Here in London, many students as well as tourists would like to experience a traditional/formal English meal. However, the difference between Chinese table etiquette and English table etiquette is so vast that it can sometimes confuse people. How do we eat with grace and elegance, so that we can be considered a polite Londoner? You need to be aware of so many details. Formal Table Setting Guidelines For a formal meal, each place setting will include several knives, forks and glasses. These are used for very different purposes as described in the brief guidelines below. Small plate at the top left corner: for bread. We are expected to break the bread with our hands (often, this plate is placed to the left of the dinner plate). The small knife on this plate is for spreading butter. It is polite to cut some butter and put this on your own plate before buttering your bread (don’t worry if you cut off too much, any extra butter can be left on your plate). Round spoon at the far right: for a soup starter Soup may be served before your main course. When eating soup, you should start spooning from the inside of your bowl, away from you, towards the top outside of the bowl. You should eat from the side of the spoon, not from the front of the spoon (don’t put the entire spoon into your mouth as that isn’t very elegant). Knife and fork at the far left and right: for other starters If a starter like salad or calamari are served, you can eat it using this knife and fork. If there aren’t any other starters, this cutlery will be taken away. The knife and fork next to the dinner plate: for the main course Don’t cut your meat into pieces and then switch the fork to your right hand. When you are eating your main course, you must always use the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right hand. Also, you must finish one piece before you cut the next piece. When cutting your meat, you must make sure that the knife blade is always facing downwards. Don’t put food into your mouth with the knife. Food will need to be pushed onto the back of the fork, regardless of whether it’s meat or a vegetable (even peas). The back of the fork should always be used facing upwards, unless you are eating spaghetti. The fork and spoon above your dinner plate: for dessert After starters and main course there’s normally dessert. The English often use the word “pudding” instead of dessert. If ice cream were served for pudding, then you would only eat this with a spoon. Glasses: Different glasses will be allocated to various beverages. The larger wine glass is used for red wine and the smaller wine glass for white wine. The largest glass (a tumbler or goblet) is used for water. If champagne is served at a special occasion, this will be poured into a slender champagne flute glass or coupe (champagne saucer glass). White wine and champagne are served chilled, so you should not hold the glass with your entire palm when drinking white wine or champagne because that would warm your drink. It is usually best to hold the stem of the glass. Drinking red wine is more casual, there’s no strict requirement on how to hold it. We heard a relevant (and hilarious) story about a foreign visitor to England. During dinner, he ordered a bottle of red wine. The waiter brought him the cork from the bottle and as he did not understand what the waiter meant by this, he stuffed the cork into his mouth. This could be a very awkward moment. Generally, the waiter brings the cork to allow the customer to smell the cork. Before pouring all the guests a glass of wine, the waiter will first pour the customer who ordered the wine a small amount to taste first. The right procedure is to swirl the glass to let the wine fully breathe, smell the wine and then take a sip to taste it. The waiter will only pour wine for all the guests if the taste was satisfying for the one who ordered it. Table manners:
- Follow directions: if you are invited by a host to his or her home, it is better to wait for your host to invite you to sit down/eat before you start sitting or eating.
- Napkin: The first thing to do when you are seated is to put your napkin on your lap. If you are to leave the table during the meal, remember to leave your napkin on your seat instead of on the table.
- Keep your poise: when we Chinese see something delicious, we tend to get so focussed on the food that we bury our head to our bowl. However, in British culture, you need to keep elegant all through the meal by using your cutlery to pass food into your mouth instead of burying your head in your bowl to reach the food.
- Silent Chewing: close your mouth when you are chewing food. It is very impolite to make a sound with your mouth while eating. You must always be considerate of others’ feelings.
- When the food you want is too far away, don’t be shy to ask for help! It is very normal to say “can you please pass me the…” to ask others for help in passing food you want. Don’t try to reach for the food far across the table, it will be seen as more awkward than asking for it directly.
- Serving staff: the attitude that you use to treat the serving staff will show your class and manner. When you speak to the staff, make sure you look them in the eyes and use polite language such as please or thank you. Being rude to the waiter or the waitress is not going to show how powerful you are, it is only going to highlight your rudeness to others.
- Phones and handbags: off the table! You should never play with your phone during a formal meal. In fact, you shouldn’t even put your elbows onto the table (even when eating).
