Editor's note: A few weeks ago, Hot Dish explored the idea that traditional manners are passé, an outdated formality that dampens the dining experience. Now, we're looking at whether formality should in fact have more of a place at the table.
While there's no reason to return to the days of stuffy formality, most people need a little refresher on dining decorum. Channeling our baser instincts is good from time to time (and it's humbling to remind ourselves that we are, indeed, animals), but not while eating. Slurping, slouching, and smacking don't just look bad -- they're downright offensive.
The Emily Post Institute published a list of top 10 table manners to keep in mind. They are as follows:
1. Chew with your mouth closed. 2. Avoid slurping, smacking, and blowing your nose. 3. Don't use your utensils like a shovel or as if you've just stabbed the food you're about to eat. 4. Don't pick your teeth at the table. 5. Remember to use your napkin at all times. 6. Wait until you're done chewing to sip or swallow a drink. (The exception is if you're choking.) 7. Cut only one piece of food at a time. 8. Avoid slouching and don't place your elbows on the table while eating (though it is okay to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses.) 9. Instead of reaching across the table for something, ask for it to be passed to you. 10. Always say 'excuse me' whenever you leave the table.
The Post Institute doesn't even mention smaller infractions such as chewing ice (something this writer is guilty of) and incessant iPhone use (whipping it out to share pictures might be okay so long as the rest of the group is in on the experience), but provides basic guidelines for how to conduct oneself at a meal. This is entirely possible without sacrificing fun or returning to a stodgy, white-tablecloth era. And it reminds the people you're dining with that they are deserving of your effort and respect.
What the Post Institute doesn't acknowledge is how certain rules have changed as the times have.
Finger food is one such foible. It's sometimes messy, but there's a right time and place for it. It's foolish to eat pizza or rib tips with a fork and knife, and even delicacies like oysters qualify as finger food. But pork belly? Not so much. If you're served a bowl of berries at a restaurant, eat it with a fork. If you're at home, use your fingers. If it's meant to be eaten as finger food, eat it as such. If it's not, don't even think about it.
Smartphone use is tricky. Depending on the company and the venue, you have every right to Instagram your meal or post a Facebook status about where you're dining and with whom. However, this should be limited to the beginning of the meal. When the eating happens, phones should be put away.
Attire is a crucial part of decorum as well, and people -- especially men -- no longer dress up to go out. Light-washed jeans and "going out" shirts (untucked, oversized dress shirts) are both de rigueur and de trop. Most guys would benefit from flipping through a copy of GQ. A sport coat, trim button-down, and selvedge denim is an appropriate dinner outfit. Wardrobe holdovers from your frat days are not. As GQ's Style Guy Glenn O'Brien said, "We must have the courage to turn the shoddy away at the door."
Though some argue that any dining rules are antiquated, there are reasons why, among other things, silverware is set up in a particular fashion (clean utensils for each course!), and why poor posture and elbows on the table are both rude and unattractive. We've lost our basic sense of how to behave at the table, where a meal among friends or family now quickly regresses to a silent, sloppy chow-down. Indeed, it seems the act of respectful, thoughtful dining is outside the norm, an act of defiance in the face of a hurried and unmannered society. It's a rebellious kind of dining we should all consider.
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