The social season is on the horizon necessiting some basic table etiquette. When it comes to everything and anything concerning dining and manners in general, Debrett's is the source to consult for advice on the how'to's of eating and conversing at the table.
Seated at a table and once food has entered the mouth, it is important to keep the food within one's mouth with lips closed to prevent other diners from seeing saliva-drenched, chewed-up food. There is nothing more blechy than having to watch - and listen - to a diner carrying on a conversation as food goes down.
Debrett's also suggests to eat at a relaxed pace (whatever that is) and really think about the food. Pondering further about this, one wonders how long one should allow for these thoughts. One minute...three minutes...what is the norm? Should one stare at the food or just glance down between mouth-fulls? Anyone know? But I digress.
- In as far as conversing with fellow diners, Debretts advises that this should be avoided at all costs and avoid directing a question at someone who is in mid-mouthful.
"A smile and an understanding nod will encourage them to swallow without rushing, spluttering or making sheepish gestures."
Really - this is not too practical in my opinion. The idea of dining out with people is to communicate. So big deal - an occasionial spit-up-morsel slips out. One can always take a napkin, dip it in water and wipe away the saliva off the recipient(s) clothing or person and offer an appology.
"Oh - so sorry. Got a little excited telling the story. Here - let me wipe that away," can be offered by the spitter to the spit-ee. But I digress - again.
- One should wait until everyone is served before starting to eat. This has always been a bone of contention for me. On occasion dishes do not arrive at the same time resulting in cool-ish food for the first served. I mean - first served - first finished, necessitating a waiting period until the last person finishes. A solution to this dilemma is to ask the waitress/waiter to keep the food warm until the last person receives her/his meal. That's why they have warming lights, right?
- When it comes to serving tea - this is where Debrett's really has it down pat. A tea pot is handy when serving tea to a group of people, Debrett's shares. Now the rule of thumb is, if a waitress/waiter/host places a teapot on the table without pouring the tea, the person nearest the pot should pour for everyone. This leads one -me - to wonder whether it should be the person on the right or left of the teapot that should handle the pouring honors. Perhaps a coin toss could decide.
- The handle of the teacup (or mug one assumes) should be held between the thumb and forefinger. It is not necessary to hold one's little finger in the air. Biscuits or cookies should not be dunked in the tea. Why - who knows. Neither should tea drinkers make slurping noises.
There is nothing mentioned about what to do if one burps or even how to prevent a burp from escaping from one's mouth. Should an apology be offered? Something to the effect: "oh sorry - I burped." Or should a burp be ignored? Another perplexing issue is how to retrieve a piece of food caught in the teeth. Inserting a finger or nail in the tooth is just not socially acceptable, nor using a toothpick. Neither is filling one's mouth with water and spitting it into the glass. Another issue that springs to mind is the usage of a napkin tied around the neck when eating things like tomato and pasta. Under what circumstances (if any) is it correct to use this? Speaking of napkins, is there any rules regarding the usage of paper napkins to blow one's nose?
These are important issues to ponder!
So now I'm wondering about coffee aficionados. To the best of my knowledge, coffee lovers pour their coffee into a mug, add cream/milk and drink. Sometimes life works best without rules but when guidelines are necessary, we can always consult Debrett's.