Tips for girls: Some girls like to remove their lipstick before dinner. However, British people don’t do that. It is a little weird to use the napkin to remove your lipstick before dinner in front of everyone. If you can’t deal with the idea of eating your makeup, then it’s better to remove it in the Ladies before eating. However, if you are wearing lipstick, and during the meal you want to use the napkin to dab your mouth, it is absolutely fine. You don’t need to worry about leaving some lipstick on the napkin. Tips for boys: Before the meal starts, gentlemen would help the ladies to their seats: pull out the chair for them and push the chair in as they sit down. If a lady wants to visit the Ladies during the meal, British gentlemen would also stand up with her and then sit down again after she has left. How to chat politely with others? There’s an interesting story about English table etiquette: Lewis Hamilton, a famous F1 racer, had the honour to dine with The Queen. When he tried to converse with her, she refused to speak to him. The Queen kindly told him that he should talk to the person on his left first and then talk to the person on the right. Although this rule is not strictly kept, the fact that you should talk to both sides instead of talking to just one person is still very important in English table etiquette. If your friend is sitting very far away from you, it’s better not to talk across the table because shouting at a dining table is also considered rude.
Find tips on how to eat difficult foods.
Eating with Elegance
«How do I eat this at all—never mind gracefully?» you say to yourself as you stare at the intricately tangled spaghetti on your plate. Well, pasta isn’t the only challenge when it comes to eating with elegance. The following is a list of difficult foods to eat, along with some tips on how to eat them correctly.
Mind Your P’s and Q’s
«Don’t, when offered a dish at a friend’s table, look at it critically, turn it about with the spoon and fork, and then refuse it.»
—G.R.M. Devereaux, Etiquette for Women, 1901 Before we get started, here is an important codicil to keep in mind. Remember that you can eat certain foods with your fingers, but when in doubt, use a fork or spoon. If you already have your paws on the item, go ahead and eat it. Please, please, don’t say, «Hey, they invented fingers before forks. Right?»
- Artichokes. Eating an artichoke requires a bit of an attitude and a little digital dexterity. Pick it up with one hand, remove one leaf at a time, and dip the soft end into the accompanying sauce. Then place the whole soft end in your mouth and pull (do not yank) it through your teeth to remove the edible part. Discard the rest by placing it on the edge of the plate or on a side plate—not your bread plate!—if one is available. When you’ve removed most or all of the leaves, you’ll reach the heart of the artichoke, which forms a firm center of meat. Use a knife to scrape the fuzzy part off and then cut the meat into bite-size pieces with the help of a knife and fork.
- Avocados. See the following section on fruits.
- Bacon. If the bacon is very crisp, you can eat with your fingers. Otherwise, use a knife and fork.
- Cake. You can eat cake with your fingers if it’s in bite-size pieces. If it comes as a whole slice, if it’s sticky, or if it comes with sauce or ice cream, use both a fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand to scoop up the dessert. The fork goes in your left hand, and you use it as a pusher.
- Caviar. To eat caviar, you first spread it on a bite-size piece of toast and then add any condiments, such as chopped onions or capers.
- Celery, pickles, and radishes. To eat these fresh vegetables, remove them from the serving plate with your fingers and place them on the side of your dinner plate. Take small bites, using your fingers to bring the vegetables to your mouth.
- Chicken and other fowl. Unless you’re at a picnic, you should eat chicken and turkey with a knife and fork.
- Corn on the cob. Use both hands to eat an ear of corn. Butter and eat only a few rows at a time. You won’t encounter this food on formal occasions in America, and you won’t encounter it at all in Europe, where most people consider corn—and especially corn on the cob—to be food for livestock.
- Crabs. Eat crabs as you would lobster. See the following tips.
- Lobsters. To eat a lobster requires a host of techniques. Start by cracking the shell with a nutcracker and then extract the meat with a seafood fork (that’s the tiny little thing with the three tines). If you pull out a large piece, cut it with a fork. Pull off the small claws and suck out the meat (there’s not much meat in them, but what’s there is sweet!) as if you were drawing liquid through a straw. Use your knife and fork to eat stuffed lobster.
- Olives. Use the same technique with olives as you did with bacon, pickles, and celery. If the olive is pitted, eat it whole. If the olive is large and unpitted, hold it in your fingers and eat it in small bites, instead of popping the whole thing in your mouth and munching. As for the pit, kiss it into the palm of your hand then deposit it on the edge of your plate.
- Pasta. Pasta comes in many different sizes and shapes, but you can basically divide them into the long and stringy type and the short and squat type. To eat long and stringy pasta, like spaghetti or linguini, it’s a good idea to avoid that business of twirling spaghetti with your fork into the bowl of a spoon. Instead, eat a few strands at a time, twirling them on your fork without the support of a spoon. Do not cut the strands with your knife. Small ziti, penne, and the like require only a fork.
- Potatoes. The technique to use on a potato depends on how it is prepared. Eat the inside of a baked potato with a fork. If you want to eat the skin, cut it into manageable pieces with a knife and fork. Don’t try to convert your baked potatoes into mashed food. Cut fries in half and eat them with your fork.
- Shrimp. If the tails are still attached, use your fingers. Eat shrimp cocktail with a seafood fork, dipping a shrimp into the sauce and popping it into your mouth in two bites if large. Better still, put them on a serving plate, spoon a little sauce on them, and then cut the shrimp with a knife and fork.
- Tortillas. If you eat tortillas with your hands, start eating them at one open end, holding the other end closed. If they’re especially full and unwieldy, use a fork and knife and cut them crosswise, starting at an open end.
The following fruits are difficult to eat:
- Avocados. If the avocado is still in its shell, use a spoon. If in pieces on a plate, use a knife and fork.
- Berries. Eat berries with a spoon if they are served with no stems attached. If served with their stems, hold the berry by the stem and eat it in one or two bites after dipping the berry into sugar or sauce.
- Grapefruit halves. Section grapefruit halves so that the meat is accessible without a lot of digging. Eat the sections with a spoon and never squeeze the juice.
- Lemon wedges. Handle lemon wedges with care. You can secure them with a fork and squeeze with the other hand or, if you pick up a wedge to squeeze between the fingers, use the other hand as a «squirt shield» so that the diner beside you doesn’t get an eyeful of lemon juice.
- Oranges and tangerines. Either peel oranges and tangerines with a knife or with your fingers and then eat them section by section. If served on a plate, eat them with a fork.
- Peaches. Halve and then quarter peaches with a knife; then eat the fruits of this labor with a fork. You can either eat the skin or peel it off with a knife or your fingers.
- Pineapple. You eat pineapple with a spoon when served in small pieces and with a fork when sliced.
- Watermelon. If watermelon is served in small pieces, eat it with a spoon. Otherwise, use your fork. Put the seeds into the palm of your hand and transfer them to the side of your plate.
How you eat is just as important as what you eat. If you want to lose weight and elevate your overall lifestyle, start at the table. The foods you choose, the portion sizes, the table settings, and how you eat, all contribute to an overall elegant lifestyle. In this guide to how an elegant woman eats, you will learn a few easy tips to uplevel your dining experience.
Moderation Is Key
An elegant woman eats until she is satisfied and not a bite more. She never eats until she is stuffed. When she wants to indulge in a sweet treat, she may choose one scrumptious chocolate truffle that she savors, instead of feasting on an entire candy bar. She may share a luscious dessert at dinner instead of having an entire slice of tiramisu. She knows a few bites are enough to experience the pleasure, without consuming massive amounts of calories. She may want to try a beautiful pasta dish, so she’ll have a small portion as a primi course, instead of an entire bowl as the only dish at dinner. In Italy, pasta is consumed almost daily. But it is always a small course as part of a larger meal, which probably includes lots of vegetables and some fish. And they eat real semolina pasta, not any of the low-carb substitute pastas. A Mediterranean diet in not a low-carb diet. You don’t have to worry about carbs when you eat in moderation. An elegant woman knows how to indulge without overdoing it. You don’t have to live a life without the pleasures of the table. You can enjoy all of the fine foods by practicing moderation.
Overall Wellness and Nutrition
I believe the Mediterranean diet is the most elegant and healthy diet in the world. In fact, I’ve written a book all about it. In The Big Book of Mediterranean Diet Cooking, you will find 200 healthy recipes, along with information about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, with tips on how to get started, how to shop and stock your kitchen, how to choose an olive oil, and much more. An elegant woman learns about good nutrition and what works best for her body.
Eating for Beauty
There are certain foods that will make you feel and look more beautiful. It’s no surprise that most of these foods are vegetables. In my article Eating for Beauty, I outline nine foods that help naturally cleanse and detox your body, and they are all foods that are easy to incorporate into your meals. I would add to that list healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. We need fat in our diet to help us absorb vitamins and minerals. These unsaturated fats can help reduce inflammation, improve blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about what foods will benefit you and your lifestyle.
Setting an Elegant Table
The art of being an elegant woman means that nothing is ever overdone or ostentatious. That doesn’t mean life has to be boring. There is a difference in being theatrical and fancy and being pretentious and garish. When an elegant woman eats, she may like to set an elaborate table or style her food like it was in a magazine. But she will never be showy just to impress someone. She wants to impress herself. It’s fun to have pretty napkins on the table. It’s romantic to set a table with flowers or candles. Make your meals into special occasions. Your life is a special occasion, and you can bring beauty and elegance to every part of your day by adding little extra touches to your meals. Don’t save the good dishes for holidays only. Use them whenever you feel like creating a special atmosphere. I don’t use mine every day because that would make them feel less special overall. But when I cook an elaborate dinner, I pull out my mother’s good china. I see everyone’s face brighten up when they come to the table because they know they are in for a treat.
Etiquette and Manners
When I was in high school — I went to an all-girls school — our principal brought in experts to teach us proper etiquette. It may seem like an old-fashioned subject to teach young women, but good manners never go out of style. I am perfectly confident that I could have tea with the Queen of England without making any faux pas. Oftentimes people are intimidated when they sit down to an elaborate meal with many courses. The general rule is to use your utensils from the outside in. The table will be set with the specific courses in mind. For example, if there is a soup course, you will find a soup spoon to the far right of your table setting. If there is salad, the outside fork is for the salad course and the next fork in will be for your dinner. If you get up from the table, leave your napkin on your chair, so the server knows that you will be returning. When you leave the table at the end of the meal, leave the napkin on the table. Teach your children how to eat elegantly at the table as well. Your kitchen should be a place to relax and enjoy food, but that should also include good table manners. It will serve them well when they go out into the world and have to attend business lunches or elegant parties. When you are the hostess, your number one aim should be to see that everyone is comfortable and enjoying themselves. If you ever do get to have tea with the Queen, you can be sure she would want you to enjoy yourself. She won’t be judging you. So relax, and enjoy the confidence that comes with good manners. I hope you enjoyed this guide to how an elegant woman eats. We can all use a little more elegance in our daily lives. Buon Appetito. Click here to read the entire Elegance Series. Table etiquettes are always a daunting topic — whether it is a business dinner you are going for, a black-tie event that you wish to attend or a casual brunch on a day out with friends. From types of cutlery, styles of eating different cuisines — there are different levels of etiquettes that are followed throughout the world depending on the occasion. Tushar Nagar, Food and Beverage Manager, Courtyard by Marriott and Fairfield by Marriott, Bengaluru, and Ishan Shah, Director and Co-Owner MAIA — Eat, Bake, Mom, Bengaluru, tell us how to get the right table etiquettes. Getting started If you are invited to have dinner with someone, it is always a good idea to respond, even if an RSVP is not requested. This helps with planning. When you are dining at the home of a friend, it is a good idea to bring a gift for the host or hostess. Some dinner parties are formal and have place cards where the host or hostess wants you to sit. If not, ask if there are any seating preferences. Wait until the host sits before you do. Know your glasses
If you have more than one glass on the table which resembles a wine glass, you can tell which one is for what purpose by the following simple guide. The water glass is always a thicker one with a substantial stem as opposed to wine glasses. Within the wine glasses, the dessert wine glasses have a wider mouth and smaller bowl, the champagne flutes are more elongated than others and the white wine glass has a wider mouth and a narrower body. Use of cutlery and hands
If there are a lot of forks and knives on either side of your plate, always start the meal by using the cutlery on the outer most end and work your way in. Do not keep your knife and fork crossed on the plate at any time as that is considered rude. If you are drinking from a stemmed glass, hold it by the stem. A typical rule of thumb is to start with the utensil that is farthest from your plate and work your way toward the centre of your place setting. Dishes such as pizza, sushi pizza, the nagiri sushi, and your breads are meant to be eaten with hands so use of cutlery is not always the right thing to do specially if you are with a Japanese or an Italian, in this case. When to eat
If you are eating out, you should wait until all the members of your group have been served before picking up your fork. For dinners where food is served at the table, the dishes should be passed in a counter-clockwise flow. Never reach across the table for anything. While eating
It is always advisable to turn off your cell phone before sitting down, to avoid talking and texting while dining. It is rude in the company of others or guests. Keep your elbows off the table or rest the hand you are not using in your lap. Never talk or burp while dining — it’s just gross, even if someone asks you a question, wait for the food and then answer. Taste your food before you add salt, pepper, or other seasoning. Doing otherwise may be insulting to the host or hostess. Cut one or two bites instead of cutting all at once and taste everything served on plate unless you’re allergic. If you spill something at a restaurant, signal one of the servers to help. If you spill something at a private dinner party in someone’s home, pick it up and blot the spill. Offer to have it professionally cleaned if necessary. After the meal
After you finish eating, partially fold your napkin and place it to the left of your plate. Never use a toothpick or dental floss at the table.
Having said all this, eating is always about one’s comfort, so how one wishes to eat a dish is completely on them. At the end of the day, the best advice would be to enjoy your meal, make sure you convey your pleasure and bon appetit. Read more: Beat the heat this summer with these seven ‘cool’ drinks!
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