Some table manners are obvious and these are the most important for little ones to learn:
- Eat primarily with a fork, not your fingers or even a spoon. The exception to this rule is if a soup or similar consistency of food is served that must be eaten with a spoon, such as ice cream. D'œuvres may be eaten with the fingers.
- Pass the dishes at the table counterclockwise; wait to be served thus. Do not reach across the table to serve yourself. Ask for the plate of food politely if others are not promptly passing the dishes.
- Chew with the food in your mouth closed. If you can not chew this way because you are sick with a cold or congestion, ask for the food to be sent to your room and eat it privately. If you are ill and eat at the dinner table, you will likely spread those germs to healthier members of your family.
- Do not over stuff you mouth with food. Take small bites and chew these thoroughly before swallowing. This is best for the digestion.
- Do not eat too quickly. Eating fast will make you eat too much!
- Do not speak with others while there is food in your mouth.
- Do not talk about what you do not like about the food being served to you. If you do not care for it, discreetly decline it or take very little of the food on to your plate.
- Say please and thank you always at the table.
- Do not pick your teeth in front of others at the table.
- Place the napkin given to you for wiping your mouth on top of your lap, unfolded neatly. Lift it and wipe your mouth when it is needed; then place in back on your lap during the meal. When you leave the table, place the napkin to the right side of the plate.
- Do not place your elbows distractedly on the table. Elbows are not acceptable until after the meal has been removed from the table. If you are playing cards or simply talking at the table while snacks are passed around, the elbows no longer matter. It is only when a dinner is being served that people still expect you not to put your elbows on the table.
Some table manners are not so obvious to young people, here are a few that take a bit more observation and practice:
- Listen while members of the family are speaking; do not talk over them or rudely interrupt them.
- Remember that older members of the family have seniority at the dinner table. Adult conversation must be tolerated at the table. However, if the older family members are speaking directly to a young person, that young person should politely respond to the questions or remarks.
- Elders may select whoever says the table prayers. This person may politely decline but it is considered an honor to be asked to pray for the family at the dinner table and this should be taken into consideration. It is considered very rude in some families to be a young adult who declines to pray at the dinner table when asked publicly. Simple prayers are quite acceptable. If you do not know what to say a simple "Thank You, Lord, for this food and hospitality. Amen." is a very kind and polite prayer to give, once everyone has bowed their heads. To make a dinner prayer too long so that the food served becomes cold is actually considered rude. So to choose a polite simple prayer is preferred.
- The exceptions to the rule when asked to pray when you are a guest are: you have no religion or of a different religion than your host. What is a different religion is not a matter of denomination if your family is Christian. So if you are a visiting Baptist, do not decline the invitation if your host is a Methodist. By the same token do not decline to say a simple table prayer if you are Catholic visiting a Protestant's home or vise versa. Also priests and pastors of all Christian denominations should be expected to be asked to say table prayers in ordinary circumstances, do not be surprised by this nor insulted if not asked.
- If you have no religion or a different religion and you find yourself at the table of those who are praying, simply keep you gaze level and distracted upon the wall opposite to you and wait patiently for others to finish. If they take your hand during prayers accept it politely as a gesture of friendship. Do not interpret table prayers as an affront to your personal beliefs. If you are invited to take a meal with others, this is a compliment to you and it is not the correct forum for debates on religious belief.
- If you are coughing or choking at the table, stand and quietly exist without eye contact. Gain control in a bathroom and then return to the table. Say, "Excuse me," when returning; this is sufficient.
- When visiting the home of a friend for dinner, it is customary to give a small floral token to the hostess. Adults frequently give wine to each other but this is not expected of young adults under twenty. If you have neither token, write a simple note afterwards expressing thanks and leave it at a table by the front door or mail it as soon as you get home.