No, we’re not in the buttoned-up 1950s, and you might not eat many dinners where there’s a question of which fork to use. Considering how many of us eat at our desks, on the couch, or in the car, the idea of following a bunch of table manners seems to apply to our lives less and and less. Maybe the point is moot in your solo meals, but when eating with others at home or at a restaurant, spare your dining partner the embarrassment or disgust that comes from tossing out all the rules. Let your mother feel like she did a good job raising you. Show her some of those teachings from childhood actually stuck. We’re all for enjoying our food with abandon and letting loose, but you don’t have to be gross or gauche about it.
1. The absolute most important rule above all else: Chew with your mouth closed. For the love of all that is holy, keep your trap shut when you’re eating. Yes, your server or your dining partner asked you a question just as you bit into that piece of pie, but resist. Please prevent others from viewing your masticating mouth’s contents. We’re not cows chewing cud. (Sound like your mother yet?)
2. Leave that freakin’ phone alone. This second-most critical habit to break didn’t exist 10 years ago, but it definitely bugs your mom and anyone else who wants you to pay attention to the live human beings eating with you. Keep your smartphone off the table and set to silent or vibrate, according to Emily Post Institute, the eponymous organization of the turn-of-the-century celebrated American etiquette author. Wait to check calls and texts until you are finished with the meal and away from the table. Some rules have changed though, according to our former manners columnist, Helena Echlin. The general idea is to give your full attention to the person or people at the table and avoid the phone unless it pertains to the conversation. Here’s a novel idea: Ask the server to explain an unfamiliar ingredient instead of immediately going to Google. Is the server or your dinner host clueless? OK, Google it.
3. On a similar note, there’s the issue of food photography and social media. Dying to Instagram your architectural wonder of a dessert at a high-end restaurant? We understand. A lot. Only a few restaurants have no photography rules. Do your photos discreetly, without a flash, making sure not to disturb other guests. Your photograph won’t work in a dark restaurant at night anyway, so don’t bother unless you’re near natural light in the daytime. And like No. 2 says, don’t spend time sharing it on social media while you’re dining with other people. Be present. You can post or check in before or after the meal. Check in with the real people in front of you.
4. Don’t groom yourself at the table. Go to the bathroom for that. This includes picking your teeth, cleaning your nails, brushing your hair, powdering your nose, and swiping on lipstick. Some might argue that last one, if it’s quick, but we maintain our stance. Seriously, that’s why bathrooms have mirrors. You don’t need a mirror to wash your hands.
5. Use your napkin — but not to hide unwanted bites of food you spit out or to make cool animal shapes. Place it on your lap as soon as you sit down, and leave it there until the meal is finished. Use that napkin, of course, to wipe your mouth when you’re confronted with a particularly messy dish. When you’ve finished eating, place it to the side of your plate. Check out our picks on dishes and table linens for special occasions.
6. Cut only one piece of food at a time, Emily Post says. It’s less efficient, but we’re not eating together for the methodical joy of it. Take your time. Practice mindful eating. You’ll notice the food more this way and better appreciate its flavor, color, smell, and texture. And if you’re trying to eat less to trim down, you’ll give your brain more time to register the satisfaction and feeling of fullness that your stomach is experiencing. The brain has to receive the signals from your digestive hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tract, according to Ann MacDonald of Harvard Health, the medical school’s blog. That can take about 20 minutes. You could eat twice as much as you need to feel full if you scarf it down in 10 minutes by making an assembly line of bites. These are the nine most essential knives to have in your kitchen.
7. This one is such a mom-ism. Don’t slouch or place your elbows on the table. You can break that last part of this rule in between courses. This sounds so corny and old-fashioned, but it truly looks bad when you’re hunched over your plate. Taking over the table with your limbs may convey ownership, but to what are you owning up to? No class, that’s what.
8. When you do find yourself at a meal with multiple layers of silverware surrounding your plate, follow this simple guide: Go outside in, according to the Etiquette Scholar. This tip particularly helps with the forks. The salad fork is placed outside the larger entrée fork, and yes, salads are usually served before the main meal. Your drink glasses are on the right, bread dish on the left. Don’t take your neighbor’s dishes. And ask for the water/salt/wine/dish to be passed to you instead of reaching across the table for it. Let’s help each other, people.
9. Don’t slurp, lick your plate, suck the sauce off your fingers (or someone else’s) — unless you’re in a place where the culture appreciates that kind of thing. For instance, a barbecue joint might have more relaxed rules, especially if they’re handing out packets of wet napkins. You might as well get saucy. And in many Asian cultures, slurping from your bowl of noodle broth soup is not considered rude. It’s pretty standard.
— Head image: Youth-ens News.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She’s trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.