If you’re having a formal rehearsal dinner, you need to brush up on your dining etiquette. Because most of us don’t get a chance to practice the etiquette skills we’ve learned (and many of us may never have learned them at all), it’s important to review some of the proper ways to conduct yourself so you don’t make any embarrassing mistakes in front of your future in-laws, close friends, and other loved ones.
The Anatomy of a Place Setting
When you look at the place setting, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the assortment of flatware and plates staring back at you. Familiarizing yourself with what each of these pieces are used for is, therefore, a good place to start.
You’ll see two plates. The one directly in front of you will be where your courses are served. In the upper left corner, you’ll have a bread and butter plate. The knife on that plate is only used to butter your bread. Otherwise, just leave it alone.
On the left side of your plate will be three forks. The fork farthest from the plate is used to eat your salad. The fork closest to the plate is used for meat dishes; the center fork is reserved for eating fish. Once you learn this pattern, you’ll be able to master the order of the knives on the right side of your plate. They follow the same order with the salad knife being furthest from the plate. Next to the salad knife you’ll find your soup spoon.
Above your plate, you may find another spoon and fork. These utensils are reserved for dessert only. Sometimes these utensils are only provided when dessert is served.
Beginning Your Meal
After you sit down to eat, it’s fine to make small talk with those sitting around you while you wait for everyone to take their place at the table. However, you should keep your eyes on the host or hostess of the meal. In the case of the rehearsal dinner, the host or hostess is the person paying the bill, usually the groom’s parents.
When the host/hostess removes the napkin from their plate and places it on their lap, you should do the same. This is their way of signaling the beginning of the meal. However, do not immediately begin eating as soon as you have food on your plate. Again, wait for the host/hostess to raise his or her utensil first. Then, you can begin.
During the entire meal, your napkin should not leave your lap. When you finish a course, lay the utensils on the empty plate or bowl so they can be removed by the server before the next course is served. You do not have to eat everything on your plate but do not ask to take home your leftovers – that’s not good dining etiquette.
Eating Your Meal
When you’re cutting your meat or fish, your fork should be in your left hand and your knife should be in your right. After the piece is cut, you should place the knife on the edge of the plate and move your fork to your right hand. When you chew, remember to keep your mouth closed and do not talk until you have swallowed.
While you are eating your soup, do so quietly. Do not slurp the soup from the spoon.
If you’re eating lobster at a formal meal, you won’t have to worry about cracking it in order to get to the tasty meat inside. The lobster should be cracked before it is served and the tail should already be split so diners can more easily access the meat. Slide a cocktail fork inside the shell and remove the meat one piece at a time. For large pieces of meat, place them on the plate and cut them into smaller pieces using the fork and knife for fish.
Chicken can be another confusing entrée to eat. In a formal dining setting, you should never eat chicken with your hands. Instead, use your knife and fork to cut pieces of the meat off the bone using your fork and knife for meat.
Bread may be eaten with your fingers. However, you will need to break the larger piece into bite size chunks. If butter is provided, you’ll place a small piece of butter on the bread with the knife being passed around, then you’ll spread the butter on your bread with your own knife.
Following these simple guidelines can help your formal wedding rehearsal dinner (or reception) go smoothly.
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