HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Basic Dining ettiquette (manners)

  • f

I have been very dismayed reading a number of threads where people are saying that they have no clue about basic manners or that they have had kids on their homes who openly say that the food they are being served "sucks". I have to say I am horrified!

Are there really parents out there who are not teaching their kids basic manners? Did your parents not teach you? Things like writing thank you notes, bringing hostess gifts, RSVPing in a timely manner, or the old adage: if you don't have any thing nice to say don't say anything.

I grew up middle class but my mom still taught me all the basics. I used to hate b-days because my hand would cramp from writing thank yous. I was taught about silverware at Christmas and other holidays at my grandparents who set a full table. My first time having dinner at my boyfriend’s family my mom took me shopping for the appropriate hostess gift.

My son is almost 4 and by no means is he even close to Little Lord Fauntleroy but I am also (rarely) embarrassed to take him anywhere. He eats with silverware and puts a napkin on his lap. He is polite to wait staff and hosts at parties. We write thank you notes together (since he can't actually write yet), he assists in picking out gifts when we go to peoples homes. He has learned all these things because we teach him but also because it is what he see us do everyday. Kids learn by what they see. Are there going to be instances in the future, sure, but that won’t stop me from constantly modeling proper behavior and teaching him the basics.

So how were you taught about proper manner/etiquette? Were they not important to your family and therefore not important to you? Did you mom harp and harp so that you now rebel? Did you learn from friends later in life? I really am curious.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Here comes the stick in the mud:

    I was too busy fighting off my abusive brother, figuring out a way to sidestep my emotionally abusive/manipulative mother, and make it to school without being beat up by the local bullies to really care much (or be taught) about proper manners. Oh, and I was raised in an upper-middle class, southern, 'good christian' home.

    Although my grandmother did slap me once for taking too much food. I'm sure that was effective.

    Hey, it all builds character, I'm not complaining.

    My point? GET OVER IT!!

    Someone uses the wrong freakin' fork? Oh no!

    Are they kind?

    An elbow on the table? GASP.

    But are they generous of spirit and willing to give you the shirt off their back?

    How blessed we are to live in a country where we aren't wondering where are food is going to come from every minute but rather have the luxury to discuss this topic.

    Want to know my truth?

    No, I was not taught to send thank you notes. I still don't. I forget or procrastinate. I could probably figure out which is the right fork to use, but that's surely gleaned from Merchant Ivory films. I probably laugh and talk too loudly. I don't say 'sir' or 'ma'am' because I think that is an arbitrary rule and teaches children that 'authority' is what matters, when I happen to believe the questioning of it is what matters. I could go on and on about my 'bad manners'.


    I am kind to a fault to servers. I'd give you the shirt off my back if you needed it. I'm fiercely loyal to my friends and love people with abandon. I try to be as kind as I can be and I really detest rudeness in myself and others. I try hard to be kind to the earth, animals, and be responsible for what I do, say and think. I believe we can and work towards changing the world.

    I guess I'm saying I got better thing to do than worry about whether or not I just offended someone because of how my pinky is held.

    17 Replies
    1. re: krissywats

      Agree. I'd much rather associate with a decent human being than one with impeccable manners and faulty ethics.

      1. re: Shep

        It really doesn't have to be an either/or situation. Most rules of etiquette were developed to "grease the wheels" of social interaction, not to implement arbitrary rules designed to trip people up. Of course intent and heart trump strict observation of the rules. But all other things being equal, manners do make a difference to everyone's comfort level.

        1. re: Kimm


          I understand your point. I'm not a mouth-breathing, open-mouth chewing, move my lips when I read kind of gal but who cares if I am? Your point is well taken, but when reading this entire thread one gets the distinct feeling that to some, manners alone would make the world a better place. Sigh....

          Kindness and open-heartedness, maybe, food and drugs and clean water, definitely - but manners?

          Whose manners? Does 'manners' mean being kind and not rude? OK, can do. Does it mean keeping your elbows off the table? Why? Who decided that was rude? I personally don't think it is and am never offended when someone does it. It's completely arbitrary. Arbitrary rules for the sake of rules is really tough for some of us to swallow - do you know what I mean?

