It can be intimidating when you get invited to a formal dinner, especially if you’re not used to such parties. Unlike the usual place settings at home or at restaurants, you might need to deal with various utensils and dine with people who are used to it.
TBH, it’s not a crime not to know some of the fancier dining etiquette rules. But it is nice to know and apply them properly to show your respect as a guest. Of course, beyond those ~technical rules~, there are some table manners that you just can’t skip. Read on for some of the essential dining etiquette rules you need to know.
Dining etiquette 101
Let’s start with the basic no-no’s, aka all the things you should know to NEVER do by now. First, never be that gross person who chews with her mouth open, blows her nose during dinner, or picks her teeth. Second, never be rude to your servers—no exceptions! Third, never ever double dip or touch all the food for sharing with your utensils (or worse, your hands!).
Mind the dress code, too! It’s easy if you’re attending a wedding reception. The dress code is usually spelled out for you in the invitation. But when you’re invited to an intimate gathering or when you’re having a date at a fancy place, check out the place and gauge what you should wear. Alternatively, just ask your host.
When it comes to using your phones, let’s be real: it’s a gray area. If you want to really be proper, focus on your dinner and don’t take phone calls nor check your phone for texts. Turn off your phone or keep it on silent mode (not vibrate mode, since we all know that’s still quite distracting). Of course, urgent calls may not be avoided sometimes. If you get one, excuse yourself from the table and take your call in the lobby or lounge.
Taking food photos, you know, “for the ‘gram”
Sure, everyone seems to be doing it, but in reality, not everyone is okay with this. For your own food, go ahead and take photos if you want. But if you’re one of those people who take a flat lay of the entire dinner spread before eating, please make sure everyone is genuinely okay with you doing so. Food gets cold, stomachs protest, and judgments get laid if you’re too inconsiderate.
Table manners when you’re in an intimate banquet
Let’s say a friend invites you to dine with her family in a formal brunch. In intimate banquets like this, food is usually served in platters. One thing you can’t do is assume when it comes to food preferences. If there’s a platter of pancakes, don’t assume that everyone wants theirs with lots of butter and maple syrup and work your magic with the pancake platter. Same goes for squeezing lemon on oysters, kalamansi on pansit, gravy on roast beef… you get the idea. Get your own serving, dress your own pancakes, and let others do the same.
Don’t eat ahead of the host, too. Wait for everyone to be served or get their fill before digging in. And your utensils should always be for personal use. In other words, never use them to get food from a platter, and always use or ask for a serving spoon or fork. In Filipino homes, you’re usually offered seconds, so feel free to help yourself or politely refuse if you’re already full.
Also, don’t just focus on your food; listen and participate in the shared conversation, too. But even if you’re so immersed in the conversation, you probably know to keep your elbows off the table and never talk with your mouth full. When you’re done, avoid leaving the table right away. In the Philippines, it’s a form of the infamous “eat-and-run” and this is usually considered impolite.
Proper dining etiquette at a wedding reception
If the dinner is served buffet-style, wait for advice if there will be a certain order for the queue. Usually, winners of a game get to line up first, and then the rest can line up in chronological order based on their table numbers. Other times, there will be a silent queue, where you'll wait for the wedding coordinators to usher you toward the buffet. If you're bitin, you can get second helpings after all the tables are done.
If it's a plated dinner, wait for your dinner to be served. If you need anything, ask the waiter assigned to your table. Are seconds allowed? Usually no, since for these dinner receptions, a set number of plates are paid. Typically, the couple pays for buffers, but they’re allotted for wedding guests that failed to RSVP but showed up anyway (which, BTW, is improper guest etiquette).
Using the napkins and utensils at formal dinners
Before laying your napkin on your lap, wait for your host to do so first. And yes, it goes on your lap—never tuck it in the collar of your shirt! When you’re leaving your table but you’re not done eating yet, leave the napkin on your chair. Keep it either unfolded on your seat or draped across the back or the arm of the chair. When you’re finally done eating, leave the napkin beside your place setting—never on your plate.
As for utensils, they’re laid out according to use from the outside in. For instance, the salad fork (which you use first when you’re served a multiple-course meal) is found at the leftmost place, while the dinner fork is right beside your plate. When you’re not done eating but have to leave your place, keep your utensils on your plate in an inverted V position. After eating, leave your utensils at the 4:00 position.
When you’re at a strictly formal dinner, you also need to avoid lifting the plates and bowls off the table. That means no tilting the soup bowl for that last spoonful of soup or lifting your plate when you can’t scoop the rice or noodles. Oh, no licking of the knife, either, when you’re having steak—no matter how flavorful the gravy is.
Dining etiquette rules at Korean restaurants
Korean food has become so trendy these days. If you find yourself dining in a traditional Korean restaurant, make sure you don’t come off as disrespectful, especially if you’re dining with natives. The side dishes or banchan served are usually for sharing. You can take from the communal banchan plates, but never rest your chopsticks on them. Don’t hog your favorite side dish, and make sure there’s enough for others, too.
When someone hands you a side dish or a bowl of rice or offers you a refill of drinks in your cup, use both hands to receive it. Pour drinks for others, especially if they’re older than you. Don’t lift your rice (or soup) bowl, and never stick your chopsticks in the rice, too.
Dining etiquette rules at Japanese restaurants
As for Japanese table etiquette, you can’t stick your chopsticks in your bowl of rice, either! Similar to Korean tradition, it’s like a ritual for the dead, so it’s a no-no at dinners. Don’t use your chopsticks to move bowls or dishes around, too, and don’t lay them on top of your bowl. And your chopsticks are only for eating, so never use them to point to people.
When at a Japanese restaurant, don’t mix wasabi in your soy sauce as a dip for sushi, too. It’s considered offensive to the chef. The proper way is getting a bit of wasabi on one side of the sushi and dipping the other side in the soy sauce. Speaking of sushi, eat it all in one bite, and don’t pass sushi to another person using your chopsticks. Lastly, you can slurp Japanese ramen noodles but never miso soup!
The most important dining etiquette rule
Avoid calling out others if they make a mistake! It’s rude, and you should probably worry about your own table manners before others. The only acceptable time you can do this is if you’re the host and the person is being unacceptably gross or rude.
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