Dinner Party Table Spread

With invitations to every after-work function and office soirée filling my inbox, it’s safe to say ’tis the season for dinner parties. I love a good dinner party. Even more so during the holidays and new year. The excitement of getting ready, figuring out what to wear and—if you’re hosting—planning a festive menu are just a few of the things I gush over. But as much fun as dinner parties are, there is still one aspect that hardly anyone ever prepares for: minding your dinner table manners.

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Etiquette is probably the furthest thing down on your list of priorities when you’re running like a chicken with its head cut off finalizing last minute details, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important. Even when everything is seemingly in order, a few small missteps can change the course of your entire night. You’ll go from having a great time to feeling like you don’t belong because you keep clinking your forks on the fancy China or dropping your napkin on the floor.

So the next time you sit down for a meal with a colleague, friend or family member, be sure to keep these 5 fail-proof tips in mind:

1. Don’t start eating immediately.

We’ve all been there. You rush home from work to get dressed and head out, knowing you haven’t eaten anything since noon. Now your stomach is making the most disrespectful growls. You can’t wait to devour the first piece of food that is in front of you. Sound familiar? But not only will eating before everyone else has been served make the entire table uncomfortable, you’ll seem super impatient and impolite. Good rules of thumb to follow are:

  • Don’t start eating until everyone is seated,
  • Wait until everyone at the table is served,
  • Wait until the host picks up his or her fork.

Your food won’t get cold if you wait for others to receive their entrees. And everyone will be able to experience the food together instead of in waves. 

2. Don’t groom at the table.

This is a big one. You finish eating, you’re having an intriguing conversation with the other guests and suddenly feel the need to freshen up your lipstick, right? Wrong! If you must fix your hair, redo makeup or (fellas) comb through your beard, politely excuse yourself from the table and go to the restroom. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone pull out a mirror or comb while you’re still eating, almost as if to hurry the dinner along. And trust me, no one wants to eat with your hair strands flying around. 

3. Don’t check your cellphone.

It’s not uncommon to go out and see folks glued to their smartphones, checking their social media accounts and being completely disconnected from what’s happening in front of them. I hate having a conversation with someone and it’s going in one ear and out the other. Talk about frustrating. You’ll be much more present if you aren’t checking your text messages, tweeting, scrolling down Instagram or sending emails every other minute. Leave your phone in your car if you know you’ll be tempted. If there is an emergency and you must respond to something immediately, excuse yourself and do it away from the table. 

4. Don’t eat off of others plates.

Have you ever ordered a dish or put something on your plate only to taste it and find that it wasn’t as appetizing as it looked? Then you glance over at your friend’s plate and their meal looks ten times better. It happens to the best of us. But unless it’s a dinner party where it’s encouraged that you share items, you should never grab a piece of food from another guest’s dinner plate. Simply cue the waitstaff and order another entree or make another round to pick up more appealing items. 

5. Don’t be overly inquisitive.

“What is this?” A question that is so hard to ask without coming across as rude. If you don’t recognize what food your host is serving you, wait for them to explain what it is you are about to eat. In the same vein, also try to wait until your host or server explains what you’re eating before you reach for spices and seasonings. If you don’t know what the entree is or how it should taste, why douse it in salt? Sounds silly right? This will help not put the host in an embarrassing position. 

Foodies, are you hosting any dinner parties in the coming weeks? What are your go-to etiquette tips? Let me know in the comments!

A set table in a sunny room.

Survey any number of my friends and they will tell you going out to eat is my external happy place. New scenery, insatiable dishes that I’d normally be too skeptical to ever try and having an overall fabulous dining experience? That’s what life is all about.

But with every unforgettable night out comes an experience that leaves a sour taste in your mouth. From iffy menu options, to horrible customer service, you name it and it is bound to happen. That’s why it’s so important to cover all your bases to ensure you have the best night possible.

