We all must eat. It's a fact. Whether we're at home or dining out, we must use proper table manners. And honestly dears, even if you're eating alone it doesn't hurt to observe good manners at home. Much nicer than hanging over the sink shoving food into your mouth and let's be honest: we are all guilty of that at some point!
First, dress for dinner. I love reading in my older books of people changing for dinner. Well where's the harm in that? If our clothes are mussy and worn and stained at day's end, what harm in putting on a fresh set? Comb your hair, wash your hands and face. No harm done in doing those simple things and it does sort of set the mood for a meal to be something special even if it is tuna casserole. If you are having company to dinner, be suitably dressed.
And if you're a guest be suitably dressed. I recall a guest in our home who arrived wearing the worst sort of clothes. I'd said 'casual' in response to the request of what to wear and I was embarrassed for this person as much as embarrassed by him when he showed up in a holey tee shirt and ragged shorts. In what world is that 'casual'?
Remember this bit of wisdom I came across repeatedly in these older books: it is far better to be overdressed than to be under dressed.
Do you know how to properly set an informal table? It's likely that there is an illustration at the back of one of your cookbooks. Most all of them do include such an illustration. I found this one online:
Table settings need not be expensive, but a pretty table is a pleasure to eat at. In our leanest days, that was one thing we aimed to do for our evening meal. Light some candles, use real cloth napkins and if your plates are melamine or stoneware or mismatched china matters not. With children doing dishes in our home we 'lost' quite a few glasses and plates and silverware, too. We'd just buy another inexpensive set and start out fresh with a new look. I generally bought these sets at the dollar store and to the children's credit they didn't break things too often.
When I wanted a tablecloth in days past, I wasn't the least bit shy in using a sheet or an old quilt. Do be aware though that you can pick up some really nice damask cotton tablecloths in thrift stores, often with matching napkins. I pay less than $5 for them.
Now that we've established that setting a table need not be expensive nor complicated, let's practice setting them nicely for our main meal every day.
With the diagrams above you should never be ill at ease dining at anyone's home. Just be sure to start at the outside most serving pieces and work your way in. If you are faced with a formal setting and unsure of what to do, quietly ask the person to your right or left.
Formal or informal, guests are served first. If you are the guest, never take the first bite until your hostess does.
Are you dining out at a restaurant? Then let's follow a few simple rules.
No cell phone. No texting unless you are eating alone. It is so common these days to see two people dining out and one so occupied by their phone that the other may as well be eating alone. I always feel so sorry for the one who is getting so little enjoyment of having company at the table.
Conduct conversations in a low voice. I know it's sometimes hard to hear in a very busy restaurant with a lot of hard surfaces but really there is no excuse for speaking above a normal speaking voice in those situations. And keep conversation general. Now is not the time to confide all the latest details of a work problem nor of your marriage.
Always treat waiters and waitresses courteously. No harm is ever done by saying please after you make a request nor in saying thank you when it's filled. You are not commanding service you are graciously accepting it. Remember that.
If there is something wrong with your order, let your server know. Don't be loud or angry with the server. Explain quietly what is wrong and allow them to remedy it. If it isn't corrected in the way it ought to be ask quietly to speak to a manager and let him know the trouble. And do let the staff try and remedy the problem. There's nothing worse than someone who makes a complaint and then martyr like refuses to allow anyone to do a thing to make it better.
No matter how poor the service never fail to leave a proper tip. If you have complaints about service address them to the manager quietly or by phone call. If the service has been particularly fine be generous in your tip.
I urge you all to acquire at your local library a copy of a book on manners and study it well. These next few posts are just barely touched on but you'll have a good idea of what to do and what not to do, at least as a starting point.