Manners for Moderns, pt. 2

Here’s the second installment in our look at Manners for Moderns, a 1938 etiquette guide for young men.



It is very nice to think
The world is full of meat and drink.

Eating is the one social activity which is common to everybody in all lands. Table manners grew out of the fact that unless he is eating in a room empty of all but himself, a man eats in company and food is less appetizing if the other fellow’s table manners are sloppy and disgusting. It matters little what sort of food is being served, whether the table is loaded with priceless silver and china or tin and graniteware; the simplest meal is made more attractive by the use of good table etiquette.

Correct table manners are really so simple and so often important as a guide to the character of the individual that every man owes it to himself to acquire them.

After seating yourself at the table, unfold your napkin and place it across your knees.

Do not shake it out as though you were trying to flag a train, or tuck it under your collar, tie it around your neck, or anchor it under your belt.

The functions of a napkin are to remove crumbs or grease from around your lips, to wipe your fingers, and to protect your lap from dropped food. After the meal, place your napkin in loosely gathered folds beside your plate.

Silverware is always placed with forks to the left of the service plate, knives and spoons to the right of the service plate. Knives are laid with the cutting edge toward the center of the plate and forks are placed with tines up.

Silver is arranged in the order in which it will be used, beginning at the outside and working toward the plate.

The cocktail fork or spoon is generally placed on a small plate holding the cocktail glass. The cocktail fork may already be on the table–at the left of the service fork. A spoon may be used with fruit cocktail. After using it, lay your cocktail fork or spoon on the small plate beside the cocktail glass.

The knife is used to cut food and to butter your bread, if no bread-and-butter knife is provided. When you are not using your knife for cutting, place it across the upper edge of your plate with the cutting edge toward the center of the plate.

Do not use it for putting any food in your mouth, or place it with the tip at the plate and the handle on the tablecloth. It might slip off and soil the cloth.

When cutting meat, cut only one or two bites at a time, lay your knife down, eat these, and then cut more as you need them. A plate littered with small pieces of meat and vegetables stirred into a hash looks as though a grenade has exploded in its middle. It is not an attractive sight to your neighbor.

Remember: Never place your knife in your mouth.

Food is placed in the mouth with the fork. Eat all the food on the large plate with the fork,–never with a knife or spoon. Never pile up a mound of food on the back of your fork with your knife.

Butter potatoes and vegetables with the forks, not the knife.

Tender food may be cut with the side of the fork.

If no salad fork is provided, salad may be eaten with the large dinner fork.

The fork may be held in either the right or left hand. When not in use, it is placed on the plate with the tip of the tines up, bowl resting toward the center of the plate, and fork handle on the edge of the plate.

When you are finished eating, knife and fork are placed side by side, handles on the right edge of the plate, ends toward the middle of the plate. This is a sort of international password that you are through.

Spoons are used for soup, fruit cocktails, coffee, some desserts, and sometimes (at very, very informal meals) for “side dishes” which are quite liquid, such as stewed tomatoes. A good rule to remember is NEVER to eat with a spoon those foods which can be eaten with a fork.

The few thing which cannot be managed with a fork or spoon are eaten with the fingers. These include radishes, olives, celery, small green onions, pickles, potato chips, small sandwiches, bread-and-butter, rolls, artichokes, and, in some places, fried chicken.

The fried-chicken technique varies in different sections of the country, so the only way to be sure is to watch someone who should know.

“Three-decker” sandwiches had better be mastered by a knife and fork, as they are generally too messy to be eaten with the fingers.

Olive pits, fish bones, fruit seeds, and so on, are removed from the mouth with the fingers. NEVER try to remove them with fork, spoon, or napkin.

If you are confronted after a meal by a small bowl full of water, do not stare at it balefully. Dip the fingers of each hand in the water and dry them on your napkin.

    Remember: Never break crackers into a soup bowl. Oyster crackers may be scattered into soup, but larger crackers are meant to be eaten with the fingers.

In eating soup, dip the soup spoon away from you toward the center of the table and eat out of the side not the front of the spoon.

  To Know
How to Eat
These Foods
Is Very Im-

Try to eat without making any noise. You can tilt the spoon so that the soup will enter your mouth without sounding as though it were being sucked up a mountain by a hydraulic pump. When consomme (thin, clear soup) is served in cups, it is perfectly proper to drink it as you would tea or coffee. Or you may use a spoon. If the cup is two-handled, it is all right to use both hands to lift it.

