Table Manners and Etiquette are the rules that govern how
the table is set out for dinning and what behaviour is expected from the people present whether it be socially or whilst entertaining at home or a restaurant.
Houshold manaagement.


Manners are the way in which anything is done and Etiquette is the form of ceremony or decorum with which it is done.

Think before you do anything.

Social and Entertaining

Table Manners

Table manners

The table

So where shall we start?

The meal should be the focal point of any household. A time when all the persons occupying the premises as a unit should come together. They should exude etiquette by behaving better than is deemed necessary.

The table is the focal point, so let us look at how a table should be laid and used for the main meals of the day.


We start with breakfast. The table should have a clean cloth and look inviting when laid with simple basic place settings. A white cloth and napkin should be used when the occasion is something special. Lay the cutlery, spoons, forks and knives, round the plate and a cup and saucer with the tea spoon behind the cup on the saucer with the cup and spoon handles pointing to the right at twenty past the hour across the saucer, with a coffee or tea pot adjacent. A jug of milk or cream should be within reach. A table fork should be on the left with a table knife and dessert spoon on the right. A butter plate should be on the left with a butter or dessert knife across the top with the blade facing away from the plate and a napkin laid on the plate.


The main meal is usually in the evening and is called dinner. Should it be held at midday it will be called luncheon or lunch for short.

The table should be clean and invite people to sit round it. It may be polished wood or covered with an attractive table cloth. If it is wood the place settings may have mats to protect the table surface. The tableware is made up of knives and cutlery spoons and forks. For lunch they are laid clockwise round the soup plate from the left starting with the table fork, with dessert fork at the top surmounted by the dessert spoon, with the table knife on the right and the soup spoon to its right running anticlockwise. A side plate is laid to the left of the main setting with a butter knife facing away laid across its top at right angles and a napkin laid on the plate. A modest size wine glass should be laid which may be used for grape juice as not everyone will consume wine. A matching water glass should also be provided with a jug of cold water. Messy fingers demand the use of the napkin which is on the side plate.

Using the cutlery. The table fork should be held with prongs facing downward and the handle tucked into the palm of the hand, with the thumb down the side of the stem and the index finger along the top. If the fork is used on its own it may be used with prongs facing upwards. The table knife is used with the handle tucked into the palm of the hand and the index finger along the top with the fingers and thumb underneath. The soup spoon should be pushed away from you into the soup, with the soup bowl or plate tilted away from you, whilst the handle of the soup spoon is balanced across the second finger, with the index finger along the top and the thumb secures the top, thus allowing the soup to be taken from the side of the spoon when lifted to the mouth. The dessert spoon is held in a similar manner, but being smaller it allows the food to be taken from it into the mouth. The dessert fork is used with the dessert spoon to allow the food to be pushed into the bowl of the spoon before lifting it to the mouth. You should place your utensils neatly on your plate after every few mouthfuls in order to pace your eating, with the table fork prongs placed over the table knife blade if possible. The dessert knife or the butter knife are rested on the side of the appropriate plate whilst eating. When you have finished the meal you should rest the utensils you have been using together, facing away from you, with the handles nearest to you to show that you have finished. The napkin, that should have been placed in the lap during the meal to protect your clothing, should be laid by the side of the place setting at the end to signify that you have finished after cleaning the fingers. Should you leave the table during the meal the napkin should be scrunched up and left on your seat. These rules should be followed during the other meals. If in doubt about which place setting item to use start from the outside and work your way inwards towards the plate.


Afternoon tea is served mid afternoon around four o’clock or when is convenient. The table is used to display the food, allowing the participants to serve themselves if they so wish, then to sit around the drawing or living room, sometimes called the sitting room. If a more formal approach is desired then the participants can sit at the table.

A clean cloth should be used. Each place setting should have a suitable dessert plate with a dessert fork and knife and a small tea napkin. A tea cup and saucer with the spoon handle pointing to twenty past the hour. The tea can then be quietly stirred and the cup picked up by the handle between the thumb and forefinger with second finger supporting the handle underneath. The saucer can then be lifted under the cup with the other hand to protect the drinker from accidental spillage when the cup is used away from the table. The tea should be made in a pot, to a strength which is desired, from good quality leaf tea, not a tea bag which affects the taste. A tea strainer should be used, but it should always be held above the cup and the tea poured gently through it when the size of the tea pot allows the pot to be held with one hand, and then rested on a tea bowl. Pour the tea first and then ask if the guest wants milk which should be poured second as it is said to scald the milk if the tea is poured onto the milk. A slice of lemon is an alternative to milk. The sugar should be served from the china box, using a spoon for granulated and tongs for cube sugar.

