Most people these days can go their whole life without learning the rules for fine dining. For most, they are either instructed by their parents or come to the realization that they know nothing of fine dining until they are faced with the situation. Imagine yourself being invited to a fine dinner by your boss or a rich friend and seeing all these silverware and glasses on the table and not knowing where to start first. In this modern age, you can usually excuse your lack of knowledge without much embarrassment.
However, whether you are out at a nice restaurant with a date or with your boss, having at least some knowledge of fine dining etiquette is at very least impressive. So let us put our pinky up and go through some of the finer points of fine dining.
Though be aware that fine dining etiquette can vary by location. Fine dining in France has some different rules than fine dining in England. So if you are expecting to go to a fine dinner, look up the etiquette of the country.
Knives, Forks, and Spoons
This is always the most complicated part of fine dining, except when it comes to glasses which will be covered later. The general rule when there are multiple pieces of each silverware on the table is to work from the outside in. The furthest away from your plate is for the first course and so on. If you are in real doubt, wait to see what your host or hostess does. These days, they take the complication out of this by bringing the cutlery with the course. However, this is not a properly set table by fine dining standards.
When eating, take small portions and place your cutlery down between each mouthful. Always lay the cutlery down on the plate and not back on the table. It should never rest half on the plate and half off, nor should the tips of your cutlery cross.
When you are finished, you should lay your knife and fork together at the center, vertical and not touching.
If you are in America, it is acceptable to cut up all your food before eating, but this does not fly in Europe. When eating, you should cut one piece at a time and your fork tines should always be pointing down at the plate.
As for spoons, there are soup spoons and pudding spoons. Soup spoons are either shaped round like a bowl or egg shaped. Never bend your posture to drink from the spoon, bring it to your mouth. It takes a bit of finesse and practice. One should also never drink from a bowl and never slurp from your spoon.
Pudding in multiple course dinners, should not be confused with dessert. It is a sweet treat rather than dessert which is usually fruit. For pudding you will have a fork and a spoon. The fork is for pushing the pudding onto the spoon and should never enter your mouth. Sometimes you can identify the pudding utensils because they will be placed above your plate.
Posture is probably the most difficult bit of fine dining. These days a lot of people are used to slouching over a computer and eating like they are in a prison cafeteria. When eating, you should always use good posture. Sit up straight and never slouch down to eat their food.
Do not bring your mouth to the utensil, bring the utensil to the mouth. Like with eating soup, it can take some practice.
One should be aware that dining tables are traditionally set for right handed people. If you are left handed, you can use it is you like, your silverware will just be on the wrong side.
In England, whenever you are not using your hands, they should be kept neatly in your lap. However, in France and some other places, you should keep your hands above the table at all times. Never is it acceptable to put your elbows on the table.
Your napkin is used for one thing. That is to dab your mouth after eating, never wipe your mouth. When you sit down, unfold your napkin and place it on your knees. While in older fine dining times, you could tuck it into the front of your shirt, today that is highly unacceptable.
If you need to leave the table, ask your host to be excused and then place the napkin on the chair to show the server you will be returning. The napkin is one of the only things you can drop on the floor and pick up to reuse. Never put anything, especially food, in your napkin.
When you are finished eating, tidily place your napkin on the left side of your plate, never on the plate directly.
These days you do not often see more than one or two glasses at a table. however, in a fine dining situation, there can be up to four. They will either be arranged diagonally or in a square, depends on how many guests are at the table.
The top left glass will be for red wine and have the largest bowl. Below that on the bottom left is the slightly smaller white wine glass. The top right glass is going to be a champagne glass or used for a sweet dessert wine. The bottom right glass is your water glass. If you have a server, there will be little need to know your glasses as they will pour the wine for you. However, you will need to know them if the bottle is passed around the table.
The wines will be paired with each course. They are not there for progressing your drunkenness. You should never become drunk in front of your host. Take sips of wine occasionally and quietly, do not gulp it down. Red wines pair well with beef and white wines will be served with chicken or fish.
Champagne is, of course, for toasts. If someone is toasting you, do not raise your glass nor do you have to stand. just sit there and look humble until they are done. Do not tap glasses with other guests, a mere tilt in their direction is enough. You should not tap the side of the glass to get their attention either, this can damage the glassware and silverware.
It is imperative that if you are at a dinner party that you engage in conversation. You should not yell to the ends of the table, but merely chat with the person to your left and right, giving them both equal attention. Dinner is not meant to be a debate so leave sensitive subjects like politics, religion, sex, and any other argumentative topics at home. Ask the person how they know your host or chat about the weather.
Various Other Tidbits
- Aside from eating your bread, you should not eat anything with your fingers.
- If food is not to your liking or you are allergic, do not spit the food out at the table. Excuse yourself and spit it out in the bathroom
- Do not blow on hot food, let it cool naturally. Sometimes you can get away with blowing on soup, but never be the first one to do it.
- Do not smoke at the table unless your host invites you to.
- Never move your plate.
- Do not point with eating utensils, pointing in general is frown upon in high society
- Do not hold silverware while drinking.
- Do not overstay your welcome. As they say, a lady always knows when to leave, if your guests are looking dreary or are starting to leave, it is probably time for you to go.