If you’re anything like me, you probably get a little flustered when thinking about formal dining. What fork comes first? Where do I put my purse? And what the heck is a consommé?
Lucky for us laid-back eaters, most modern dining events have adopted a more informal approach than the stuffy debutant dinners and fussy ladies' luncheons of yesteryear. (Though, that doesn’t mean the food has suffered.)
However, it’s still good to be well-versed in today’s table etiquette. We’ve rounded up a few top tips to help you navigate the flatware and keep those elbows off the table:
Setting the Table
If you’re hosting a formal event at home or attending one, make sure that the table is set with only the utensils that will be needed at the meal. The expert on all things etiquette, Emily Post, advises that you picture the word FORKS to assist with utensil and plate placement: forks (“F”), plate (represented by the plate-shaped “O”), knives (skip the “R” and onto the “K”) and spoon (“S”). Learn how to set a table the right way. More intricate rules can be found here.
Additionally, a tablecloth is a necessity for a formal meal, according to the experts, but place mats are A-OK for breakfast, lunch and informal events. While considering the centerpiece, keep in mind that candlesticks should only be placed on the table if the meal takes place after dark.
Respect the Host
When to start eating:
Traditionally, it’s proper to wait to eat until the host is seated, and taken his/her first bite. Additionally, as a sign of respect to the host and chef, wait to season your food until you know it needs some extra pizazz according to your tastes. Salting willy-nilly could be interpreted as an insult, and a high sodium intake is not good for you either.
Put away your phone:
A meal’s interactions should be about the people you’re sitting with, so leave your phone in your bag or pocket, and psst: There are a few surprising benefits of a digital detox. Reading the paper should also be reserved for breakfast time; otherwise, keep the books elsewhere.
Don’t diss the food:
For goodness sake, if you taste a piece of meat or bad nut you do not love, maybe just gulp it down. Rules indicate you should remove it out of your mouth with your fork and place it back on the plate, but that’s just plain gross. If it’s really an issue, ask to be excused from the table.
How to Pair Wine
You don’t have to be a sommelier to comfortably pair wines with your meals. These two rules can guide your pairing methods:
- The wine should be more acidic than the food.
- The wine should be sweeter than the food.
Here's a handy, complete guide to pairing wines with food, but you don’t have to get caught up in strict rules — just listen to your taste buds after you bite and sip. However, if you are a rule-follower by nature, you may want to reconsider the glasses you’re drinking out of. The glass and the grip actually do affect the taste. Experts say it’s worth the investment to buy bigger glasses for red wine and smaller, narrower glassware for white. Invest in yourself, I say!
Recall these tips the next time you’re at a special event for a smooth, stress-free dining experience.