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Minding your manners and dining etiquette


Do you know your soup spoon from your dessert spoon?

Do you know your soup spoon from your dessert spoon?

You might have seen in the news that traditional British table manners are in decline. I was particularly surprised to read about recent figures that show more people than ever before have stopped using both a knife and a fork, opting instead for a fork on its own – a more relaxed dining style commonly favoured in the USA. The increasing popularity of ready meals, pre-cut pizzas, chips, burgers and pasta means that knife usage is in decline; people just don’t think they need one.

So to bring back the popularity of the knife Debenhams is launching a Civilised Dining Campaign to protect the traditional British way of eating. We’ve also put together a Dining Etiquette Guide so we can re-jog our memories of how best to dine at the table – have your knives and forks at the ready…

The Debenhams Dining Etiquette Guide


Place napkins on your knee when you sit down at a dinner table. The napkin should rest on the lap till the end of the meal. If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold the napkin and place it to the left or right of your plate.

At the end of the meal, leave the napkin loosely folded at the left side of the place setting.

The all important rules:

1) Use the silverware farthest from your plate first and work your way in.

2) Eat to your left, drink to your right. Any food dish to the left is yours, and any glass to the right is yours.

3) To signal that your are done with each course, rest your fork, tines up, and knife blade in, with the handles resting at five o’clock and tips pointing to eleven o’clock on your plate.

General etiquette rules:

  • Pass food from the left to the right.
  • If asked for the salt or pepper, pass both together.
  • Food is served from the left. Dishes are removed from the right.
  • Keep elbows off the table. Keep your left hand in your lap unless you are using it.
  • Do not talk with your mouth full. Chew with your mouth closed.

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  • http://www.protocolplus.com Heather Pickering

    I think your Minding Your Manners campaign is good news. I am the etiquette consultant of Protocol Plus and I followed your spokesman on the radio recently when he spoke about Debenhams selling more forks than knives.

    There are one or two corrections I would like to make to your etiquette guide, and a couple of refinements.

    Dessert is always fresh fruit, and is eaten with a dessert knife and fork. What is called the dessert course should correctly be called ‘pudding’ or ‘pud’. It can be followed by dessert, ie fresh fruit. Waiters are not taught the correct terminology, and diners will follow their lead.

    In Great Britain and America the soup spoon usually has a round bowl. However on the continent the soup spoon is oval and it is rare to find a soup spoon with a round bowl. In grand private house in the UK guests might be surprised to find the soup spoon can be oval. This is because the old family silver is being used and until about the 1930s soup spoons were oval.

    In restaurants the cutlery will not be laid out, but provided when the order has been taken. At corporate events and in houses where there is to be a set meal, the cutlery will be laid out.

    Working inwards is a good, general rule, with some exceptions. The bread knife in commercial eateries is usually put on the side plate, but in private houses it will be the very last piece of cutlery on the inside of the right hand row. The pudding spoon and fork should not be placed at the top of the setting, but at each side. Thus the spoon is just to the right of the bread knife, and the fork will be the last item on the inside left.

    Sometimes there is not enough space to set out the cutlery correctly, so it is re-arranged.

    I organise etiquette workshops either in my house in Northampton, or at a client’s premises wherever they are.

    Keep up the good work, standards are slipping!

    From Heather Pickering

  • Tamiko Zablith

    This is a wonderful article, thank you. People come from the world over to London to learn correct table manners. At Minding Manners we host a monthly modular finishing school programme in London called The Finishing Touch where a full-day is dedicated to the topic and practice of proper European table etiquette. The subject is complex especially as table manners in England are quite different from those on the Continent or in America.

    I do kindly encourage everyone to consider that some religions do not allow for the fork to be held in the left hand (and sometimes not even the knife) which means following the American style is sometimes the only style suitable for some.

  • britiquette.co.uk

    I have a saying … there is no point in having correct etiquette if you don’t have good manners.

    However, the BBC published the results of a very interesting study which stated – it was not a posh school, or lots of extra curricular activities or the such that was the greatest predictor of success. Actually the strongest correlation related to having been brought up in a family that sat down and ate dinner together.

    Most of us find ourselves in a situation at some point in time, where we wish we knew our basic etiquette. It’s easy enough to learn, and when you know it, you can choose when to use it and when to lose it!

    Well done Debenhams. And here’s to glam manners.