Manners at the Table: Culture in the UK
Why is dining etiquette and manners at the table important? What is the etiquette when eating in Britain?
How does one navigate the table correctly?
The history of dining is intriguing - the most important concepts of medieval dining, for example, were sharing and status. The status of the host determined the setting, size, and sumptuousness of a meal, and the sharing of food and tableware was common throughout the Middle Ages in all classes of society. Manners were considered to be people's outward manifestation of their inner worth. Therefore, the elite made up countless rules which were drawn up in a courtesy or etiquette book. For medieval dining, the fundamental virtues were courtesy, cleanliness, and moderation. This still holds true today.
Table manners vary according to culture and country. What is acceptable in one culture may not be so in another.
A good example of this is the difference between the British and French way of eating soup. British etiquette dictates that soup plates be tipped away from themselves. The French, on the other hand, prefer to tip their soup bowls towards themselves. Also, in Britain we rest our hands on our lap. The French rest their wrists on the table - on either side of the plate. Does this mean that one method is right and one wrong? No, of course not. However, when we travel, we should be aware and respectful of cultural differences.
However, in spite of the differences, table manners are rather similar both historically and in many parts of the world. Where there are differences, there are often reasons that are easy to understand and appreciate. For example, festive diners are expected to eat a lot. Feasts are exceptional occasions, and a great deal of work has gone into them: the least a guest can do is show enjoyment by eating a lot! It may be normal to fast beforehand, and exclaiming with pleasure, smacking one’s lips, and burping in some cultures (in Japan, and traditional China) may be considered both polite and considerate. There are other cultures, on the other hand, where there is a need to stress that food is not the most important element. Devouring food is considered disgusting and expressing one's enjoyment or commenting on the quality of the food is frowned upon. Sometimes, silence is appropriate: food deserves reverence, while in other cultures, one is expected to talk as much as possible as we have not just assembled to eat but to converse and build rapport with others.
Manners at the table are so important that some companies are known to take prospective candidates out for lunch as part of the interview process. Here they can see how they eat, drink and speak at the table. As potential employers, they want to make sure that a candidate will be able to entertain important clients with savoire-faire and poise.
Key topics include:
Navigating Your Place Setting
How to correctly hold cutlery
Which bread plate and glass to use
Passing & Offering Food
Posture & positioning for dining
Accidents and Difficult-to-Eat Foods
Polite table conversation
The rhythm of dining
Styles of Table Service
Eating Styles: American vs British vs Continental
After dinner etiquette: tea & coffee
Learn dining etiquette when eating in any setting