          Going to a third world country and teaching the poor and starving manners is not going to help them one bit. Seriously, people only have time for so much in their lives and while I won't start farting at the table - I'm also not going to stress about whether my elbows wander - does this make sense?

          1. re: krissywats

            But Krissy,

            I used to think the way you do (or at least from your two messages) but I don't think people are refering to pinkys and elbows. I think the "rules" they are refering to are those that make people feel appreciated or make dining more pleasant. Open mouth chewing is offensive, and while many people have said that it's not something to hold against someone at a certain level it is not pleasant to behold.
            In a way manners would make the world a better place, but, only those that are used to make people feel good, then the manners are based in caring about others and I think that's what the point is?
            Also, although things seem arbitrary to us at this point (elbows) it seems that most rules are grounded in some sort of reasoning (of the culture at least).
            You definately make sense, but, I think this is being applied to a certain part of the world, not the places where it's obvious there are more pressing issues.
            Sorry for the rant :)

            1. re: LizK

              No apologies needed - not as much of a rant as I posted...heehee.

              My husband and I had this discussion at dinner last night as I looked around the slightly upscale restaurant we chose and noticed all of the older and upper class with their elbows on the table. My husband suggested that back when that 'rule' was established, tables and floors were probably much less level and an elbow on the table would make the entire table rock.

              Ok, THAT makes sense. For argument's sake, let's say that's the case. Then what has happened is that a rule that no longer holds any bearing has been carried on simply because it was established as understandably inconvenient for the other diners at the rocking table.

              My problem is with arbitrary rules and judgements passed (even if unspoken) based on those rules. And the idea that everyone should learn manners and if they didn't they are 'poor slobs'. Or that they are somehow morally failing. That's really offensive.

              The other day I heard a really beautiful, expensively dressed, pregnant asian woman on the ferry smacking her lips like crazy as she ate a sandwich, never once closing her mouth. IT was SO LOUD. And yes, it drove me crazy. But I'll bet she is a perfectly lovely person. So should I judge her based on that one behavior?

              The only reason I posted the background details of my childhood (I'm pretty much an open book) is because you never know WHY a person is the way they are and sometimes it does us good to understand a bit - maybe that person grew up in foster homes and didn't have parents to say 'don't chew with your mouth open' or 'don't talk with your mouth full'. It's easy to assume that people are simply faulty without trying to understand that in the end - none of that matters.

              Looking back through the posts - Elbows and 'yes sir', 'no sir' and other rules that seem arbitrary to me are mentioned - that's what I was reacting to. The idea that to be a good person one must have manners is as false as the idea that to be a good person one can't have manners. As has been stated, neither is mutually exclusive, but I'd rather spend my time looking at someone's heart, know what I mean?

              And yes, perhaps one day I'll send out more thank you notes but I wouldn't hold your breath!!

              1. re: krissywats

                >>The other day I heard a really beautiful, expensively dressed, pregnant asian woman on the ferry smacking her lips like crazy as she ate a sandwich, never once closing her mouth. IT was SO LOUD. And yes, it drove me crazy. But I'll bet she is a perfectly lovely person. So should I judge her based on that one behavior???

                Can't you judge the behavior without judging the person? A lot of people who do obnoxious things are probably very nice people who don't realize they're being obnoxious.

                1. re: bibi rose

                  Absolutey I can - but I'm not sure those referring to 'poor slobs' and the SHOCK and HORROR that someone might not have been taught manners that the OP mentioned...Well, I frankly am not certain others CAN do that.

                  It's been made clear throughout this thread that SOME people do, in fact, judge a person based on how they do or do not act at a dinner table: dear lord - there was the urban myth given of a quality man not being hired because of he salted food!!

                  I'd rather look at that situation and say 'ok, that irritates me but that says nothing about her as a person'.

                  Reality is that we only find chewing with your mouth open troublesome because it's how we were socialized. There is nothing inherent in the behavior that is 'wrong' - it's entirely socialization. We find it irritated because we were taught to find it irritating.