Want to have the ultimate dining experience, no matter where you go? Get into these eight tips you need to turn your night out into an amazing one:

1. Read Restaurant Reviews

Before I make plans to go out to eat, I like to read a few online reviews of the restaurant so I know what to expect in terms of dress code, quality of food and customer service. Yelp! and Eater are two of my go-to sites, they normally have pretty reliable ratings. Be sure to read the reviews carefully, some customers look for any reason to complain. That low rating you see could be the result of something silly, like a guest not getting enough ice cubes in their drinks. Know when to weed out the ridiculous from the truly helpful.

2. Make Reservations

I cannot stress this enough. With the holiday season approaching, restaurants are guaranteed to fill up quickly. And the last thing you want to do is get all dolled up just to find out there is an hour wait – or worse – flat out turned away because there is no availability. Put an alert in your phone days or weeks in advance to reserve a table. Doing this will alleviate stress, and you will get to enjoy yourself the night of.

3. Have A Dining Backup

Let’s say you made your reservation and you’re ready to go, but you suddenly decide you have a taste for Mediterranean instead of the little Italian restaurant where you’re booked. What then? That’s why it’s always smart to have a dining backup. In case your taste changes – and it might – having a backup means you’ll still be able to take advantage of a night out and still have a great dining experience. Choose a backup restaurant that has equally delicious food and doesn’t fill up too fast, just in case you need to arrive last-minute.

A neon sign that reads "Eat What Makes You Happy"
Even if you change your mind the night of, eat what you love! Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

4. Prep and Arrive Early

Now that you’ve made your reservation, leaving the house and getting to the restaurant on time is another hurdle to overcome. Whenever I make plans, I swear I’ll have enough time to get dressed, and do my hair plus a full face of makeup. Yet the hour rolls around and I’m stuck standing in front of the bathroom mirror, hair pinned and one eyelash on. Words of caution: don’t be like me. Start getting ready a few hours in advance by ironing clothes and setting out accessories. Whatever you need to do to pull it together. That way you won’t have to rush to get to the restaurant on time. And the bonus is, if you arrive early, you can make any seating changes within the restaurant you may find necessary.

5. Be Adventurous, But Don’t Overdo It

There’s just something about reading menu items that makes you want to try every last one. I know I’m not alone. Each dish described sounds so good and the pictures make your mouth water. You’re thinking, “It’s my night out, let me try something new.” And while it is certainly great to broaden your palette and step out of your comfort zone, there is a chance you won’t like the taste of something even if the picture of the food looks handcrafted by angels. I try to stick to what I know and add a little umph. I love all types of fish and know that I normally can’t go wrong with a seafood dish. It’s all about understanding what you like and catering to that.

6. Alert The Waiter of Any Dietary Restrictions

As I’ve been focused on leading a healthier lifestyle, I know I cannot eat everything I used to. Which also means I can’t have certain foods prepared the way I’m used to. So I have to alert the waitstaff of any concerns I may have early on. Whether an entrée is cooked with dairy products or includes processed ingredients are real concerns for me. Letting the staff know early on gives them a chance to recommend the best menu options and accommodate me throughout my meal.

7. Take Your Time

This is so important. I can’t tell you how many times I have been so hungry that I practically inhaled my food. Minutes later, I couldn’t even tell you what I had just eaten. Taking the time to really savor each bite makes the dining experience that much more enjoyable. You can take in the full effect and really enjoy the dish that the chef has crafted so beautifully.

8. Turn Off All Technology

Sometimes sitting down at a dinner table is the only chance you get to have an uninterrupted conversation and share a similar thought with friends and family throughout the week. You can’t enjoy yourself if you have work emails, text message dings and calendar appointments constantly popping up, disrupting the moment. It’s okay to silence your phone or even turn it off and give the experience your undivided attention. It’s hard to believe, but trust me, the world won’t stop just because you’re disconnected for an hour or two.

Okay, now that you’ve checked everything off on your list, you’re ready to have a worry-free night with great food, great company and even better vibes?

Happy eating!