Useful Things to Know About the Dining Etiquette

Dress Code: Follow whatever dress code is requested on the invitation or suggested by the host/hostess.

Arrival: Arrive at least 10 minutes early unless otherwise specified. Never arrive late!

Hostess Gift: It is proper to bring a small hostess gift, one that the hostess is not obliged to use that very evening. Gifts such as flowers, candy, or dessert, are not good hostess gifts, as the hostess will feel that it must put it out immediately. You must not never expect your gift to be served at the dinner party.

Seating: At a dinner party, wait for the host or hostess sits down before taking your seat. If the host/hostess asks you to sit, then do. At a very formal dinner party, if there are no name cards at the table, wait until the host indicates where you should sit. The seating will typically be man-woman-man-woman with the women seated to the right of the men.

Prayer: A prayer or ‘blessing’ may be customary in some households. The dinner guests may join in or be respectfully silent. Most prayers are made by the host before the meal is eaten.

Toast: Sometimes a toast is offered instead of a prayer. Always join in with a toast. If the host stands up during the toast, also stand up.

End of Dinner: Serving tea or coffee signifies that the formal part of the evening is over. Guests may now feel free to leave, or linger if the host or hostess encourages them to do so.

Thank You Note: After a formal dinner party, a thank you note should be sent to the hostess. Depending on how well you know your hosts, a telephone call is also acceptable.

Serving food:

  • Food is served from the left. Dishes are removed from the right.

  • Always say please when asking for something.

  • At a restaurant, be sure to say thank you to your server and bus boy after they have removed any used items.

  • Butter, spreads, or dips should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating.

Passing dishes or food:

  • Pass food from the left to the right. Do not stretch across the table, crossing other guests, to reach food or condiments.

  • If another diner asks for the salt or pepper, pass both together, even if a table mate asks for only one of them. This is so dinner guests will not have to search for orphaned shakers.

  • Set any passed item, whether it’s the salt and pepper shakers, a bread basket, or a butter plate, directly on the table instead of passing hand-to-hand.

  • Never intercept a pass. Snagging a roll out of the breadbasket or taking a shake of salt when it is en route to someone else is a no-no.

  • Always use serving utensils to serve yourself, not your personal silverware.

Eating:

  • Do NOT talk with food in your mouth! This is very rude and distasteful to watch! Wait until you have swallowed the food in your mouth.

  • Always taste your food before seasoning it. Usually the hostess has gone to a lot of work making sure the food served is delicious to her standards. It is very rude to add salt and pepper before tasting the food.

  • Do not blow on your food to cool it off. If it is too hot to eat, take the hint and wait until it cools.

  • Always scoop food, using the proper utensil, away from you.

  • Cut only enough food for the next mouthful (cut no more than two bites of food at a time). Eat in small bites and slowly.

  • Do eat a little of everything on your plate. If you do not like the food and feel unable to give a compliment, just keep silent. It is acceptable to leave some food on your plate if you are full and have eaten enough. If the food served is not to your liking, it is polite to at least attempt to eat a small amount of it. It is never acceptable to ask a person why they have not eaten all the food. Don’t make an issue if you do not like something or can’t eat it – keep silence.

  • Even if you have dietary restrictions, it is inappropriate to request food other than that which is being served by the host at a private function. If you have serious dietary restrictions or allergies, let your host know in advance of the dinner.

  • Do not “play with” your food or utensils. Never wave or point silverware. Do not hold food on the fork or spoon while talking, nor wave your silverware in the air or point with it.

  • Try to pace your eating so that you do not finish before others are halfway through. If you are a slow eater, try to speed up a bit on this occasion so you do not hold everyone up. Never continue to eat long after others have stopped.