Do people avoid dining with you? Do they avert their eyes when you pick up a fork?

Etiquette at the dining table can vary across cultures. This page deals mainly with proper table manners in the United States. Having bad table manners isn't just an annoyance for fellow diners, but it can also hurt you professionally. Many employers interview potential employees over lunch these days ... good table manners will go a long way toward impressing your potential boss.

Signs your table manners need some work:

  • You chew your food with your mouth open.
    You probably do this out of habit and are unaware of how unattractive it is to your fellow diners. Practice chewing with both your upper and lower lips touching.
  • You chew your food loudly.
    This symptom usually goes hand-in-hand with chewing food with your mouth open.
  • You slurp your beverage, soup or cereal.
    While this is acceptable in some cultures, it can be offensive in others. When in Rome ...
  • You belch at the table.
    Again, acceptable in some cultures. Not in the U.S.
  • You pass gas at the table.
    Ewww.
  • You speak with your mouth full of food.
    Nobody enjoys looking across the table at their dining companion during conversation and seeing a mouthful of food. If you're dining and talking, take smaller bites of your meal so that you may chew your food more quickly before getting back to the conversation. And try and get your bites in while someone else is talking.
  • You use your fingers to pick up food that isn't french fries, pizza, burgers, hot dogs or popcorn.
    Of course, there are other foods that are also acceptably lifted by the fingers. When in doubt, look around at what others are doing or just use a fork.
  • You pick at your teeth (with your fingers AND/OR with a toothpick) in front of others.
    Save this for the bathroom.

Advanced table manners

  • Always place your napkin on your lap when dining out at a more formal establishment. Keep it on your lap (except when using it) until your party is ready to leave the table.
  • Wait to begin eating until everyone at your table has been served, unless the fellow diner who's waiting for their meal insists you begin.
  • Never reach across the table for something. Politely ask the person nearest the item to pass it to you.
  • Don't place your elbows on the table. Wrists are OK, though. You may place your elbows on the table between courses.
  • Confused about place settings - which bread plate or glass is yours? Just remember that liquids are always on your right and solids are on your left.
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