                  If we were entirely raised in a society where everyone made excess slurping noises while eating and we came upon someone who did not, we would all wonder what was wrong with that person and who, in heaven's name, forgot to teach them to slurp when they eat! How RUDE!!

                  1. re: krissywats

                    I don't think lack of manners makes someone a bad person. Just very annoying. The woman sitting next to me at lunch the other day with her elbow encroaching on my space was VERY annoying. Her open mouthed chewing when she talked to me was downright digusting. I played golf with her for 4 hours and found her to be a decent person. Wouldn't want to spend too much time with her however.

                    1. re: Linda VH

                      Did she repair her divots?

                      1. re: Shep

                        No, her golf etiquette was bad also. L

            2. re: krissywats

              Liz said it better than I could so I'll just add that the elbows on the table thing is more of an instance of poor table etiquette than rudeness to my mind. Not offensive, just not conforming to the accepted rules of a particular culture. In parts of Asia, it's perfectly acceptable.

              I would take some of the talk on this board with a grain of salt. People are quick to get on their high horses about a lot of things in theory, like, say, kids making demands and proclaiming that the food "sucks", but when confronted with the reality of actual children and how they're just kids and haven't been taught any better (most of the time), it's difficult to be as outraged. I mean, I could shake my head over their parents but then I've invited them over so they usually have some qualities that outweigh this perceived shortcoming (as mine do for them). Nobody's perfect. From everything that I've read in your posts, Krissy, your manners sound great. Familiarize yourself with table etiquette if you feel like it, but if you don't, I highly doubt that you'll lose any current or future friends over it. I'd come over to your house anytime you invited me ;)

              1. re: krissywats

                I think we're also overlooking the fact that the original poster brough up that not only are the finer points of etiquette eschewed all to ofter, but basic, basic manners. The example given of a child stating that the food they are served "sucks" is the kind of rudeness that is increasingly common and goes directly to the point of meanness and selfishness and how manners are, at core, about not exhibiting those characteristics. Someone would be a snob for snubbing you if you didn't know the appropriate placement of your fork to signal your server that you were through, but they would be very justified in not having you back to dinner if you proclaimed that what they had served you "sucked"

              2. re: Kimm
                Lickety Split

                Very nicely said.

                1. re: Kimm

                  Agreed. Suppose I was reacting to the tone of many of the posts on this thread, which come across as really judgemental and intolerant. I'm sure the posters are nicer than the posts.

              3. re: krissywats

                Well, if you were raised in a southern, christian home, you may have heard the saying "hate the sin, love the sinner".

                90% of my friends have no freakin' manners. They don't RSVP, they don't send thank yous, they don't bring hostess gifts (actually the ratio is slightly better for hostess gifts), they bring Pepsi to a party in case you serve Coke which they are offended by, they bring EXTRA GUESTS to a party, they spread the fruit dip on their hamburger(see these are casual parties...I wouldn't dare feed them indoors), pour the gazpacho in their plates instead of the soup bowls, volunteer to take home the extra beer, and pour Sprite in the wine because it's not sweet enough.

                And I LOVE THOSE GUYS! I'd have them over once a month if my husband wouldn't divorce me. I enjoy their company, and it gives me funny stories to tell to my Mother.

                Oh, and to answer the OP's question: my mother taught me. And we had a huge Amy Vanderbuilt in the bookshelves that I read cover to cover. I remember being very concerned that we didn't have calling cards, and Mom had to explain it was an old book, and some things weren't done anymore. ;-)

                1. re: danna

                  I think stopping in without calling first is a small town thing. If someone lives 45 minutes out of town, you call first, to make sure somebody is home.

                  But my parents' friends drop by all the time. She'll always have a beverage and a snack to offer.

                  My mom and I will be driving by a friend's house and see her working on her garden and stop for a visit. She'll tell us if she has to leave in a half-hour for a church meeting, but we usually stay and chat for at least an hour.

                  I don't care to have unexpected guests come over, but a couple do and we'll just go down the block for a coffee.

                  A group of pals always likes to do impromptu get-togethers. We all know one hostess doesn't drink beer so if you want it, you bring it. Another will provide some snacks and rice and we'll order in takeout. Or a few of us will make a grocery store run.

                  A pet peeve of mine is when a host and/or hostess have invited people over in advance, but the toilet bowl is filthy and there are no hand towels in sight.

                2. re: krissywats

                  Just as you don't need a degree to be successful, you don't need to know the rules of etiquette to be a decent person.

                  However, it gives people an excuse to exclude you.

                  I've seen wonderful people bypassed for promotions because they didn't have a piece of paper saying they completed so many years of higher education. I've seen worthy people bypassed for promotions because they were socially inept at business dinners.

                  So it is to your own advantage to educate yourself. A parent who teaches their child good manners does that child a favor.

                  That doesn't mean good manners equals good person. I have a former friend who made sure her children sent thank you notes before they could even write and could take her young children to some of the finest restuarants. She was a monster as a person and today her children are monsters, yet they will send you a thank you note and have lovely table manners.

                  My own opinion of manners is that most make some sort of sense, or did at one time. They make life a little more pleasant for those around you.

                  Don't you feel special when someone takes the time to send you a note. Doesn't it make you feel that person values you and gave up part of their personal time to say they were delighted with your gift or company?

                  So how were you taught about proper manner/etiquette?

                  Mrs. Phillips - seventh grade

                  The woman terrified us all. I remember her telling us that a sign of a well bred person was how soon you received a thank you note from them. She then proceeded to teach us how to write letters, address them, etc, etc.

                  She must have been, oh, 150 years old then, but wherever you are Mrs. Philips, thank you. I can't tell you the number of people who were really touched and flattered to get a note and an acknowledgement.

                  Most people don't send notes, it doesn't matter to me if they don't, but I always think a little more of someone who does. Just as I appreciate people whose table manners don't distract from the meal and attempt to make the get togheter as pleasant as possible.

                  To me, as I said, manners are just a way of showing your respect for another person. A child who says food sucks is saying they don't care for or respect the person providing the food.

                  I don't remember my parents ever correnting me. They thought I was wonderful and I tried to be for them. Besides Mrs. Phillips I learned at school, from friends, from life, books, and ... of course ... reading Chowhound ... no pants at weddings in the evening.

                3. The kindest and best thing a parent can do is teach their children the rules. Mine set very high standards for the 4 of us and I have never been sorry though I might have chaffed against some of them. When you know what is right, the right thing to do, how to dress to suit the occasion etc. your life is much more comfortable and your are not looking around to see what to do or feel out of place.

                  Of course there are some poor slobs who will never get it and just don't care. Them I feel sorry for.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Candy

                    This poor slob rarely feels out of place or like she doesn't know what to do because of her outfit. Then again, my self-esteem isn't based on those issues.

                    1. re: Candy

                      You guys are a bunch of snobs! Who left it to you or Emily Post to decide what's "THE RIGHT" way to behave?? In some cultures, belching at the table is a sign of appreciation of a delicious meal. Maybe you should all stick to your waspy circles and not interact with us regular folk whose parents failed us.

                      Af far as personal qualities go, manners is significantly below other traits I'd like to see in humans.

                      1. re: poorslob

                        You are certainly right that, "in some cultures, belching at the table is a sign of appreciation of a delicious meal". How do you know which cultures those are? Whether you want to call it etiquette or not, that's what it is. It's not being snobby, it's being culturally atune - one of those cultures is ours, which I'm sure also varies from region to region.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          And that's where Krissywat's idea of a kinda and open heart comes in. Where you apologize for your mistakes and ignorance and see that most people are genuinely trying to be as considerate as possible. More than "etiquette," I think those qualities enhance social interactions.

                        2. re: poorslob

                          "You guys are a bunch of snobs!"

                          That itself is an etiquette judgement, the implied etiquette rule violated being "don't be a snob". So it seems we do not exit the world of rules, but merely debate which rules apply.

                          Etiquette is actually designed to *protect* the socially inferior, inept and powerless from the socially superior and powerful. It is designed to provide -- in any culture -- a set of objective rules that the powerless can be assured will protect them if they follow it. That is why, historically, it is the shy and the socially uncertain who have been the quickest embracers of etiquette: they know that, if they reasonably try to follow those rules, no one else would have reasonable grounds to complain about their manners, and that the lesser might have reasonable grounds to be offended by the ill-manners of the greater.

                          Can etiquette be used as a weapon to subvert this pattern? Certainly. It ought not be.

                          1. re: Karl S.

                            >>Etiquette is actually designed to *protect* the socially inferior, inept and powerless from the socially superior and powerful. It is designed to provide -- in any culture -- a set of objective rules that the powerless can be assured will protect them if they follow it. That is why, historically, it is the shy and the socially uncertain who have been the quickest embracers of etiquette: they know that, if they reasonably try to follow those rules, no one else would have reasonable grounds to complain about their manners, and that the lesser might have reasonable grounds to be offended by the ill-manners of the greater.>>

                            Do you have historical evidence for that? It's an interesting idea, but in most places I'm familiar with it's been the case in the past, and to different degrees in the present, that classes have different manners and that you type yourself by the rules of etiquette you follow.

                            1. re: Karl S.

                              >>>The kindest and best thing a parent can do is teach their children the rules. Mine set very high standards for the 4 of us and I have never been sorry though I might have chaffed against some of them. When you know what is right, the right thing to do, how to dress to suit the occasion etc. your life is much more comfortable and your are not looking around to see what to do or feel out of place.

                              Of course there are some poor slobs who will never get it and just don't care. Them I feel sorry for.
                              ---posted by Candy.

                              When I posted that some of you are snobs it had nothing to do with any historical reference. Take a look at the post I copied and pasted above.

                              reference THE RULES. -- What are the rules? Who sets the rules? What if I don't like your rules? Should I take it to the supreme court and tell you to not impose your rules on my being?

                              Then there is also the reference about the people not getting the fact that there ARE RULES are poor slobs. Again- which rules, why should I blindly accept YOUR rules? And if I don't, why should I be called a SLOB? Why should my parents be considered to have raised me badly if I don't follow your rules?

                              You may certainly not enjoy having a meal with someone who talks with his mouth full, but that doesn't mean you have to take a jump and insult them and their parents, as if they have no value in this world, because THEY DIDN'T GET IT about THE RULES.

                              I feel sorry for those of you who echo the sentiments I posted at the top.

                              1. re: poorslob

                                Don't get worked up! These champions of complacency who have such perfect manners and perfect upbringings and of course perfect offspring are clearly a sorry lot, perpetually unhappy because the rest of humanity fails to meet their high standards. They come here to feel sorry for themselves, since their perfection goes unappreciated. Boohoo.

                                Just let it go and let's go back to chow.

                        3. what does this have to do with being a chowhound?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: huh?

                            Truly execrable manners can put one off one's chow...that's what!

                          2. In reading over the posts this morning, it occurs to me that some people are missing the point. Part of table manners is not grossing out the person eating with you - people who eat as if they are attacking a carcass, chew with their mouth open, gesticulate wildly with their silverware, etc. Not doing those things is just being considerate of others.

                            Different pieces of silverware are just different tools to use, designed for different tasks. You wouldn't eat soup with a fork. It's easier to get an oyster out of its shell with an oyster fork than with a large fork. You wouldn't use a sledge hammer to put a nail in the wall.

                            Yes, aspiring upper class Victorians created an unbelievable array of silverware for all sorts of purposes - strawberry forks, individual asparagus tongs, ice cream sporks - this served both to give them an opportunity to show off said extensive array, and to "shut out" people who didn't know how to use these new pieces. This was not particularly admirable. Table manners serve other purposes, such as signalling to the waiter that you are done with your food by putting your knife and fork together on the plate at 5 o'clock. This lets the waiter know that it is time to remove your plate.

                            I frankly don't care if someone at my dining table uses the "wrong" fork. I do care if they eat with their mouth open etc., because I find it distracts from my own enjoyment of food. In neither case, however, do I shun the person or think less of them as a decent human being. I completely agree with all of the posters who say that being a kind, considerate, decent person is more important than knowing "table manners". But, I don't see the need for a knee jerk rejection of them either. Just as with other sets of rules, they serve a purpose.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: MMRuth

                              I don't care if they don't know what fork or knife to use but if they cannot swallow the food in their mouth before opening it to speak and exposing me to all of their masticated food, I am grossed out.

