The Lost Art of Table Manners—Made Easy

Manners of all kinds are constantly evolving. These guidelines on how to be polite at the table bring a bit of civility to our sometimes uncivil world.

Woman hands isolated showing two hands holding spoon and fork on grey background, gesture of eating dinning.NeoStudio1/Shutterstock

Manners are constantly evolving to keep up with the times. These guidelines on how to be polite at the table may help bring a little civility to an increasingly uncivil world.

1. When helping a woman pull her chair to the table, hold it and guide it as she does the same. Don’t shove it against the back of her legs.

2. If you’re seated at a table with eight or fewer guests, wait for everyone to be served and for the hostess to begin eating before you dig in. At a long banquet table, it’s OK to start when several people are seated and served (polite people wouldn’t make these mistakes at Thanksgiving.)

3. All things not having to do with food (and decoration) should remain off the table: keys, clutch bags, cigarette packs, sunglasses, BlackBerrys.

4. Don’t snap your napkin open or unfurl it showily like it’s an Olympic flag.

5. If you prefer not to have wine while dining out, don’t turn your glass upside down, and don’t make a big deal of saying you don’t drink. Simply place your fingertips on the rim of the glass and say “Not today, thanks.” This implies no judgment of those who wish to imbibe.

6. Use your hand to shield your lemon as you squeeze it into your iced tea so you don’t inadvertently squirt your dining companion in the eye.

7. If you’re eating and want to take a sip, dab your mouth with your napkin to avoid staining the rim of the glass.

8. Grabbing a bowl of salad or a saltshaker as it’s being passed to someone who asked for it is the equivalent of cutting in line: greedy and rude.

9. On the subject of passing: Dishes go counterclockwise, but if someone to your left asks for something, you can hand it directly to him.

10. When you excuse yourself to go to the restroom, just say “Please excuse me.”

11. When out with friends or family — even at a fancy restaurant — it’s OK to ask for your leftovers to be wrapped. But don’t do it at a business lunch or dinner.

12. Should you text at the table at a social gathering? Farhad Manjoo on slate.com: “If you’re in a situation where you’d excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, you should also excuse yourself before reaching for your phone.”

Are you mindless with your manners? These royal etiquette rules may help.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest