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In Time for the Holidays: A Brush Up on Table Manners


Now that the days are shorter and the prospect of special holiday dinners loom, kids’ table manners come into focus. If your family is like mine, summer’s casual lifestyle with meals eaten outdoors may have allowed—ahem—a few weeds to grow in the manners department. My fantasy of a beautiful holiday table… my children dressed in their holiday finery, seated with other loved ones, faces lit by candlelight… is rudely interrupted by the reality of watching my child’s inability to hold a fork correctly and her elbows sticking out at right angles on both sides of her body. What happened? I thought we had this covered!

Like a garden, table manners need tending. The basics might be there, but the hedges can become overgrown, and quite quickly too. I see basic manners as an essential skill for living successfully with others. If you have ever sat across the table from a child who has not learned to chew with her mouth closed, or had a child ignore you at the table to check his phone every five seconds, I am guessing you will agree with my point.

The good news is that there is nothing like a deadline to help us get things done. For me, the holidays are a good deadline to give my family a little brush up on table manners. One parenting technique I have heard of and like the sounds of involves focusing on one important aspect of table etiquette every day at the family dinner table. Which table manners are the most important? When in doubt, there’s always Emily Post.

Below are Emily Post’s top ten table manners. They are more basic than I would have thought and are a good start to making it a lot more pleasant to sit down to the table… If mastering these ten is no problem for your refined offspring, I add seven more that are guaranteed to put some noticeable shine on your children’s manners just in time for the holidays.

Emily Post’s Top Ten Table Manners

Keep these basic behaviors in mind as you eat:

  1. Chew with your moth closed.
  2. Avoid slurping, smacking, and blowing your nose.
  3. Don’t use your utensils like a shovel or as if you’ve just stabbed the food you’re about to eat.
  4. Don’t pick your teeth at the table.
  5. Remember to use your napkin at all times.
  6. Wait until you’re done chewing to sip or swallow a drink. (The exception is if you’re choking.)
  7. Cut only one piece of food at a time.
  8. Avoid slouching and don’t place your elbows on the table while eating (though it is okay to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses.)
  9. Instead of reaching across the table for something, ask for it to be passed to you.
  10. Always say ‘excuse me’ whenever you leave the table


  1. Have you ever found yourself in the position of wondering which glass and bread plate are yours? When in doubt, use this trick: Liquids on the right, solids on the left! Would a visual help? Make “OK” signs with both of your hands. The left hand makes the letter “b” for bread!
 The right hand makes the letter “d” for drinks!
  2. Once you have started using your fork and knife, they should NEVER touch the table again.  Place your silverware on the outer rim of the plate between bites, but never let silverware rest half on the table and half on the plate. Effort should be made to teach children to hold their forks and knives properly. Remember, someday your child will be sitting across the table from someone they want to impress—a date, a job interviewer, as examples—and knowing basic manners will put your child in a position to have one less thing to be concerned about.
  3. When do you start eating? In gatherings of six or less people, begin eating after everyone is served. It is especially polite to wait for the hostess to lift her fork and begin eating. For larger groups, such as banquets, you can start eating after four or five people have been served, or permission is given (not asked for) from those not yet served.
  4. Always remember: outside in. When wondering which eating utensils to use first, start with the utensils farthest away from your plate and work your way closer to your plate with each course.
  5. Always make an effort to speak to your dinner companions on either side of you equally and contribute to the group conversation at the table. This rule holds true even if you like one dinner partner a lot more than the other!
  6. When you are finished, signal that your plate can be cleared by placing both your fork and your knife side by side at the 4 o’clock position on your plate.
  7. What about all this up and down business? When a lady gets up from the table, it is polite for the man next to her to stand and help her with her chair. The same holds true for when a lady first sits down to the table. I would argue that the man does not need to make a big show of this effort, but it is a thoughtful, gentlemanly gesture.
  8. It is not acceptable to be checking your phone constantly at the table. Remember, you are seated at a dinner table next to people for a very important reason – to enjoy their company and participate fully in the ancient and important ritual of eating a meal together. Each of us has the responsibility to make this ritual an enjoyable one.

Good luck and I wish you many happy meals together!


November 18, 2014

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