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Answers to Your Burning Dining-Etiquette Questions

At Norman Rockwell’s holiday table there was certainly a napkin on every lap, a “Please” and Thank you” for every dollop of mashed potato and a symphony of amiable conversations. However, This paradigm of dining etiquette does not always translate into the typical family holiday-dinner reality. Below are simple table manners that can help you navigate around common dilemmas and leave more room for levity at your table this holiday season:

When do I do when I sit down? Nothing. Wait for the host to make the first move. You do not want to be guzzling down your last drop of wine only to discover the host is about to offer a toast!

When do I place my napkin on my lap? Once the host places her napkin on her lap, do the same. Open the napkin under the table. If it is a dinner-size napkin, fold it so that the crease faces your lap. That way, when you lift the napkin it is less likely the napkin will open and release a cascade of crumbs!

Where do I place my napkin when I leave the table? If you are leaving the table mid-meal, place the napkin on your chair. This puts your soiled napkin out of the view of the other diners. When the host places her lightly crumpled napkin back on the table to the left of her plate, guests so the same. This signifies the end of the meal.

I’m going to be the toastmaster! Help! As long as everyone can see you, you may choose to stay seated when offering your toast;. Offer the toast, then raise your glass and sip. Guests murmur something such as “Here! Here!” and raise their glasses; everyone sips. One may toast with any beverage, including water.

Oops! I dropped my fork! At a restaurant, let it be and ask for another. As a guest at someone’s home, pick up the utensil and ask for another.

Uncle Ed asked for another roll. Can I grab one as they pass by? If everyone digs in, the basket may be empty by the time it reaches your dear uncle. And he’s the one who made the request! Pass basket around the table (always pass to the right);nonstop, to Uncle Ed. Then you are free to pass it around the table again, so others can help themselves.

But, I can’t stand sweet potatoes! There are those who suggest nonchalantly moving the potatoes around on your plate. I look at it this way: your host planned the menu, shopped, cooked, set the table, and served the meal. As a guest, we owe it to her to eat. But there is room for compromise: you can take a small amount, of the offending food,  take a few bites and leave a couple of bites.( After all, you are not required to clean your plate). That way your host feels appreciated, and your torment is minimal.

I am allergic to… if allergies, religious beliefs or vegetarian/other principles put certain foods on your “Do Not Eat” list, let your host know in advance. If you find yourself in a position where those foods are served, simply explain. No host wants her guests to flout their convictions nor does she want to be calling for an ambulance!

What’s this in my mouth? If you find yourself chewing on a bone or piece of gristle, remove it with your thumb and index finger; then place it on the side of your butter plate. (In the absence of a butter plate, use your dinner plate.)

I thought the olives had been pitted! If you discover the olive-pitter missed one, cup your hand, lean over and drop the pit into your (cupped) hand; then place it on the side of your plate. You do not want to attempt removing the pit with your thumb and index finger; olive pits (and cherry stones); are small and slick; one could easily slip out from between your fingers, and splash into Auntie Emma’s soup!

Brushing up on table manners can help you and your family create its own holiday-dinner masterpiece! No canvas needed! Happy Holidays!