Table Manners: Tips and pitfalls

Table etiquette

Beginning
Developing the habit of taking a moment to observe which starting method will be operative at an event can be very useful in preventing awkward mistakes. It will ensure, for example, that an agnostic guest never finds himself with laden fork pushed halfway into his mouth just as the host begins to say grace.There are two common approaches to determining how to begin, and, whichever method is used, it should be followed at the start of each course of the meal. At smaller events, it is common to wait to take a bite until everyone at the table has received a serving and the hostess has begun eating. Sometimes a hostess may urge her guests to eat immediately upon receiving the food. This is especially true at larger events, where waiting for everyone would allow it to get cold. In this case, wait until one or two of the other guests are ready to begin as well, so that you are not the only person at the table who is eating. 

Posture
(“Elbows, elbows, if you’re able — keep your elbows off the table!”)
Proper posture at the table is very important. Sit up straight, with your arms held near your body. You should neither lean on the back of the chair nor bend forward to place the elbows on the table. It is permissible to lean forward slightly every now and then and press the elbows very lightly against the edge of the table, if it is obvious that you are not using them for support.
 

Eating Soup
Dip the spoon into the soup, moving it away from the body, until it is about two-thirds full, then sip the liquid (without slurping) from the side of the spoon (without inserting the whole bowl of the spoon into the mouth). The theory behind this is that a diner who scoops the spoon toward himself is more likely to slosh soup onto his lap, although it is difficult to imagine what sort of eater would stroke the spoon so forcefully through the liquid that he creates waves. It is perfectly fine to tilt the bowl slightly — again away from the body — to get the last spoonful or two of soup.

Offering Food
Take note, when you are the host of a party, of the way you offer additional servings to your guests. Urging someone to “have another (or a second or third) helping” can be seen as an unpleasant insinuation that the guest has eaten too much. It is best to phrase each offer of food as if the dish has just been brought out for the first time.
“Please Pass the Salt”
The proper response to this very simple sounding request is to pick up both the salt and the pepper and to place them on the table within reach of the person next to you, who will do the same, and so on, until they reach the person who asked for them. They are not passed hand-to-hand, nor should anyone other than the original requester sprinkle her food when she has the shakers in her possession. The reason for this, as Judith Martin points out more than once, is that American etiquette is not about efficiency. Often, the most refined action is that which requires the greatest number of steps to carry it out (as in, for example, the zig-zag method of handling a fork and knife).
Removing Inedible Items from the Mouth
The general rule for removing food from your mouth is that it should go out the same way it went in. Therefore, olive pits can be delicately dropped onto an open palm before putting them onto your plate, and a piece of bone discovered in a bite of chicken should be returned to the plate by way of the fork. Fish is an exception to the rule. It is fine to remove the tiny bones with your fingers, since they would be difficult to drop from your mouth onto the fork. And, of course, if what you have to spit out will be terrifically ugly — an extremely fatty piece of meat that you simply can’t bring yourself to swallow, for example — it will be necessary to surreptitiously spit it into your napkin, so that you can keep it out of sight.

Source is here.

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