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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: The Death of Table Manners

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Why are people asking about table manners? Is there a stigma attached to having bad table manners? Who's to say? Here are the best table manners questions to Didi Lorillard at Didi's Manners this week.

Table manners guidelines

Q.  Unlike my husband and myself, my children were born and raised here, and I want to prepare them for fitting in to social situations as well as at work and on interviews. I worry they don't have proper table manners. Are there basics my children, who are still in school, should know? SS, Providence

A.  Your children will mimic the other students in the lunchroom in order to fit in. Lunchroom table manners have become the standard for most students and habits are hard to break. Some of these students will display better manners in a family setting at the dinner table, yet not always. There are ground rules -- or should we call them table rules? They apply anywhere, whether it is in a fast food restaurant, a boardroom during an interview lunch, at a wedding or the family dinner table.  

The 6 Basic Table Rules

*The biggest deterrent to good table manners is the cellphone. The reason many more families are unplugging their EarPods and leaving cellphones in a designated location away from the table before sitting down to a family meal is to encourage conversation. Despite the fact that a telephone survey last summer by the New York Times found that when asked: Are Phones Off Limits at the Table? 61% answered 'No.' 34% answered 'It Depends.' Realistically, are you in that 5% that answered 'Yes'?

*Know how to use utensils. With the temptations of fast-foods and finger foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, pizza, burritos, pop tarts, wraps and sandwiches, etc., a lot of kids don't know how to use a knife,

fork, spoon or chopsticks. Watching TV while eating isn't an excuse for not using utensils. Actors and talking heads don't have the best table manners either when they're waving their fork as if it were a flag. Like most skills, maneuvering utensils takes dexterity. Like all early milestones, some children master the skill early, others take longer. Adults are the best role models. Do they use utensils with care -- or do they wave utensils like flags or scrape or pound them like drums on the plate or bowl in a way that is sure to disrupt the conversation? 

No need to eat with two hands at once, the food will still be there.

*Consideration starts with elbows off the table. Imagine at the dinner table if everyones' arms wrestled for space on the table for their two elbows. That's how accidents happen and when tempers fly. No elbows on the table and keep hands in your lap when they aren't navigagting a utensil. The napkin is to protect clothing from becoming soiled from sticky hands, so use it. Once a utensil has been used, leave it on the plate so as not to dirty the table.

*Watch your mouth. Never use words such as sh*t, f*ck, and b*tch, because it is offensive to those around you. Nobody wants to watch you or listen to you chewing, so keep your mouth shut while you eat. Nobody can hear what you're saying when you talk with your mouth full of food. Plus, it can spray and spot your clothing -- or that of the person next to you. Try to abstain from licking your fingers and picking at your teeth. When you want to get rid of a piece of gristle, discreetly place it on the side of your plate with your fork

*Keep your hands to yourself, preferably in your lap when you're not eating and don't snitch fries from Johnny's plate or you'll cause a rumble. No matter how irresistible, never feed the dog table scraps from your plate. It's gross.

*Cooperate with team spirit when you're asked to hand the salt or pass the ketchup. You do it for him, he'll do it for you. This is the place, in family space, to ingrain the magic of 'please' and 'thank you.' Before heading to retrieve your cellphone, you should clear your plate, glass, and utensils and place them in the kitchen sink or dishwasher.  ~Didi

Table manners when dining out

Q.  We are three healthy married couples who for several years have met for dinner every other month at a different restaurant in Brooklyn. One of the men in the group doesn't automatically stand when one of the women arrives at the table late, nor does he stand when one of the ladies returns from the restroom. The other man and I stand up and one of us pulls out her chair for her to sit down. He doesn't budge even for his wife -- until he notices he's the only man down. 

I think by now we unwittingly stand to annoy him. I can't say I'm proud of myself, although I would like him to stand up for my wife and pull out her chair when I'm across the table from her. I enjoy showing the wives respect. At any rate, I've noticed that the other man and I have been slacking off about jumping up in fear of humiliating him further. Is this a slithery slope? A.C., Brooklyn

A.  Chances are the negligent husband will eventually succumb to attempting a clumsy stance so as not to be outed by the other men at the table as he becomes more comfortable with his well-mannered friends. Good manners rub off on others. His feeble attempt at using good etiquette will be duly noted and the other men probably won't always stand up when the returning woman arrives back at the table. Why? So as not to embarrass the ignoramus a second time -- or the woman. 

To be honest, you don't see most men standing anymore (especially in restaurants without table cloths) because nobody wants to intentionally humiliate any man who doesn't stand during a social occasion. If it was a same-sex couple what would you do? Would you assume a different gender to each and act accordingly standing up for one and not the other?  Probably not.  

Less than one in five men will pull out a chair for a woman to sit down at a restaurant table. You think that's bad, three-quarters won't lift a hand to carry a woman's bag or suitcases. Forget about having the car door held open. Is it because men don't want to be accused of being condescending? Is a woman condescending when she makes him breakfast the next morning?

Good manners would be to tend to your toileting before being seated. One never leaves the table while dining unless you really cannot hold it a minute longer. It is just downright rude to the other diners at the table.

Didi Lorillard researches manners and etiquette at Didi's Manners.


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