Dinner Etiquette

Formal Dinner Etiquette

Cheat Sheet

The formal dinner begins at eight or eight-thirty. It is very discourteous for a guest to be late. Arrive at least five minutes before the hour set for the dinner. The tardy guest begins with the course that is then being served.

Seating at a Formal Dinner

At a formal dinner, the host enters the dining room first with the woman guest of honor on his right arm. The other guests follow in couples; the hostess enters last with the most important man. The host sits at one end of the table and the hostess at the other, unless by so doing women would sit together, as is true when there are eight, twelve, or sixteen in the dinner party.

Then, the hostess moves one place to the left, and the most important man sits at the end of the table in her place. The woman guest of honor is seated at the right of the host. The most important man or the man guest of honor is seated at the right of the hostess.

Seating at an Informal Dinner

At an informal dinner, the hostess leads the women guests into the dining room followed by the host and the men guests. The hostess then tells her guests where to sit.. The host and hostess sit at opposite ends of the table. While customarily the oldest woman sits at the right of the host and the oldest man at the right of the hostess, guests may be placed wherever they will be happiest.

Each person stands casually behind his chair until the hostess starts to take her seat. The man helps his dinner partner to be seated and also helps move her chair as she rises. Each person moves to the left of the chair to be seated and also rises from the left.

Do not lean back in the chair; yet do not sit too close to the table. Keep your feet on the floor. Your feet may be crossed if you wish, but not your knees.

The Speaker’s Table

At a public dinner, the speaker’s table is placed in a conspicuous part of the room. The toastmaster sits in the middle seat on the side facing the room. On the toastmaster’s right sits the honored guest, the principal speaker of the evening. On the toastmaster’s left sits the second most important guest. All those at the speaker’s table, of course, sit on the side of the table facing the room. Guests other than the speakers may be honored by being placed at the speaker’s table.


Whether to serve the hostess or the woman guest of honor first is up to the hostess. Regardless of which woman is served first, the waiter moves to the right, serving each guest in turn, around the table. The man guest of honor, no matter how distinguished, is never served first.

When the waiter holds a dish so that you may serve yourself, he presents it at your left. Treat the waiter impersonally while you are being served. “Thank you,” “No, thank you,” or, “If you please,” in low tones is sufficient.

A Place Setting

A setting consists of the silver, glass, china, and linen necessary to serve one person. From 20 to 24 inches are allowed for each cover.

The silver that is on the table is to be used through the salad course and is arranged in the order of use. Begin each course with the silver farthest from the plate. The silver for the dessert is brought in with the dessert.

The bread-and-butter plate is placed above the forks and therefore is on your left. The butter knife may be placed across this plate. The water glass is placed at the tip of the dinner knife and is therefore on your right.


The napkin is placed at the left of the forks or on the service plate. Do not be the first to reach for your napkin. Wait until the hostess reaches for hers; then take the napkin, unfold it in half, and place it upon your lap with the fold toward you.

The napkin may be used occasionally to wipe the lips before or after taking a drink. Women should avoid soiling the napkins with lipstick, which is often difficult to remove.

Dinner Fork

The fork is held incorrectly more often than any other piece of silver.

When using the knife and fork together, as in cutting meat, the fork is held in the left hand so that the end of the handle touches the center of the palm of the hand, and the handle is grasped with the thumb and the first and second fingers, the first finger pointing toward the prongs.

After the portion of meat has been cut, the knife is laid down and the fork is transferred to the right hand. The meat is then carried to the mouth with the fork, prongs up. This is the American method.

According to the English or continental method, after the portion of meat is cut, the knife is still held in the right hand and the meat is carried to the mouth with the fork in the left hand, prongs down. Both versions are acceptable. The European version is slightly easier at tight tables.

The fork is held with the thumb and the first and second fingers. Vegetables should be eaten with the fork. Do not pierce vegetables or bread with the fork Slip the fork under the vegetables. Bread should be taken from the plate with the fingers. Put only one kind of food on the fork at a time. Use the fork to put butter on vegetables and jelly on meat.

Eat juicy uncooked fruits, soft or sticky cake, pie, and brick ice cream with a fork. When eating pie, hold the fork the same as you do for vegetables. Watermelon is eaten with a fork, cantaloupe with a spoon.

