Basic Table Manners
Good basic table manners are important because they ensure that both guests and hosts are comfortable at the table. Table manners are mostly common sense. Following these will carry you through most common situations from Formal Dinners to a night of poker with the guys.
1. Sit up straight. Try not to slouch or lean back in your chair (even if you are playing cards and don't want you opponents to see your hand).
2. Don't speak with your mouth full of food. Sure, you've heard your mother say it a hundred times, but no one likes to see a ball of masticated meat in your mouth. If you feel you must speak immediately, if you have only a relatively small bite, tuck it into your cheek with your tongue and speak briefly.
3. Chew quietly, and try not to slurp. This is a corollary of rule number 2. Making noises is not only unappetizing, and distracting, but it can also interrupt the flow of conversation.
4. Keep bites small. In order to facilitate the above rules it is smart to keep bite sizes to a moderate forkful. Cut meat and salad so that it doesn't hang from your mouth after you shovel it in. Don't cut all of your meat at one time, this tends to remind people of feeding small children - and the messiness associated with this activity.
5. Eat at a leisurely pace. This rule, besides being good for the digestion, also shows your host that you want to enjoy the food and the company. Eating quickly and running is sign of disrespect for the host, as it shows that your focus is on the food and that you would rather be at home watching the grass grow than passing time with your host.
6. Don't wave utensils in the air, especially knives or if there is food on them. Besides the danger of knocking over glasses, piercing waiters or launching a pea into the eye of your date, this is a sign of over-excitedness that may be unappealing to those present. Earnestness is to be commended, but irrational exuberance goes beyond the limits of good table manners.
7. Keep your elbows off the table. You have also heard this one from your mother, ad infinitum, but in close dining situations it is a vital rule. Elbows take up table space and can be a danger in knocking plates or glasses. Elbows on the table give you something to lean on and tend to lull you into slouching. If you must lean on the table a good tactic is to take a roll or piece of bread into your free hand and rest part of your forearm on the table.
8. Don't Reach. You don't want to get in the way of people either eating or talking. Not only is it as impolite as standing in front of a TV with other people behind you, but there is always the possibility of upsetting glasses or running your sleeve through someone's mashed potatoes.
9. Don't forget please and thank you. These are handy words in most situations but especially vital at the table where common courtesies are noticed by everyone present.
10. Excuse yourself when leaving the table. You don't want people to think that you are tired of their company. If you must leave the table make your excuses somewhat obvious and appear to be pressing. You want to leave people with the impression that you would rather remain at the table talking with them than doing anything else, but the matter at hand is so pressing that it must be attended to at once.
11. Compliment the Cook. Even if the food is perfectly awful say something nice. You don't have to lie, simply find the positive side of the burnt leg of lamb..."Gee, the sauce was sure tasty." It is always pleasant to end a meal on a positive note.
12. Wipe your mouth before drinking. Ever notice that disgusting smudge on the edge of your wine glass? This can be avoided by first wiping your lips with your napkin. (Thanks to Lindy Hill for this contribution.)