I grew up in a household where manners were a way of showing respect and consideration for others. Having good manners was not necessarily following a book of rules, but rather, a measure of how polite we were in our interactions with others. Except at the dinner table…where protocol was not so optional. While putting my napkin on my lap and not eating until my mother sat down become wonderful habits that I continue to practice, there were a couple tips my parents forgot to mention or simply had wrong.
1. Elbows on the table. This is a rule that dates back to the Victorian era, in England. It’s symbolic of the transition between eating with our hands to utensils. While it is rude to have elbows on the table while holding utensils, food or a cup, it is acceptable before, between courses or after the meal. Also remind children that elbows should be close to your sides – not winged out when you are using utensils.
2. Bread and Butter. I always thought it was acceptable to butter an entire piece of bread and bite into it. The golden rule of etiquette is to actually place one pat of butter on your plate, break off a piece of bread from the roll and butter each bite individually (holding it over the plate, not in the air).
3. Salt and peppering food. While I think my parent did encourage this rule, they never stressed the importance of it. A host will go through a lot of stress preparing a meal and by salting and peppering the food before tasting it is insulting and shows you don’t trust the chef’s judgment. In business, HR professionals are trained to notice candidates who do this as it may suggest a person who makes decisions without knowing the facts. Also, always pass the salt and the pepper together. Place both on the table, and not directly into another person’s hand.