Dining etiquette might sound like such an antiquated notion, but you’d be surprised just how much it affects people’s perceptions of you.
In both the personal and professional world, your manners and dining habits can tell people if you’re somebody worth the time. If you’re somebody poised, respectable, and presentable.
Potential clients and partners notice your every move and form impressions based on that. Maybe it sounds unfair to be judged based on how you conduct yourself at the table, but like it or not, that’s just how the world works.
If you think you can do with a little “polishing up”, take a look at what people with impeccable manners never do at dinner.
1) Talking with your mouth full
From childhood, we were taught to swallow our food before speaking. And yet, go to any restaurant, and you’ll see lots of people talking with their mouths full.
There’s no getting around it – it’s just gross to look at. No one wants to see the chewed-up food in your mouth, nor do they want bits of wayward food landing on them!
Plus, it’s not just bad manners. It’s also a potential health risk. Hopefully, the pandemic has served as a good reminder of why we should be extra careful about hygiene and personal space.
If that still isn’t enough, consider how it’s just hard for people to understand what you’re saying. I’m sure your friends would absolutely love to hear your story, but really, they can wait an extra ten seconds for you to swallow.
2) Interrupting others
Speaking of waiting, it’s a good habit to practice patience at the table.
Even if you have something super important to say, wait for other people to finish what they’re saying. Cutting someone off is just plain rude.
I’m sure you’d feel the same way if someone jumped in while you’re speaking, wouldn’t you?
3) Dominating the conversation
Another surefire way to annoy people at the dinner table is to hog the conversation.
Interrupting is one thing, but doing a monologue? Two things will likely happen:
One, people will find you rude and arrogant and roll their eyes.
Or two, their eyes will glaze over from boredom.
Just like in any setting, conversations at the dinner table should be a two-way street.
The dinners I enjoyed most are the ones where everyone had their fair share of stories and where we were all relaxed and bonding with one another.
4) Checking your phone constantly
This one is just as rude as interrupting or dominating the conversation.
I know that our phones have practically become an extension of us. I myself have had to set alarms to remind myself to unplug and put my phone away.
The problem is, our phones have become so pervasive that they really get in the way of connecting with others in the present moment.
Sure, you might feel like you’re connecting with people online, but the ones you’re literally with might be feeling neglected.
And strangely, you’re also depriving yourself of more enjoyment.
That’s exactly what an interesting study discovered in their field experiment involving smartphone users in restaurant settings.
The verdict: People who used their phones at the table reported feeling more bored and distracted.
In fact, even if you aren’t actively checking your phone, it still undermines the character and depth of your face-to-face interactions, as another study notes.
How so? Well, the phone has a sort of symbolic power – it’s a virtual gateway to a larger world and more information at your fingertips.
As long as you see it, it will hold some space in your brain because it keeps that urge to check it out running in the background.
And that low-key energy you give it takes away from the urge to be present. People with impeccable manners know this, so when they’re at dinner, you won’t find any phones at the table.
5) Reaching over someone
I once attended a dinner party and sat next to a guy who constantly stretched his arm over my plate to get what he needed.
Now, I’m not really a nitpicker; I’m pretty tolerant of the many off-putting ways people behave at the table.
But I have to admit that his repeated reaches got to be annoying after a while.
Look, it’s so easy to say, “Could you pass the salt/pepper/salad bowl, please?” Trust me, people would rather pass you things than have your arm intruding into their space.
6) Eating before everyone is served
Let me know if this sounds familiar to you: you and your party order your food. Yours arrives earlier than theirs. Because you’re starving, you go ahead and dive in while the others look on and wait.
Is that a faux pas? Unfortunately, yes.
Even if you’ve got the most understanding dining companions, it’s just not a good look to be digging in ahead of the rest.
The practice of waiting to eat until everyone is served goes all the way back to Victorian times.
You see, during that era, seven-course meals were the norm, and each dish was served according to a specific schedule.
If guests began eating before everyone else had theirs, it would throw a chink into the meal’s meticulous order. Some guests would have to wait too long for the next dish, while others wouldn’t have enough time to finish.
This would lead to a chaotic dinner – definitely far from classy.
Of course, these days, seven-course meals are no longer the norm (maybe only at fancy restaurants). Still, the notion remains that for a dinner to go smoothly, we should wait for everyone to be served before eating.
7) Hovering over your plate
While we’re talking about being classy, take a moment and think about your posture when you eat.
Do you hunch over your plate and shovel food in like there’s no tomorrow?
That’s not something a person with impeccable manners would ever do. It’s just not classy.
What they do instead is to observe good posture even while eating. They sit up straight and bring the fork to their mouth, not their mouth to their fork.
It might seem like such a miniscule detail but it goes a long way in making you look more polished and confident. As they say, the devil is in the details!
8) Complaining about the food
This is definitely cringe-inducing for me. I hate it when I’m dining at a restaurant and the person at the next table is a complainer.
You know the type –
“I said I wanted medium rare, not this overly cooked chunk of meat!”
“Are you serious? At this price, these portions are outrageously small!”
“This has to be the worst meal I ever had.”
There’s nothing wrong with voicing your concerns about food quality and your overall dining experience. But the trick is to do it discreetly – that’s what people with impeccable manners do.
Here’s how they handle such situations:
They signal and speak to the waitstaff quietly to discuss the issue.
They use polite language, still saying “excuse me”, “please”, and “thank you” no matter how pissed off they really are inside.
They provide constructive criticism instead of making blanket statements (e.g. “Excuse me, this soup isn’t as hot as I’d hoped. Would it be possible to heat it up?”)
If all else fails and they really aren’t happy, they’ll make a graceful exit instead of causing a scene.
And – this is important – they still tip appropriately. Even if it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences, they still do it as a gesture of goodwill.
Because above all else, they want to stay respectful. Which brings me to my next point…
9) Being rude to the staff
This is perhaps one of the most useful ways to measure someone’s character. More and more, we’re looking at how people treat the waitstaff because it says a lot about them.
I’ve experienced dining with someone who treated servers arrogantly, with a distinct sense of entitlement. And believe me, it made me want to shrink myself or hide under the table.
It’s just embarrassing to be associated with someone who treats people like that.
So, if you want to make a good impression, it’s pretty simple – be kind to the staff, not just because they’re handling your food. Do it because it’s the respectful thing to do.
10) Leaving a mess
Finally, this one’s pretty obvious – be an adult at the table. Be responsible for your space and keep it neat.
Leaving your table messy is a glaring example of disrespectful behavior and a lack of manners.
Not only will it make your dinner companions think you’re a slob, but you’ll probably also antagonize the staff who have to clean up after you leave.
Even more, if you’re dining at someone else’s home. The best dinner guests – the ones who get invited back – are the ones who show a good sense of decorum and respect for people’s property.
As you can see, having impeccable manners is more than just knowing which fork to use or how to hold your napkin.
At the core, it’s about making the people you’re with feel comfortable and respected.
As Miss Emily Post herself said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”