The Simples Etiquette Guide to Dining Out

Trying new cuisines for the first time can often be daunting, with our new research revealing that almost a third of Brits avoid eating new types of cuisine due to nervousness around how to eat them ‘correctly.’

Trying new cuisines for the first time can often be daunting, with our new research revealing that almost a third of Brits avoid eating new types of cuisine due to nervousness around how to eat them ‘correctly.’

It’s easy to see why diners may be put off though, as the research reveals that some fail to master even the most basic of British dining out etiquette. Nearly 40% of Brits revealed they don’t know how to use a knife and fork correctly and six in 10 come unstuck when setting the table. Things aren’t much better when it comes to eating world cuisines, as understanding of international dining etiquette falls short. 64% of those polled admitted to not knowing how to use chopsticks and despite Italian being the nation’s favourite cuisine, almost three quarters (70%) don’t know the correct way to eat Spaghetti Bolognese.
To help Brits feel more confident and make the most of the variety of restaurants available on the high street, we’ve partnered with etiquette expert Jo Bryant to create the Meerkat Meals Simples Etiquette Guide to ensure diners have the know-how to enjoy food from all corners of the globe. Find Jo’s tips below to ensure you feel confident the next time you eat out, as well as impress your fellow diners.

The Simples Etiquette Guide to Dining Out

by Jo Bryant, Etiquette Expert

Why dining etiquette matters

Our table manners can make a strong impression on other people, so good manners are essential social skills. Whether dining with friends, family, colleagues or on a date, mastering the basics of dining etiquette can easily impress, whilst poor table habits could have the opposite effect.

With only 11% of Brits admitting to feeling completely confident when it comes to trying new types of cuisine due to fears around mastering the appropriate dining etiquette, I’ve pulled together an easy-to-follow guide to help equip diners with the etiquette know-how to feel comfortable in all dining scenarios.

British table settings decoded

It can feel overwhelming when faced with lots of different sets of cutlery, which perhaps explains why the research found that six in 10 Brits don’t know how to correctly lay a dinner table. There is, however, an easy logic to laying and navigating the table:

  • Knives go to the right, and forks to the left.
  • Cutlery is used from the outside inwards, so starter cutlery is placed on the outside and main course cutlery on the inside.
  • If soup is being served as a starter, then the soup spoon is placed to the right and outside of the main course knife.
  • Dessert cutlery is generally positioned across the top of the place setting, with the bowl of the spoon pointing to the left and the tines of the fork to the right (unless at a formal banquet or dining with the Queen, when pudding spoons and forks are placed innermost to the knives and forks).
  • Side plates go to the left of the forks, usually with a butter knife and napkin.
  • Wine and water glasses go to the top right of the setting.

Cutlery confidence

We often dine alone or eat at our desk, making it easy to slip into bad cutlery habits. Shockingly, nearly 40% of those polled admitted to not knowing the most accepted technique of using a knife and fork.

  • Hold your knife with the index finger along the top of the handle; forks are held with the tines pointing downwards.
  • Some foods can be eaten with just a fork (e.g. some pastas) – in this case, the fork should be held with the tines facing upwards, similar to a spoon.
  • You should not cut up your food, then put down your knife and eat with just your fork – it’s correct to use both the knife and fork, or just a fork.

The basics

Most of us were taught them as a child, but it’s easy to forget the basics.

  • It is unpleasant for others to see you chew with your mouth open, or speak with your mouth full.
  • Despite almost half (47%) admitting to it, it’s not considered polite to place elbows on the dinner table
  • Knives are meant only for cutting, never licking or eating from.
  • Sit up straight, and bring your food to your mouth, rather than slouching or leaning down towards your plate.

The old and the new

It is understandable to feel under-confident when trying new cuisines.

  • You don’t have to be an expert, but it is polite to have an awareness of some the basic etiquette expectations. It shows politeness and will allow you to tuck in with confidence.
  • Spaghetti is eaten with just a fork by twirling it round and round until a neat mouthful is secured; it is incorrect to cut it with a knife, or use a spoon.
  • Chopsticks are held with one stick in the crook of your thumb and the other placed parallel above it. They should never cross, be used to serve yourself communal food or used to point (or play drums) with. Avoid leaving your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, as it symbolises bad luck and is associated with funerals in Japan.
  • Grapes are never to be picked off one by one, which over a third (34%) of those polled were unaware of. Instead, break off a small bunch with your fingers.

Restaurant etiquette

Dining out isn’t just about the food – there are a plenty of etiquette pointers to remember.

  • Our research found that a major bugbear for British diners is lateness, with over a third (35%) finding it intolerable. Don’t keep your dining companions waiting – if you are meeting just one other person, they will be sitting alone and if you are part of a group, you may delay everyone’s orders.
  • Don’t disturb people at other tables by being overly noisy, particularly if you are a large group.
  • Make conversation and be social, but remember to listen too as 55% find talking over other members of the party to be impolite.
  • Never click your fingers or call out loudly to the waiting staff. In Britain, it is customary to attract attention – for example to ask for the bill – by calmly and confidently catching eyes.

Technology taboos

Mobile phones and tablets at the table can cause offence and irritate your companions. When polled on what is considered to be poor dining manners, the top-voted annoyance was people texting/emailing whilst at the table (68%).

  • Never let your technology seem more important than your dining companions.
  • Avoid checking emails and social media at the table; updates can wait.
  • Never take regular calls at the table. If you are expecting a very important phone call, warn everyone in advance, leave the table to take it and keep it brief.

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