If you believe your table manners could be improved, you're probably correct. Simple matters such as placing the napkin on your lap and not talking with food in your mouth go a long way toward making you good company at mealtime. Properly handling food and utensils are also signs of good manners. Once you've practiced a few basic techniques for table politeness, you may find yourself welcome and appreciated more often at meal-based gatherings.
Silence Reigns Supreme
When you're eating, quietness equates to good manners. Chewing with your mouth closed keeps the noise level down while keeping the appreciation level up for all seated across from you. Forgo talking with food in your mouth as well; it muffles your words and looks less than appetizing to others at the table. Take small bites and eat slowly so you aren't scarfing down hunks of food too large to easily chew or swallow; this also makes it easier to keep your mouth closed and silent as you eat.
Place the napkin in your lap as soon as you are seated, or shortly thereafter. Keep the napkin on your lap, except while using it, so a soiled napkin isn't displayed on the table during a meal. Use the napkin to wipe your mouth or to wipe up a spill that occurs on the table. When leaving the table after finishing the meal, set the napkin near your dishes.
Pass It On
Sometimes food is meant to be passed around the table, such as large casserole dishes, bowls of mashed potatoes and baskets of rolls. This presents the perfect opportunity to practice good manners. Ask a seated neighbor to pass you the dish you seek, rather than reaching over the table to get it yourself, unless the dish is already right in front of you. If dishes are being passed one by one around the table, wait your turn for the dish you seek, and continue passing it along to your neighbor after you've placed a portion on your plate. If a dish you like is at an opposite end of the table, ask your neighbor to pass along your request to send the dish back in your direction.
Turn your cellphone off at the table, whether you're enjoying your meal in a restaurant, at a reception hall or in a home. If you are awaiting an important call and must leave your phone on, set it to vibrate and leave the table to take your call in private. Dining is all about the experience of the food and of being completely present to those around you; talking on the phone at the table gives other the impression that you feel they are less important than your phone call or that you are just plain rude.
Brush Up on Basics
Some basic concepts you may have learned as a young child are the stepping stones to good manners: Eat with your utensils, unless the food is designed to be finger food; use the proper utensil for the task -- no stabbing the piece of steak with a knife and eating it off the blade. If others are talking, allow them to finish their sentences and pay attention if they are speaking to you. Sitting up straight at the table, rather than hunching over your food as if it is the only meal you've seen in months, is also good manners.
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