Thanksgiving 101: Table Manners

Yesterday we talked a bit about manners for when you are a host or a guest this Thanksgiving. Today we’re going to talk a little about table manners. It’s information we can all stand to brush up on,. and something we can start teaching the children so they can eventually move up from the kiddie card table in the living room!

Courtesy, The Etiquette School of Birmingham

Table Manners

Just in case you could use a refresher course in table manners, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Sit where your host indicates and don’t sit until the host sits. A gentleman seats the lady on his right, then the lady on his left. The lady sits when she feels the chair touch the back of her leg, and then helps scoot the chair forward. Ladies enter a chair from the right.

A napkin begins the meal. When your host picks up the napkin, follow suit and place in your lap. (No tucking under your chin or in your belt.) The napkin stays in your lap (unless you’re dabbing at the corners of your mouth with it) until you leave the table. Then it’s placed on the table to the left of your plate.

Which utensils should you use? Working your way from the outside of the place setting in. If you’re right handed, your left hand should be in your lap when not engaged with a utensil. Lefties: Just the opposite.

Pass to the right. The handle of any serving utensils on the plate should be aimed at the person receiving the pass.

Eat only when everyone has been served. Again, follow the prompt of your host.

Salt and pepper are passed together, not separately. Never season your food without first tasting it.

Meat should be cut one piece at a time. All your veggies can be cut at one time, if you like.

The correct way to eat bread: break a single, bite-sized piece of bread off a roll, butter that piece, and eat. Repeat as necessary.

Remember what Mama said – chew with your mouth closed, and, although good conversation makes for a delightful meal, don’t speak with a full mouth..

If you cannot eat something on your plate due to allergies or another problem, keep quiet about it. No one wants to hear about what eating those nut-laden green beans will do to your gastric system. If you simply don’t like carrots…or Brusselssprouts, tough. Eat at least one bite of everything that won’t kill you and then push it around your plate until the end of the meal.

If you spill, don’t make it a big issue. Your host knew the risk when he/she decided to serve cranberry sauce and red wine. That said, do your best to remove the offending item from the crisp white tablecloth and/or wipe up what you can. If it’s an overturned glass that’s flooded your neighbor’s plate, offer to do whatever is necessary to quickly deal with the spill. After the meal, discreetly offer to have the tablecloth cleaned or pay to have it cleaned or, if necessary, offer to replace the tablecloth.

If you must leave the table for any reason during the meal, say “excuse me,” and place your napkin on the table to the left of your plate or on the seat of your chair.

By the way, there’s nothing crude about polishing off every last morsel on your plate. There’s no better way to complement the chef.

If seconds are offered, feel free to take advantage. If they are not, consider stopping by Burger King on your way back home.

The meal has ended when your host places his/her napkin on the left side of his/her plate and rises. If you think you haven’t finished eating, you’re mistaken.

Kathie Martin is founder and president of The Etiquette School of Birmingham. A communications professional with more than 30 years in the corporate and non-profit world, she holds etiquette certification from the American School of Protocol. Martin provides etiquette training for children, business etiquette training for corporations and adults and speaks to college groups and community organizations on a variety of etiquette-related subjects. For more information, visit, e-mail her at, or call 205-222-0932.

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