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Casual Dining Etiquette


A couple eating pizza.
Jordan Siemens/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Whether you are at a casual dinner party, enjoying a backyard barbecue, or dining out at a casual restaurant, you still need to mind your manners and follow proper etiquette guidelines. Although it's a more relaxed environment than you would find at a formal event, being rude is simply never acceptable.

Arrival at Someone's Home

As soon as you walk into someone's home for a casual party of any type, hand the host or hostess a gift that can be put away and opened later. If this is a potluck, offer to carry the dish you brought to the serving table right away. Make sure you have serving utensils.

Arrival at a Casual Restaurant

In a casual dining establishment, you may or may not be seated by a host or hostess. If someone is there to seat you, politely state the number in your party and make whatever requests you may have (booster seat for a toddler, table with a view, or preference for a booth).

When you have to seat yourself, find a table that is acceptable and have a seat as quickly as possible. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (such as a rickety chair or a late discovery that there isn't enough room for your group), stay at that table so you don't interrupt other people's dining experience.

Time to Eat

The rules of good manners should always be followed while eating. You don't want to call attention to yourself or gross anyone out.

Here are some basic table manners rules for casual dining:
  • Turn your cell phone to vibrate, or even better, turn it off. If you receive a text, ignore it until after the meal is over. It is rude to communicate electronically during a meal, even if it is casual.
  • Place the napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down.
  • Keep your elbows off the table to prevent knocking it or any of the tableware to the floor.
  • Never tip your chair back. Not only is this rude, you will weaken the legs of the chair, and that might cause it to break.
  • Maintain a moderate tone during conversation; never yell.
  • Don't drink more alcohol than you know you can handle. If in doubt, order a nonalcoholic drink for the meal.
  • If the place setting is lined up on the table, generally start with the fork positioned the farthest from the plate and work your way in. If you see the hostess doing something different, follow her lead.
  • Your bread plate is on the left, and your drinks are on the right. However, if someone makes a mistake and chooses the incorrect drink, the entire table will need to adjust. Do so graciously and without ceremony.
  • If your salad is served in large chunks, cut it into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
  • Don't make a slurping sound while eating soup. Eating should never be a noisy action.
  • Only cut one or two bites of meat at a time. Never cut all of it before you begin eating, unless you are doing it for a small child.
  • Butter your bread or dinner rolls in small sections. Avoid slathering the entire roll or slice with butter or making it into a butter sandwich.
  • Don't dip your food into a bowl that others are using. Instead, scoop some of the gravy or sauce onto your own plate.
  • Don't talk with your mouth full. Finish chewing and then speak. If someone asks you a question, indicate with a gesture that you will answer as soon as you swallow.
  • Never stab food on someone else's plate. If the other person would like to share with you, it is his prerogative to make the offer. Transfer the food to your plate and then feel free to indulge.
  • There is nothing wrong with sharing an entrée or dessert, but you should ask for an extra plate.
  • Avoid licking your fingers. Use your napkin.
  • Avoid the traditionally taboo topics during conversation at the table, unless the purpose of the gathering is to discuss them. These include politics, religion, or anything that may create a heated debate.
  • When you finish eating, place your fork and knife on your plate in a parallel position to indicate you are done.
  • Never argue over who pays the bill. This should be decided before you sit down. Arguing and playing tug-of-war with the check makes others uncomfortable.
  • Avoid using a toothpick in the presence of others. If you have food stuck between your teeth, take the toothpick to the restroom and take care of the issue in private.

Time to Leave

When it's time to leave a casual dinner party or restaurant, do so graciously. If you are in someone's home, offer to help clean up. When you finish a meal at a restaurant, it is okay to chat for a few minutes, but remember that the server depends on tips to earn a living, and someone else may be waiting for the table.

Always thank your host before you leave. Even if you didn't care for the food or you didn't have a wonderful time, show your gratitude for being invited. As soon as possible—preferably by the next day—send a written thank you note in the mail.

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