachel says:

    @L.A. Just ask for separate checks from the get go. Most restaurants have computer systems right now that make this pretty painless and if it's just the two of you, most servers won't mind (I say this as a former server). You'll each be responsible for tipping for your portion and if you feel the need, you can always add a little extra to make up for her stinginess.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  20. Sara says:

    RachelRemarks, you are amazing. I think I can master this before the work holiday parties start.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  21. Belle says:

    Sara and PS-It is true that you can start eating hot food immediately, but must wait with cold foods. I hold back for just a second out of courtesy.

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  22. norwegianette says:

    Re: eating hot food immediately vs waiting for everyone to be served: I was taught that if you get hot food (or something like sorbet etc for dessert that will melt or otherwise screw up if you wait) and you're in a big group (i.e. a group of > 8 – dunno why it's 8 exactly, it seems kinda random, but I've read it in an etiquette book as well as hearing it from both my grandmas), but if the group is smaller you should wait. I guess the thing is it really only works if the restaurant have their timing down so everyone gts served pretty much at the same time. Anyway, just what I was taught 🙂

    November 2, 2011/Reply
  23. Halley | Poster Printing says:

    This is just perfect! I've always been confused on where to place the fork and spoon and I always mess up the table when eating soup. I actually saw it on tv, the way you have to hold the bowl of soup. Thanks for this! This will really come in handy.

    November 3, 2011/Reply
  24. ss says:

    For those of you who avoid mixing business with food, it may help to develop a short list of venues where you know you can rely on good but unobtrusive food, service and surroundings, and where you can become a regular and feel like you can host a working meal in comfort. It would be weird to entirely avoid lunch meetings, so best to develop a plan for dealing with them ! If your job requires that you or your boss host lunch presentations and such, then your short-list should cover this as well – while most hotels and some restaurants with a business crowd can provide a private room, you are looking for a place where staff are trained to pass round courses without distracting the speaker, where you can set up audio-visual kit if need etc etc. Keep an eye out for these aspects when attending other people's functions – you will soon have a feel for which venue works and which doesn't.

    November 3, 2011/Reply
  25. ss says:

    I particularly find that going to where I'm known as a regular is important when I take a mixed group or a male colleague/ client/ counterparty out for lunch and want to make sure the bill comes to me without any argument. I still recall one occasion when I took someone out to lunch specifically to say thank you for a professional courtesy he had extended – I picked a nice place and we ran up an impressive bill including good wine – and then the bill came, my companion reached out for it and the waiter just shrugged his shoulders with a sheepish grin.

    November 3, 2011/Reply
  26. Govvie says:

    A really rude thing I've noticed is people taking food from a buffet (e.g., a piece of fruit or cheese) and putting in right into their mouth as opposed to using a plate! Disgusting. Granted, I have only seen men do this, not ladies, but I've seen it in supposedly nice venues among executives! I think they probably excuse it due to the fact that they are “only having one,” but a small plate should be used regardless.

    November 3, 2011/Reply
  27. Mel says:

    I'm a huge believer in having a small snack before going to any business meeting where there will be food. That way if I don't have the opportunity to eat as much as I would like (i.e. I'm leading the meeting or get drawn into a long conversation) I won't be starving at the end.

    I would also add that should you get food stuck in your teeth, please don't pick it out at the table. There's a restroom, please use it.

    November 5, 2011/Reply
  28. Mallory says:

    As someone who was been a server for quite some time now, I would echo the sentiment that stacking your plates isn't helpful to us. We have a system and (no offense) the way people stack their plates and utensils usually leads to us having to awkwardly balance the plates in order to not drop it on you or the floor.

    Additionally, please be aware that if you have both of your utensils in the “resting” position, or on your napkin, and it seems you haven't touched your food in a while, that's generally a sign to us that you're finished eating. So if we go to take your plate or ask if you're finished, please don't look at us like we just asked for your first born child.

    December 4, 2011/Reply