Dinner Knife

Use the knife for cutting firm meat and other foods that cannot be cut with a fork. The knife is held in the right hand in exactly the same manner as the fork. Grasp the knife handle with the thumb and the first and second fingers; slide the first finger out on the handle, but do not let it extend along the blade.

Cut chicken from the bone with the knife and fork just as you would any other kind of meat. Never take chicken in the fingers unless you are at a picnic where silver is not provided. After cutting meat, do not clean the knife by rubbing it against the fork or a piece of bread; however, keep the knife as clean as possible.

The dinner knife may be used to spread butter on bread if a butter knife has not been provided. Break off a small piece of bread and hold it on the edge of the bread-and-butter plate or the dinner plate to spread it. When this is eaten, break off another small piece and spread it. A whole, small biscuit may be buttered at one time without removing it from the plate as it is considered more delicious if it is buttered while hot. Jelly -except jelly eaten with meat-jam, and butter should be put on the bread-and-butter plate and is spread with a knife.

Corn on the cob is buttered with the knife. Spread a small area-not too wide-and eat this, holding the ear with both hands if you wish. Then butter more, and continue to eat as quietly and daintily as possible.

When the knife is not in use, place it with the cutting edge in, on the upper right arc of the plate; keep both the blade and handle on the plate. Always place the silver quietly on the china.

When passing the plate for a second helping or at the end of a course, place the knife and fork in the center of the plate with the handles at the lower right edge; then there will be little danger that the silver will fall when the plate is lifted from the table.


When eating soup, put only the side of the spoon to the mouth. Put the spoon in the soup, tip it away from you until it fills sufficiently, and then lift it to the mouth. Do not fill the spoon more than three-fourths full. Dip away from you with soup, but toward you with everything else.

If soup is served in a bouillon cup, you may leave the spoon on the saucer and drink from the cup. Vegetable soup, rice soup, clam chowder, or other thick soups are usually served in soup plates. Leave the spoon in the soup plate, not on the service plate.

Stir a beverage gently, not vigorously round and round. Never leave a spoon standing in a cup or glass. Ice cream served in a sherbet glass or an ice served with the meal is eaten with a spoon. Do not leave the spoon standing in the sherbet glass; when the spoon is not in use, put it on the plate under the glass.

In eating cherries or other cooked fruit containing pits or seeds, it is easier to extract the pits or seeds with the spoon before the fruit is put in the mouth. However, seeds, pits, or bones may be removed from the mouth with the finger and thumb. Do not put potato peelings or fish bones on the bread-and-butter plate, on the table cloth, or in a saucer; leave them on the dinner plate.

Spoon and Fork

When serving yourself with a serving spoon and fork, hold the spoon in the right hand and the fork in the left, using the spoon to lift the food from the dish or platter and the fork to hold the food in place while serving it.

Finger Foods

Use the fingers for bread, rolls, cookies, potato chips, small pickles, olives, radishes, celery, nuts, or candy. Bread, rolls, olives, radishes, and celery are put on the bread-and-butter plate.

All sandwiches, unless they are of unusual thickness, are held with the fingers. Thick sandwiches may be cut into small pieces and the pieces picked up with the fingers. Cake too may be eaten with the fingers unless the icing is sticky.

Finger Bowl

Dip the tips of your fingers, one hand at a time, into the water in the finger bowl; then wipe them on the napkin, wrinkling it as little as possible.

Miscellaneous Hints

At a small dinner party, do not start to eat until all guests are served. At a large dinner party, you may start to eat as soon as those near you have been served.

Elbows should not be put on the table when you are eating; however, between courses at a restaurant, it is permissible to lean forward on your elbows.

If silver is dropped on the floor, leave it there. If an accident happens at the table, apologize briefly to your hostess.

If you must use your handkerchief at the table, turn your head slightly and use the handkerchief as inconspicuously as possible. If you cough or sneeze, use your napkin to cover your mouth.

The hostess continues to eat as long as her guests do. When all have finished, she rises from the table and the others follow.

Time to Depart

It is not necessary to remain longer than thirty minutes after a dinner if the invitation does not include the entire evening or entertainment.


Don’t be late

Don’t stay too late

Watch what your hostess does.

Butter plate- left

Water- right

Napkin in lap

Serve yourself from the left

Utensils in the center of the plate when done or plate is passed.

Copies of this are available in our stores.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s