We would like help with how to improve our children’s table manners. My husband’s parents live in the south and we are spending the holidays with his southern relatives. We’re New Yorkers and our children’s table manners aren’t as good as they could be. We’re two working parents who have slacked off on enforcing good manners. Would you kindly give us some tips as to what is absolutely essential to know about children’s table manners. By the way, the kids are adorable and bright! Hope we’re not too late to try! Thank you in advance.
–Working Parents, Brooklyn, New York
- Help the child find the chair they may be assigned to sit in at the table, after making sure they've gone to the bathroom and washed their hands. They would not sit down until the host asks everyone to be seated.
- Whether an adult or child, if you are unsure of what to do and when to do it, follow the lead of the host(s).
- Once seated, lay the napkin on your lap and unfold it so that it catches any food or drink that might drop or drip onto their lap and soil their clothing. The napkin is also useful for wiping hands so that the child doesn't wipe their hands on their clothing, or wipe them on the edge of the tablecloth.
- Good posture, sitting up straight is also helpful in keeping food from falling on clothing or in the lap.
- Start eating when the host starts eating, or when the host announces that everyone should eat.
- Whether drinking soup from a soup spoon or eating turkey off your plate, raise the utensil up to your mouth, and never bend down over your plate, the way a dog eats out of a dog bowl.
- It is entirely OK to pick up a turkey leg and eat with your hands. Much the way you would eat an ear of corn.
- Knives, forks and spoons are not waved in the air like flags at a parade. Keep the utensils on the plate when you aren't actually eating. Once a utensil has been used, it never goes back onto the tablecloth. Rest them on the plate.
- To cut up a piece of meat into bite size pieces, stab the meat with the fork in your left hand tines down to stabilize the meat from sliding off the plate. The right hand with the knife cuts the meat into bite size pieces. Then put the knife down on the plate, return the fork to the right hand and with the fork tines pointing up, raise the fork to the mouth.
- Asked for salt or pepper, pick them up and pass them both together, but set them down together, as a pair, for the next person to pick up and pass. It's a silly superstition to never leave one or the other behind.
- When the bread basket is passed your way, offer the basket to the person on your right to take a roll before taking one yourself.
- Never butter bread/roll in mid air. Rest the bread/roll flat on the plate and spread the butter while the bread/roll is resting flat on the plate.
- When finished eating, place the knife and fork side by side at a slant that looks like four o'clock, approximately. That way it is easier for the server to clear the plate without dropping the flatware.
- If asked to clear the plates, don't stack them because the bottoms get yucky.
- After dessert, try to wait patiently while everyone catches up with you (a good reason to eat slowly), or ask if you "May I please be excused." Getting through a plate of food is not a great race, because you just end up having to wait for everyone else to finish.
- Leave the napkin loosely folded on the table and push in your chair as you leave the table.
- Remember to thank your host when it's time to part ways.
- When a fork falls on the floor, don't pick it up at that time, but do ask for another fork.
- When the water glass tumbles over because the person next to you has hit it waving their arm, simply, loosely fold your napkin and place it over the spill. After the water has somewhat absorbed, the napkin can go back on your lap or stay on the table.
- When there is a piece of gristle (a chewy, inedible part of the meat) or something else you don't want to eat, discreetly, put your napkin to your mouth to catch it and place the gristle on the rim of the dinner plate.
- When there is a food you don't like, take a tiny bite and then spread the rest of it around the plate. Never complain about the food.
- Keep your shoes on.
- Excuse yourself to go to the restroom by simply saying, "I'll be right back." Leave your napkin on the table and push in your chair.
- Never rest your head or hands on the table or wave hands or arms in the air as you talk. Simply place your hands in your lap when not drinking or eating.
- Never pick your nose or your teeth, especially at the dinner table. Ask to be excused when you have to blow your nose. That goes along with don't lick your fingers. Use the napkin.