10 Essential Social Etiquette Secrets You Should Know If You Can’t Take Etiquette Classes

Updated: Jan. 31, 2024

You already know that good manners are important, but you many not want to shell out the cash to learn all the ins and outs. Here's everything you'll learn in a fancy etiquette class—free of charge.

Beautiful table setKite_rin/ShutterstockPass dishes to the right

If you’re eating a family-style meal (meaning not individual plates, but multiple dishes that are shared amongst the table), you always pass the dish to the right, or counterclockwise. This is very helpful if multiple dishes are being passed at the same time. Not only will this help you get to eating faster, but if all dishes are going the same direction, there’s a lot less of a chance of dropping a dish or other food disasters. Mind your manners by following these 50 additional etiquette tips.

Introduce the oldest person first

According to Myka Meier, founder and director at Beaumont Etiquette, a company that provides online and in-person training to adults and children, you want to start with the oldest person, or the highest ranking person first, i.e. introduce your Grandpa before introducing your little brother and the president of your company before a colleague. One last note: introduce a woman before a man.

Shake hands the right way

While you probably know that a firm handshake is very important, shaking hands for the proper amount of time is equally as important. You wouldn’t want to shake your boss’ hand the same way you’d shake your friend’s. “When shaking hands, it is two pumps of the hand in business situations and three pumps in social,” says Meier. Shaking hands may seem trivial, but we’ve all been in a situation where the other person won’t let go of your hand. A handshake can reveal a lot about a person—here’s what yours says about you.

Use your napkin

First things first, always put your napkin on your lap. According to Meier, napkins should be folded in half with the crease facing you. “Wipe your mouth by opening the napkin and dabbing your mouth inside the fold so that all stains stay contained to the inside of the napkin,” she says. And after the meal, never ever leave your napkin on the floor or your chair. Instead, place it to the left of the plate. These dining etiquette rules will have restaurants loving you.

Sit across from your partner

Unless you’re celebrating a special occasion, like an anniversary, birthday, or engagement, it’s best to sit across from your boyfriend or girlfriend rather than next to them. It’s much easier to have a conversation facing a person instead of having to constantly turn your head to the side. And dessert sharing is way easier with the plate in the middle. Plus it does look a bit odd when there’s an entire table of open space, yet you’re both squished on the same side. Try following these White House etiquette rules at your next formal dinner.

Hold the stem of a glass

Who doesn’t love a good glass of red wine? And who wants to make sure their said glass stays enjoyable? Well, that’s where hand placement comes into the play. “If a glass has a stem you hold it there because we never want to heat the liquid in the glass,” says Meier. All types of wines should be held at the stem. In fact, most drinks, like champagne and martinis should also be held by the stem. Here’s how to say “Cheers!” around the world.

Good posture is key

Not only is slouching incredibly bad for you in terms of health, but it also makes you look bad, too. Good posture puts less strain on your body’s muscles and helps reduce stress. You’ll have less pain and probably live an overall happier and healthier life with good posture. Want to look thinner? Sit and stand up straightly. Want to ease your back pain? Sit and stand up straighter. Always remember shoulders back. Improve your posture with these 3 easy tricks.

Just go to the bathroom

No, you don’t need to tell the entire table that you’re going to the bathroom. “Never announce you must use the restroom, simply excuse yourself,” says Meier. “You should say “please excuse me.'” Obviously, this rule doesn’t always have to be followed, for instance, if your mom asks where you’re going, but does your date really need to know that you’re going to pee? In general, it’s a good idea to just say “please excuse me.” And while you’re there, follow these rules for public bathroom etiquette.

Brush your hair in private

“Never apply makeup or groom in public,” advises Meier. Now there is some leeway with this rule, because let’s face it, it’s hard to apply your lipstick in private when you’re constantly on the go. Most etiquette experts agree that applying or reapplying makeup in public is OK, but if there’s a bathroom nearby, just go in it. However, grooming tasks, like brushing your hair and clipping your nails, should never be done in public. Please stop doing these gross everyday habits in public, too.

Be kind

The most important rule is just to be kind and respectful to all that you meet. This is absolutely easier said than done, but you always want to portray the best version of yourself. Whether you’re talking to your spouse’s parents or the checkout clerk at the grocery store, you should always be thoughtful and kind because impressions are lasting. Read on for nine easy ways to practice kindness daily.