                              1. re: MMRuth
                                Kelly Migliaccio

                                My husband and I recently had a problem with this very subject. We were in Newport RI last weekend and two of the three nights that we were out at dinner we were surrounded by people that chewed with their mouth open and loudly smacked their food (and of course talked with their mouths full). It was revolting! We thought that we might need to start a class on how to teach manners to adults!

                              2. keep in mind that, in common usage, manners and etiquette are two different things. etiquette is a codified set of behaviors designed to define or limit social interaction. manners simply express regard and esteem for those around you, regardless of the setting. manners are always appropriate (although we could do with a lot more of them), but etiquette is often archaic and always situationally specific.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: mark

                                  Very well said.

                                  1. re: mark

                                    Excellent point. I had been confusing the two in terms of replies, as have others. Manners makes sense - etiquette does not (unless it is crossing pathes with manners).

                                    1. re: krissywats

                                      Dictionary definitions are actually pretty similar.

                                  2. The most manners stuff I was formally taught was hot to hold a knife. The rest of that stuff (RSVPing, thank yous etc), I just caught on. Either through observation, or through mistakes. I think graciousness is an underrated virtue. I really value someone's ability to make people feel valued and welcomed however that happens.

                                    1. So many people these days see it as forcing stuffy manners on kids when they should just be allowed to be kids, yada yada yada; but the fact of the matter is that kids LIKE to be involved as much as they can be in the "adult world" and are more apt to behave really well without any nagging or yelling when they are held responsible for their behavior. I loose my mind when adults relegate their kids to chicken nuggets and no participation and then wonder why they act up.

                                      1. Upon reading more and more of the previous responses, I want to share what I've told my SO about manners/etiquitte when I feel he has none and I want to rip my hair out. Yes, indeed the specifics of manners/etiquette can seem arbritrary and do indeed change from culture to culture. They do have one thing in common though - they are the daily rituals that subtly remind us that we aren't the only person on earth. Admit it, we're all more or less self-absorbed beings. These mannerisms are a way that we can (if we choose to) acknowledge that the social situation at hand deserves a level of RESPECT beyond our own personal needs. Whether or not someone knows every rule for the exact situation, it is clear who is trying and who thinks they're too cool to be bothered. People have harped that they feel if they don't know which fork to use then others are judging them as bad people by that miscue alone. Not the case - it's the selfishness displayed when someone won't even try to give a social situation the respect that is warrented when someone takes you in as a guest. We don't lose anything as individuals when we follow the "rules", we don't sell out to "the man". Humility and respect are the core of good manners and it takes a big person to embrace that.

                                        3 Replies
                                          1. re: Shmingrid

                                            Well said. My husband spent 2 years in Japan and tells stories of interesting etiquette and manners and while they seem quite ridiculous at times, he always points out, Japan is an island with limited space. Such manners and etiquette are needed so that a crowded society can function and respect the rights of others.

                                            Not talking with your mouth full or making the effort to use the right fork or not yelling out, "This food sucks" or not showing up empty handed to someone's house or sending a thank you note, all are ways of showing respect to another person and acknowledging someone outside of yourself. Of course I just would have been happy in NYC if I didn't have to go to self-checkout at K-Mart to have a "sales clerk" say hi and have a good day.

                                            1. re: Shmingrid

                                              You obviously do not judge based on those things. Others have made clear that they do based on their posts. No one has said that it is a problem to try to be kind and considerate, it is a problem when it is used, as someone said, as a stick with which to beat others.

                                              Some people like to feel big and smart and important. I think for SOME people, etiquette is one way to accomplish that for themselves. My point has always been that where I put my elbows is just not the most important thing in the whole world. Yes, we are all self-involved (as this thread clearly shows) and I think many people use this measuring stick as another way to involve themselves in rules that seem oh so very important.

                                              You are obviously not that person and those of us that say 'thank you' instead of sending a note because we are horribly flawed, appreciate that.

                                              What you are talking about is balance and that makes loads of sense.