The most important table manners you need to remember if you don’t want to become a social pariah

Sudi Pigott
Daily Mail
5 Min Read
Gen Z reckon table manners don't matter - but there are some with which we have to adhere.
Gen Z reckon table manners don't matter - but there are some with which we have to adhere. Credit: Adobe Stock/ajr_images -

Some table manners are sacrosanct and you ignore them at your social peril.

As a restaurant critic and food writer for 30 years — and a parent — I believe that they say a lot about a person.

Those who can’t get through a meal without showing some basic social skills and acting courteously and appropriately at the table are unlikely to endear themselves to anyone.

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But a new study has revealed most table manners are today considered irrelevant, especially among Gen Z, though across other generations, too.

I absolutely relish my food and don’t mind admitting that some of my dining habits have definitely raised eyebrows.

My partner has been stunned by how viscerally I tuck in and end up with not only sticky fingers but a messy chin too, not to mention gourmet debris over my half of the table.

So much so, he’s coined a new phrase and affectionately calls me a ‘messytarian’.

However, while I consider some table manners to be mere stuffy etiquette that can be happily ignored, there are others I believe should be wholeheartedly embraced.

Read on for my definitive modern manners guide.

Wear a napkin the way a toddler does

Think about all the times you’ve dribbled food down yourself. Where did it land? On your decolletage!

So what use is a napkin placed primly in the lap?

It’s precisely why I tuck mine into my top, especially when wearing something new.

It may not be the height of good manners, but surely it is a better look than a chorizo and tomato sauce dribbling down my silk shirt?

Eat with your hands, even in restaurants

It’s considerate to respect the boundaries of fellow diners in not using one’s fingers in shared dishes.

However, when I really, really enjoy a sauce, I like to use my little finger to discreetly mop up the remaining drops.

I consider it the highest compliment to the chef that I simply can’t get enough, though others have been shocked by this.

I do use my fingers far more than strictly necessary — and perhaps acceptable.

I would even pick up a particularly succulent chicken leg in a posh dining room, to the horror of my partner, and encourage others to tuck in equally gleefully.

Ignore rituals that are stuffy

The most ridiculous table etiquette is the directive to only pass food to your right.

Who wants the cream sent on a pilgrimage around the table?

My somewhat formal former mother-in-law was an absolute stickler for this, especially regarding the cheese board.

We would annoy her by chopping and changing its direction, taking our pick as we did so, and ensuring that it had been ransacked by the time it reached her.

My mother-in-law was right on one thing, which leads me to the manners that I think do count.

While I believe all the practices previously mentioned are acceptable — and can be embraced in even the most rarefied social settings — if you are guilty of the following, then you will reveal yourself to be uncouth and uncultured, as well as lacking basic manners, and at risk of never being invited back.

Know your cheese

I am mortified at the memory of being shamed at my first lunch with my former inlaws — for cutting the nose off the brie.

It was considered the most almighty faux pas because I had just snaffled all of the deliciously gooey centre for myself.

The thought still makes me blush.

Don’t weaponise your cutlery

You should never wave your cutlery around when you talk.

Historically, this was seen as aggressive and suggested that you wanted to pick a fight.

Perhaps you do, but it’s still the height of bad manners.

Stay seated

Getting up from the table in the middle of a meal is irritating to fellow diners.

If you suddenly spot an old friend across the restaurant dining room, perhaps make your excuses between courses if you must greet them.

If dining out with children, tell them it is not acceptable to fidget and kick the table, and also to go to the loo more often than seems genuine.

It is rudely unrelaxing for the other diners present.

Never double-dip

If you’re dining on small plates that “come out when they’re ready”, it is far more courteous to take your share and put it on a plate rather than double-dip and dive back in for seconds.

It opens the possibility of cutlery that has entered your mouth returning to the plate of shared food and that is an almighty no-no.

Quite rightly, some people feel very icky about sharing plates in this manner.

Timing is everything

Digging in as soon as your dish arrives is questionable, unless other diners exhort you to start before it cools down.

I also hate it if a server starts to clear plates before everyone has finished, forcing others to rush.

Clearing plates prematurely is a red flag when you’re hosting at home, too.

You couldn’t send a more obvious sign that you want them gone.

And stacking the dishwasher while people are still at the table is bad form, unless they’re really good friends and you’ve made your excuses about a really early start the next morning.

Put your friends before phones

Never let technology be more important than your dining companions.

Looking at your phone whilst dining (phone snubbing or ‘phubbing’) indicates that you don’t value the company.

There are exceptions, such as when you have to take a call for work.

However, if you have your phone only to check the occasional incoming message, it is better put away.

I am shocked at how many of my friends think it’s acceptable to keep their phones to hand.

Even my dad, who is nearly 92.

I often tease him and scold him, to little avail.

I’m not in the dark ages, so I don’t object to taking a few pictures of plates of food — which I do regularly for my social media.

But eat it, don’t post it (until later).

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