Times may change and social barriers may collapse but one element of etiquette endures: table manners. Breaking bread with other people carries a deep meaning for most cultures and a set of behavioural rules is imprinted in our memory from a young age: we learn to sit upright, engage in polite conversation, say “please” and “thank you” and chew with our mouth closed.
As we grow older, we find ourselves dining in a variety of settings: formal occasions and business lunches, dinner parties and informal gatherings with friends. And although the lessons we learned as children laid the groundwork, they are not enough. This is why we put together some advice on dining etiquette that will help you navigate any challenge successfully.
Dine like a gentleman
1. Dress for the occasion
Some restaurants still apply a dress code and it is wise to check before going. However, even where there are no rules, it is polite to make an effort, more so when the dinner is intended to celebrate a special occasion. If you are looking for inspiration, check our collection of limited edition men’s suits that combine comfort and unique design features.
All invitations warrant a response but this is even more important when a meal is involved as the host will need to make a reservation. A gentleman will always RSVP and never cancel without a good reason.
3. Be on time
Any special requirements or requests, e.g. for a specific table, should be made at the point of reservation as opposed to ambushing staff upon arrival. Arrive on time for your booking and, if you haven’t made one, gracefully accept that a table may not be available.
4. Seating arrangements
If you are a guest, adapt to any arrangements made by your host which may include splitting up couples or good friends to encourage mingling. If no arrangements are in place, take your pick but try to engage in conversation with everyone around you. If you have children, keep them close as they may need help with their meal or get bored.
5. Off the table
Remember how your mum always told you to keep your elbows off the table? The same applies to mobile phones, keys, wallets etc. If you need to check your phone, apologise to those sitting around you.
6. Time to order
If there’s a host, let them take the lead and, if asked what you prefer, stay well away from the most expensive item on the menu. Otherwise, let ladies go first and, if you have any dietary requirements, briefly explain them to the waiter but don’t bore everyone with the details.
In formal settings, guests wait for the host to place the napkin on his/her lap before following suit but, in less rigid occasions, unfold the napkin on your lap as soon as you are seated. If you leave the table temporarily, the napkin should stay on your chair. Leaving the napkin on the table indicates that you have finished with your meal so it’s polite to wait until everyone has stopped eating.
It could be because of that scene in “Pretty Woman” where Julia Roberts has no idea which fork to eat with, but now everyone dreads cutlery. It’s all very simple: forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right, start from the outside and make your way in. Dessert spoons may be placed above the plate or only come with your order. If you are taking a break, think of your plate as a clock and place your knife and fork in the 4:40 position. If you place your fork and knife parallel to each other, you signal that you have finished and the waiter may collect your plate.
9. Which glass is mine
Another dreaded mistake is picking up someone else’s bread roll or glass. If you suffer from bread roll anxiety, form the ok gesture with both hands. It’s not some weird meditation technique to calm you down but, by touching your thumbs with your index fingers, you will see a “b” forming on your left hand and a “d” on your right hand. There you go! “b” stands for bread, and your roll will be to the left of your plate, and “d” stands for drink and your glasses will be to the right of your plate. If you need to choose between wine glasses, the white wine glass has a longer stem.
10. Toilet breaks
Keep them to a minimum or people might worry you are unwell or bored. Although it is impolite to make a public spectacle of your decision to visit the loo, do say something like “excuse me” to the people sitting close to you. In the past, it was imperative to stand up when a lady left the table but this is a dying habit as it tends to draw unnecessary attention to a lady’s bodily functions.
Social dining is more about the company than the food or the setting. This is why polite table manners indicate respect towards others, even more so when you are a guest and your host has gone into a considerable expense to please you. What is your top dining etiquette tip for modern gentlemen and what style do you go for when choosing a restaurant outfit?