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Table Manners

Serving Etiquette

Formal Meals
  • Food is brought to each diner at the table;
  • The server presents the platter or bowl on the diner's left,

(Alternatively, plates are prepared in the kitchen and then brought to the table and set before the diners.)

Casual Meals
  • the host will dish food onto guests' plates to pass around the table; or
  • the diners help themselves to the food and pass it to others as necessary.

Using Serving Utensils. Some general guidelines for using serving utensils:

  • Serving utensils are placed on the right side of serveware;
  • When a serving spoon and serving fork are presented together, the spoon is laid on the right ready to cut and lift and the fork on the left to steady and hold.
  • The utensils are returned to the platter or serving bowl in the same position.
  • When a serving spoon is presented on an underplate, after use the utensil is replaced in the bowl (ready for the next person to use).
  • To protect the hand, the blade of a carving knife faces inward.
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Placement when Passing a Plate. To prevent flatware from falling off when the plate is passed:

  • The fork and knife are centered vertically in the six o'clock position toward the middle of the plate.
  • Leave enough room to grasp the plate in passage and to provide space for another serving.

When to Start Eating

At a small table of only two to four people, wait until everyone else has been served before starting to eat. At a formal or business meal, you should either wait until everyone is served to start or begin when the host asks you to.

Refusing a Dish

If you're allergic to a food or on a restricted diet, explain to your host (not to the table at large) why you have no choice but to decline.


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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