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10 Table Etiquette Mistakes You Really Need to Stop Making

"No shirt, no shoes, no service" may be just as applicable at your table as the corner store, but there may be some less obvious etiquette norms that are slipping your mind.

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Not speaking up

Whether you vegan, celiac, or down with Dukan, you should let your dining companions know your dietary restrictions before (and, we mean, days prior) the event. Saying something upon a dinner invitation gives your host ample time to menu plan or select a restaurant that offers items in tune with your tastes. Waiting until arrival can make for an uncomfortable evening, especially if the main course is a braised organ meat that the host spent half the day prepping. Want perfect etiquette in any situation? Check out these 50 tips you should always follow.


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Switching seats

Love the one you’re with. “Don’t complain about who you’re sitting next to if seats are pre-arranged,” says Sharon Schweitzer, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and founder of Access to Culture. Anyone who has planned a wedding can tell you that crafting seating charts is an art form. While you may want to catch up with your college roommate’s old boyfriend, the hostess may have sat you with a network connection for your growing business. “If you really have an issue with someone, I’d recommend communicating this to your host beforehand,” says David Leo Yarus, gentleman, etiquette expert, and life connoisseur.

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Taking charge

“The host sets the pace and tone of the meal,” says Schweitzer. Defer to your hostess when ordering, starting conversation, or kicking off the dancing portion of the dinner party. And if you happen to be planning a future event, here are tips to planning the perfect dinner party.

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Not passing the right way

According to Schweitzer, food and condiments should be passed around the table counterclockwise. When you are passed an item that you do not care for, simple continue moving it around the table, she adds. If you are the middle person delivering a plate on the request of a neighbor, it’s considered bad form to do a little rest stop and take some for yourself, says Yarus. Our experts agree that salt and pepper always travel together. They also advise asking for items that are not within your immediate reach, which is an imaginary box that measures equitably around from the widest points of your folded elbows. Sounds fussy? Find out the etiquette rules the royal family is expected to follow.

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The hard pass

Don’t want coffee, wine, or another beverage on offer? Simply demure, instructs Schweitzer. “Don’t flip the cup over or place your hand over the cup,” she says. “Politely refuse the drink when the sommelier or waiter comes by, or allow the cup to be filled and not drink from it,” she adds. If you want wine but are a little unsure about varietals, check out this guide.

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Checking your phone

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before—love the one you’re with. Checking, rechecking, and glancing at your phone again is just plain rude. “It’s pretty disrespectful to constantly look at your screen or use social media sites during an important lunch meeting or dinner with colleagues and friends,” says Schweitzer. Resist the urge to pick up on every single notification. Don’t forget these other cell phone etiquette tips you should be following. 

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Digging in

That whole eat-while-it’s-hot thinking is actually a serious no-no. Always wait until the host is seated, says Schweitzer. Also refrain from eating until everyone at the table has been served, she says. An exception to this norm is a casual buffet setting like a backyard BBQ, notes Yarus.

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Ignoring others

While yelling down the table to someone and otherwise hijacking conversation is poor form, it is polite to engage with fellow guests, even those you don’t know. “Try to talk with everyone at the table,” says Yarus. “Always make eye contact and smile.” Sounds civilized, right? Here are 46 etiquette tips from the Victorian age that should make a comeback.

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Getting up

“Always prepare yourself by going to the restroom and washing your hands before the start of any meal,” says Schweitzer. “Avoid excusing yourself more than once during the meal, as it can be considered disrespectful,” she adds. However, she notes, if you must get up, exit to the right of your chair and enter from the right upon returning.

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No thanks

Basic alert: A genuine thank you goes a long way. A quick text or email after an event is always expected. A handwritten note—here are some guidelines—is downright classy.