Modern Table Manners
A Guide to Modern Table Manners
Last week I was having dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen for ages. He’s the kind of person for whom the word ‘foodie’ was invented – always knows the hot new restaurant to go to; shops at the farmer’s market; gets his organic box scheme fruit and veg delivered and if, God forbid, he had to use a supermarket, it would have to be Waitrose – Tesco just wouldn’t cut it, darling.
Anyway, our starters had just arrived and I picked up my fork ready to dig into my Risotto of white onion, espresso and Parmesan air (extra brownies if you know where we were).
‘Hang on, don’t start, wait, I’ve just got to get this’ he said, pulling out his mobile and twisting my plate around to get the best angle. Then he took a picture of my food and spent the next few minutes posting it to his Facebook and Twitter page.
The sad thing is, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. I’ve been around tables where every person has been held off digging in so some Twitterer can beam his meal to the hungry hoards out there that are, apparently, insatiable for pics of menu items!
So it got me thinking – we used to care so much about manners and etiquette, but in today’s share-all culture, simple table manners seem to have gone out the window. I think it’s time to readdress the balance – so I present a simple cut out and keep guide to the lost art of acting vaguely human and considerate in a restaurant.
Look, you’ve paid good money for your meal, so who am I to tell you not to snap away at it? But remember you are there to enjoy and share food with friends. Getting up on chairs to ‘get a better angle’ and blinding your fellow diners with camera flashes are no-nos. And anyway, isn’t twittering your Michelin-starred lunch just a new way to show off?
Remember the waiter is your friend. They are probably skirting close to minimum wage and have dealt with 75 bitchy punters that day already. A genuine smile and a bit of friendly banter will go a million miles towards getting the service you want. Let them re-position your napkin every time you go to the loo. Let them insist on pouring your wine then putting it in an ice-bucket across the other side of the room. And let them recite every special even though you’ve decided what you want already. Enter into battle with a waiter and you will always, always lose.
Don’t be intimidated into ordering much more expensive wine by either the sommelier or your other guests. You’ll only end up out of pocket and resenting paying at the end. If there is a sommelier, check the starting price for wine then give them your budget and ask him to choose based on your food choices. This is their job and they should be very happy to do it. And if it’s on their wine menu they shouldn’t have a problem recommending it, whatever the price.
Frankly, I don’t mind if you want to eat your spaghetti with chopsticks but these few pointers might help you when dining out. In Thailand, a spoon is used most commonly for eating saucy, curry-style dishes – putting a fork in your mouth won’t get you evicted from a Thai restaurant, but it’s not considered very polite.
Having trouble guiding that sushi into your mouth with chopsticks? Good news! Japanese traditionally eat sushi with their fingers, dipping the edge into soy sauce beforehand (mixing soy and wasabi is never done). Chopsticks for noodle-based dishes is fine, however. And slurping is mandatory.
Italians would never use a spoon and fork for spaghetti. We Brits invented that particular quirk in the sixties. The correct form for any long pasta is to spear a few strands against the side of the bowl then twist until you have a mouth sized amount on your fork.
In a posh restaurant, with five sets of cutlery, always go from the outside in. Alternatively wait to see what someone else picks up. Ultimately there is no ‘wrong’ way of doing anything. The ultimate in restaurant manners is to make guests feel as comfortable as possible.
“There’s no point quibbling over a couple of quid”
This is a sticky one. If you’ve invited a friend to dinner and there are just two of you, then it would be polite for you to pay. In big groups, I would tend towards splitting the bill equally, there’s no point quibbling over a couple of quid either way. However, if you have one of those ‘friends’ who seems to consume twice the wine and always order the most expensive food or, equally, someone who insists that they had a small tap water and a green salad, so only owes three quid then maybe it’s time to have a quiet word; or just stop inviting them out altogether.
And, unless the waiter has thrown soup in your lap or seated you in the loo, tip. Always! Happy dining!