10 Table Manners Mistakes You Should Stop Making

How to navigate the trickier points of dining etiquette.

You could recite some table etiquette rules in your sleep: Keep your elbows off the table. Place the napkin in your lap. Don't speak with your mouth full. But there are also some finer points of table etiquette that feel murkier and may make even the politest guest unsure of what to do. Here, we've tackled the trickier details, so you don't have to, and so you can make your mama proud next time you take a seat at her table—with a clean shirt and hands, please. Here are 10 table manner mistakes you should avoid:

1. Passing Food in the Wrong Direction

Always pass dishes to your right. The counterclockwise order is essential when there are multiple dishes to be shared. The exception is if the person who has requested a dish is seated just one or two places to your left: It doesn't make sense to send the potatoes on a pilgrimage around the table so that you can say that you've stuck to the letter of the law.

2. Cutting Your Food into Bite-Sized Pieces All at Once

Tempting though it may be to get the slicing and dicing out of the way, you must cut your meal one bite at a time instead. Of course, if you're helping a small child at the table, cutting up their food at the start of the meal is acceptable.

3. Placing Your Used Utensils in the Wrong Place

You know, when using utensils, you start at the outside and work your way in towards the plate. But what about when you're taking a breather or finished with the meal? There are two widely accepted resting positions for your silver: You can go with continental style, which includes placing your fork and knife at the center of your plate in an inverted V (knife on bottom, fork tines up). Or you can go with American style, where you place your knife diagonally on the top right of your plate and the fork on the plate, tines up. Once you've finished the meal, put the fork (tines up or down) and knife (blade facing in) diagonally on the plate (handles at 4 o'clock, tips at 10).

4. Leaving Your Napkin on the Table

There's a little drama when it comes to the Great Napkin Debate. Experts generally agree on where your napkin should go at the end of the meal: Neatly placed to the left of your plate. But when it comes to where the napkin goes when you get up from the table mid-meal, people fall into two camps: Table vs. Chair. The pro-table crowd says, "Put the napkin on the table to the left of your plate, the same as you would at the end of the meal." They also argue, "The napkin is messy, and it will leave a mess on the chair" and "That the chair isn't clean, and germs are bad." The pro-chair crowd says, "You put the napkin to the left of your plate at the end of the meal. Let's not make this confusing." While we can certainly appreciate both sides of the debate, we're Team Table.

5. Not Following Your Host's Lead

There are times when proper etiquette takes a backseat to following your host's direction. For instance, if your host sends the plates clockwise rather than counterclockwise, you should follow suit and pass accordingly. It is far more gracious (and shows far better manners!) to humor your host rather than to insist on doing something the "proper" way.

6. Don't Mess With Seating Arrangements

If attending a formal dinner or your family's traditions dictate seating arrangements at the table, then be sure to accept your position around the table with grace. It is impolite to complain or insist on sitting next to someone else during dinner, even if you don't like where the host has placed your name card.

7. No Phones at Dinner

The least polite thing you can do is leave your phone ringer at high volume when being a guest at someone's dinner party. Looking at your phone or keeping your cell on the table indicates that you'd rather be somewhere other than you are now. Of course, there are exceptions if you are on call for work or need to be available in case of an emergency, but if you only have your phone to glance at the time or check the occasional text or email, then it is better left off and away.

8. Don't Start Eating Before the Host is Seated

Even though you may want to "dig in" while it's hot, waiting until the host is seated is best. An exception includes buffet or "serve-yourself" style gatherings or barbeques where people will eat whenever they prefer.

9. Properly Excuse Yourself When Leaving the Table

Try to avoid getting up too many times during a sit-down dinner. Prepare before dinner begins by using the restroom or washing your hands so you can enjoy the meal prepared by your host as they intend to serve it, without interruptions. However, if you must leave the table, politely excuse yourself and exit by stepping to the right of your chair. (Remember to place your napkin in one of the two designated spaces). Afterward, return to the table sitting on the same side as you stood to exit (right of the chair).

10. Don't Ignore or Interrupt Others

Everyone should join in the conversation when sharing a meal around a table. If your party is large, smaller talks may break out among people sitting close together, so never ignore the people you are seated with to shout across the table. Smile and make eye contact when talking with people. Additionally, never interrupt someone who is speaking.

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