7 British dining etiquettes and culture that you need to know
Christmas is fast approaching and the invitation to formal dinners have already reached our doors. In order to navigate the most wonderful time of the year with no faux pas – we put together this mini British dining etiquette guide to see your through the formal dos of the festive season.
It might sound straight forward, a bit tedious even, but it is the first and most important step of dining etiquette. Acknowledge the invitation of your host and reply as soon as you can whether you will be attending or not. Even if you meant to join them but your plans changed for some unforeseen reason, inform them as soon as possible. It’s only common courtesy.
If there is a theme, don’t be the odd one out. Dinner jackets are not always expected nowadays unless it is specified on your invitation. If, however your lady is making an effort, matching this, it is only good manners. Needless to say, that untucked shirts are allowed for gentlemen younger than 5. Also, for ladies picking their dresses, think of British modesty, too much exposed flesh risks putting other guests off their food.
In formal dinners, the sitting is already arranged and you will be courteously directed to your sit. The host will be sitting at the head of the table, in opposite sides of it, if it is a couple. The male guest of honour will be sitting on the hostess’ right and the most important man to her left. Similarly, the female guest of honour sits on the host’s right and the second most important woman to his left. Couples are separated whilst men and women are always alternately seated. Social manners are also expected: while taking your seat, help the females to theirs first. If they ladies leave and return to the table, remember to rise.
The place setting
A formal table setting can seem intimidating as there is so much different cutlery. No need to be dismayed, there is a system behind it and it is far simpler than it looks. Different cutlery will be used for each dish served, forks will be placed to the left whilst knives and spoons to the right. Simply work your way in, starting from the outside using a different set for each course.
Using utensils is rather straight forward. Please remember that the British use of cutlery doesn’t require you to switch hands, unlike the American. The knife is used on the right hand and the fork to the left. When finishing your meal, leave them parallel to each other at the right side of the plate.
If you have soup, remember to sip quietly from the side of your spoon. When finished, do not leave the spoon in your bowl but to the side.
Whilst on your main dishes, remember to keep the fork with its tines downward and avoid clumsy gestures that would make it look like a shovel. Simply, push a small bite of food towards it with your knife. No fingers allowed.
Regarding dessert, you will be using both dessert spoon and fork. Keep your fork in your left and the spoon in your right hand and use both to break one bite at a time. Use your fork to help you land your bite on your spoon and enjoy!
Regarding wine, remember the short round bowl is for red wine, the taller is for white wine and the larger for goblet for water. Nope, I don’t think you will be served beer.
The important details of dining etiquette
There are a few more things that is good to remember whilst sited on the dinner table. Make sure you wait for your host to start eating first. Place your serviette on your lap, tucking it in the collar of your shirt is apt for Mr Bean only. Remember to not be tempted to reach out for the salt across the table, kindly ask for it or for any other item to be passed on to you. Similarly, be a bit careful with chewing noises, keep the munching as quiet as possible.
Please do leave your mobile phone in your pocket and your elbows off of the table.
How to deal with accidents
Accidents do happen. If you mistakenly spill something on yourself or on the table use your napkin discretely and bring it to the attention of the waiter. In case you accidentally spilt something on someone else, offer them a napkin and let them do it themselves – it is a nice gesture to offer covering any cleaning costs.
Hopefully these tips will come in handy for many formal and festive dinners that await.