High Tea

High Tea is taken formally at the table. The table is laid with a clean cloth with a table napkin on the left of the place setting, next are a table fork, dessert fork on the left of the plate and table knife and dessert knife on the right of the plate. The cup and saucer are placed at one o'clock to the plate with the spoon laid at twenty past with the cup handle.


The table should be polished wood with ample space between chairs. Much care should be taken with the presentation, layout and spacing of the cutlery to give that perfect appearance and allow comfort for the users. Dinner should be laid as follows, depending on how many courses are being served. Normally up to four or five courses are served, more would be decadent. Starting from the left, a side plate with napkin with butter knife above, with blade facing away, the number of forks would be dependent on the number of courses, starting from the outside for the first course then the fish fork, the main fork and the dessert fork. On the right and working inwards are the soup spoon, fish knife, main knife and dessert spoon, not laid over the setting as at lunch. Should a savoury be served an additional set of dessert cutlery will be required. A cheese course requires a dessert knife and butter knife, set by a fresh side plate, which signifies bread is to be served cut or as a roll, which should be pulled apart as required into small pieces with butter applied if required. When eating cheese it is in order to eat delicately from the blade of the knife after biting the biscuit. The courses are soup, fish, main, game, pudding, savoury, cheese and a dessert, consisting of fresh fruit which is served separately at the end of the meal. The appropriate clean and polished wine glasses should be placed from left to right above the right hand place settings in the order for each course, and remember, they will be required to be replenished with the appropriate matching wine and the glass should compliment it, such as a larger bowled glass for red wine, a narrower one for white, one for water and when required a fluted champagne glass. Do not forget those who do not wish to drink alcohol by giving a choice of grape juice, or water from a jug with ice and lemon. A cruet for the salt, pepper and mustard is required. To finish off an unobtrusive floral table decoration is suitable. Make sure your table is big enough, if not you will need a console table for serving.


Drinks Party

The name is immaterial, but the usual is cocktail or some less impressive name. These parties can be held at lunchtime or in the evening for whatever reason the occasion demands. The parties are usually less formal and easy going, but not to the point of letting your manners slip away as the drink takes hold. Manners are paramount.

A carefully selected guest list is as important as a carefully selected wine list, which should not be too elaborate with a variance of drinks. One type of white and one type of red will suffice for the wine and do not forget the grape juice for the non drinkers, with preference given to white for hosts with pale carpets. Although gin and whisky can be added. If the occasion demands beer may be served, but make sure a best bitter is available. Snacks are essential as a safety net to the drink. The bite size snacks should be prepared in advance and put on display in an easily accessed area. Make sure an adequate stack of plates and napkins are available. Supply repositories for left overs, and clear the debris away regularly. For the special occasion hiring a waiter or waitress will lift the proceedings to a higher plane. If the occasion demands make space for dancing and make sure the atmosphere is just right. Make sure you use glasses suited to the occasion, not your best crystal. Music at the right level can enhance the proceedings, but too loud and the occasion is lost. The gentle hum of conversation against a quiet background is probably the best music.

Dinner Party

First choose your menu and a number of guests to fit the table. Think of the needs of those coming to the dinner party, are they vegetarians, vegans, on a gluten free diet or do they have any special needs? Use recipes that are tried and tested and not the experiment of the day. Serve at least two courses. Your guests need to be mixed well with people of similar interests seated together, and at least one person who can keep things alive, but not offend. Time is important with an arrival at 7.30 pm for an 8.00 pm start to dinner perfect for most hosts and guests, but do not arrive early or late. If you are fitting your dinner party round a scheduled visit to the theatre, a mutual agreement of the starting time is essential. Wine should only be taken if the invitation says so, with champagne always acceptable. Coffee should be available, as should grape juice, after-dinner chocolates and flowers.

Serving can be from the kitchen, already on the table or from a console table, but the food should not be on the table too long before it is eaten. The hostess should be seated near the kitchen. You can hire a waiter for the evening to serve the food or a catering company if you wish to be with the guests. Start with drinks, probably cocktails or “Gin and it”. Serve the pre dinner drinks with canapés, but do not overdo it.

Placing guests around the table to a seating plan using cards needs skill, made easier if all present are old friends, otherwise take care and do your homework. All dishes should be served to the guests from their left, offering the proffered dish and allowing them to help themselves or be served by a waiter with the appropriate serving spoon and fork, with drinks served from their right hand side. Dishes are always cleared from the right hand side of the guest. Select only enough food for your plate or your manners will let you down. Tell the host tactfully if you are served with something that will disagree with you because of a problem such as an allergy. BA©

We hope that this information has been useful to you.

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