Large family dinners became rare during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when gathering in big crowds was discouraged. But as the 2022 winter holidays approach, it’s likely that many of those large meals will be returning.
And it’s possible diners have forgotten their table manners along the way.
But table manners may get a bad rap, thanks to outdated ideas.
“It’s not about only using the correct fork,” Gottsman says. “It’s about being comfortable in your surroundings so you don’t put others in an awkward situation while they watch you stumble and stammer. Knowing how to navigate the dinner table pays off, socially and in business, because you come across as confident and in control. Ultimately, your table manners put others at the table at ease.”
Following are several examples of bad table manners we’re all sometimes guilty of — but really should avoid.
Using cellphones at the table
So many people are addicted to their cellphones these days – for work, for entertainment, for communication. Yet those slick phones aren’t invited to the upcoming holiday meal.
“Your cellphone should not be brought to the table at all,” Gottsman says. Phones distract us and take away our attention from those with whom we’re sitting.
Using the phone “sends the message that you are distracted, and they are not as important with the person you were speaking with on the cellphone,” she notes.
Clogging up the table with personal items
Another problem with cellphones: People want to have them close, and often set them next to their place setting on a dinner table. Don’t do this, Gottsman says.
“The dinner table is already crowded enough with multiple wine glasses, utensils, and an assortment of food items,” she says. Instead, find a secure, away-from-the-table spot for your phone, purse, car keys, or anything else that won’t safely hide away in your pocket.
Digging in early
The turkey may smell delicious, but don’t help yourself before your host gives the go-ahead.
“It’s simply rude to start eating before everyone has gotten their plate,” Gottsman says.
Your host may be planning a special welcome toast or prayer. You don’t want that to happen while you’re already midway through your salad.
Often at large holiday meals, food is served family-style, with bowls of the different dishes being passed around the table. This is no excuse to serve yourself 99% of the mashed potatoes and leave little for the rest of the diners.
“Much like at a buffet table, you serve yourself a small portion to make sure everyone at the table has been served,” Gottsman says. “If you would like seconds, wait till everyone has had a chance to have a first round.”
Stirring up controversial conversations
There used to be an unwritten rule that one didn’t discuss politics or religion at family events. If you’re going to break that rule, try to be careful about it.
Gottsman notes that it’s not always easy to avoid controversial topics these days. But she advises dinner guests not to insist on getting the last word.
“Allow people to speak and respond thoughtfully,” she says. “And have plenty of other conversation topics ready to talk about.”
When someone else is speaking, are you listening, or just eagerly plotting how to jump in before they’re even done talking?
“Allow someone to finish their sentence before jumping in, and don’t bring the conversation back to yourself,” Gottsman says.
Cutting up all your food before eating
Sure, parents may cut their child’s food up at the beginning of a meal, so the child can eat piece by piece (and the parent can have a break to eat, too). But adults should not chop up all their own food before eating. It may seem more efficient to slice up all that steak and then put your steak knife away for a while, but resist the temptation.
“Cut only one piece of food at a time,” Gottsman says. “Cutting up all of your food is bad manners, and unsightly for fellow guests.”
Picking your teeth at the table
It’s so tempting. If you feel a peppercorn or something else trapped in a molar, the natural inclination is to use your own hands, or a toothpick, to get it out. Don’t do it at the table, though. No one wants to watch that process.
“Anytime you have something lodged in your teeth, excuse yourself and go to the restroom to take care of the issue,” Gottsman says.
Neglecting your host
Whoever is hosting the dinner has taken on a big task to ensure a good time is had by all. They’ve had to clean, shop, prepare meals, and certainly spend money to make the evening work. So don’t forget to thank or compliment them at the end of the evening, or even as it’s going along.
Gottsman also suggests that a gracious guest bring a small host or hostess gift as well. It’s the least you can do for all their hard work.