Eating with groups is one of the most socially significant events that humans partake in, and if you care at all about:

  1. Not offending people

  2. Not appearing like a neanderthal

…you may want to review the following.

Some of these primers I make based on my own knowledge. Others I try to learn a little bit from as I assemble them. This is one of the latter.

Here are some of the more important rules for proper eating, broken down into various sections.


  • Do not use your mobile device at the table. If you need to look at something, excuse yourself.

  • In general, when receiving something, like bread or serving wine, offer or pour for others before serving yourself.

  • Never chew with your mouth open.

  • Do not reach across the table.

  • Cut your food one piece at a time.

  • Do not speak with food in your mouth.

  • Do not pick your teeth at the table.

  • Always say ‘excuse me’ when leaving the table for any reason.


  • Men always check topcoats. Women have a choice.

  • The first arrival always waits for the second before being seated.

  • If there are both men and women dining, the women follow the matre d’, host, or hostess, and the men follow them.

  • Men wait for the women to sit.


  • Silverware is used from outside to in, so if you see four forks on the table, you’re going to potentially have four courses that require them (and they may be of different types).

  • Hold your fork in your left hand, and your knife in your right. This is because the active activity is cutting, and that’s done with your dominant hand. But even if you’re left handed, you should eat with fork in left and knife in right.

  • When using your knife, extend your index finger down the length of the blade, at least halfway down, and near where you’re cutting. Imagine you’re performing a precise surgery, not like you’re holding the top and sawing.

  • The fork is held tines downward. It’s a precise instrument for bringing food to your mouth; not a scooping tool.

  • Even if your knife is not needed, it remains on the table.

  • When you rest to drink or to engage in conversation, place your knife and fork in an inverted “v”, with your tines facing downward, and your fork and knife crossing in the center. The fork is on top.

  • When you finish your plate, and are ready for it to be taken away, place your knife and fork parallel at the 4’oclock position, with the fork in the center and tines down.

  • Utensils are usually replaced between courses, even if you’re not moving through the formal groupings already on the table.

  • During informal meals, some hold their fork tines upward, American style (yes, that’s bad), but it’s still in the left hand.

  • Silverware should never touch the table.

Passing food

  • You pass food to the right.

  • As you pass, you hold the dish for the receiver to serve themselves. They should only use the serving utensil provided.

  • Heavy or difficult dishes are always put on the table for each pass before serving.

  • If you pass something with a handle, the handle goes towards the receiver.

Salt and pepper

  • Always taste food before you add salt or pepper.

  • Always pass the salt and pepper together, even if only one was asked for.

  • If you’re offered a salt cellar instead of a shaker, either use the spoon that’s in it, or the tip of a clean butter knife.

  • If the cellar is for just you, you can use your own knife or use your fingers to take a pinch.

  • If you’re sharing the cellar, never use your fingers or a dirty knife.

  • Salt you’ve taken from the cellar should be put on the bread and butter plate, or the rim of the plate currently in front of you.

Bread etiquette

  • If the bread is placed in front of you, feel free to pick it up and offer it to the person on your right.

  • If the loaf is not cut, cut a few pieces and offer them to the person on your left, and then pass it to the right.

  • Use the cloth in the bread basket to handle the loaf. Do not touch the bread with your hands.

  • Place bread for yourself on your butter plate (which is on your left).

  • To eat your bread, break off a bite-sized piece, butter it, and eat it.

  • Don’t butter the entire piece and take bites from it.

  • Don’t hold your bread in one hand and a drink in another.

  • Never take the last piece of bread without asking everyone else if they want it.


– Your water glass is the one above your knife.


  • The waiter gets 15% to 20%.

  • Especially good service under adverse conditions gets another 10% to 15%.

  • Sommeliers get 15% to 20% of the wine bill, assuming they provided actual value.

  • Tip discreetly; it’s trashy to be extravagant with it.

  • If you’re a regular, consider tipping the host 10% to 20% of the meal every once in a while to say thank you for their services.

  • If you’re waiting at a bar for a table, you should tip $1 to $2 per drink.

  • If you’re drinking at a bar, tip the same as food (15% to 20%).

  • Bathroom attendants should receive 1$ to 5$, depending on the services provided. Handing you a towel is $1 or $2. If they brush your jacket or provide mints or mouthwash in addition, consider giving up to $5.

  • If the attendant has a tray where tips are being accrued, tip there instead of handing it to them.

  • Tip musicians using visible receptacles when present, and the amount should be around $1 to $2 per musician. Add a few dollars for special services such as fulfilling requests and/or being especially good or attentive.


  • Make sure beforehand that you are to receive the check.

  • Place the bill on the edge of the table with the bill and credit card slightly visible.

American style

  • The American style resting position is to have the fork, tines upward, at an roughly 4’oclock position, with the knife at a 1’oclock tangent position facing inward.

  • The American style finished position is identical to the Continental, except the fork’s tines are facing upward.


  1. I’m using Continental style rules here, which I believe to be the most pure given the history. American rules differ slightly in a few ways you can research on your own.

  2. There are some who think it ok to eat with your fork in your right hand if you’re left-handed, but my research has indicated this is not true. The fork stays in the left hand.

  3. I reviewed dozens of resources to make this summary, but http://www.etiquettescholar.com was especially useful.

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