Salad may be served as a separate course or as part of the main meal. When served separately, it may come either before or after the meal. Serving it after is called “Eastern style” and serving it before is called “Western style.” If a salad fork is provided, you should use that. If not, use the dinner fork.

An artichoke may look like a relative of the porcupine, but really it is a delicious vegetable and very easy to eat when one has learned the trick. The outer leaves are torn off by the thumb and fingers, the “good part” (the bottom of the leaf) is dipped into the sauce and bitten off, and the rest of the leaf is placed back on the plate. When one has reached the inner leaves, which are too small and “spiny” to be eaten in this manner, the knife is used to cut around them and scrape them out of the solid bottom (or “heart”) of the artichoke. The heart is then eaten with the fork.

    Remember: Break your bread into small pieces and butter each before you eat it. The only exception is for hot biscuits or rolls, which may be buttered as soon as they are served, so that the butter will melt into them. This is also true of unbuttered toast. It must be eaten with the fingers.

Bread is placed on the bread-and-butter plate or at the side of the service plate (if no bread-and-butter plate is used). Break it, on the plate, into small pieces and butter each separately just before you want to eat it. Be sure to rest the bread on the plate while buttering it.

Do not lay a whole slice of bread on your hand as though you were asking it to read your palm, and butter it in mid-air. Do not bite from a whole slice of bread or toast.

Corn on the cob must be eaten with the fingers. Put on butter, salt, and pepper, while the corn is on your plate. Butter only one side at a time and eat it as quietly as you can.

Butter potatoes and other vegetables with the fork. Leave mashed potatoes in a mound and pour the gravy over it, or make a hole in the center when you are applying butter.

    Remember: Do not mash down any of your vegetables into a flat area like a field about to be planted.
    Do not mix food on your plate into one gooey mess.

Break baked potatoes open with the fork, insert butter, salt, and pepper as you need it, and eat the potato from its shell. If the example is set by your hostess or dinner companions, you may scoop out the interior and lay the shell aside on the edge of your plate. If you like the skin you may eat it.

Try to keep all the food on your service plate in separate sections. It looks much nicer to people who have to watch you eat.

Always eat asparagus and French-fried potatoes with a fork.

Pie and cake are eaten with a fork unless the hostess sets the example of using her fingers for cake. In that case it is proper to break a small piece of cake with fingers and eat that before breaking off another. Always use a fork for pie. Do not pick up a piece of pie or cake and try to shovel it into your mouth in one or two bites.

Ice cream is generally eaten with a spoon. Sometimes a fork is provided. If in doubt, watch your hostess.

After putting cream or sugar into your coffee or tea, you may stir it gently with your spoon. Then remove the spoon, lay it into the saucer, and drink your coffee from the cup.

    Remember: Do not use your own spoon in the sugar bowl. If no sugar spoon is on the table, try to shake what you need into your cup or spoon. Using a damp spoon in the sugar bowl leaves sticky little balls in the sugar for the other fellow. And it’s unsanitary.

Never ladle the drink into your mouth with the spoon, or drink with the spoon still in the cup. Besides the awful fear watchers may have that you will injure an eye, your finger might slip and cause a shower of liquid across the table.

Saucer drinking is absolutely out! It looks frightful! It’s clumsy! And the vocal effect is something like that of a hog at a food trough.

Let your hostess be your guide if the fruit is served after dinner. There may or may not be a knife for you to use in cutting it into small pieces, or for peeling it. Usually is it all right to eat it in your fingers, but if you are in doubt you had better watch someone else who knows.


When entering a dining room (unless it is such a very formal dinner that you have been assigned partner), go in quietly with the other guests and wait for the hostess to tell you where to sit. Then you will pull out the seat of the lady on your right and seat her before taking your seat. Wait until all the ladies are seated and the host starts to sit down. That’s your signal. If this is a stag party, it is polite to wait until everybody is ready before pulling out your chair. It doesn’t matter whether you sit down from the right or left side of your chair.

Sit quietly at the table. Keep your hands in your lap until your hostess begins to eat. Do not play with the silver or twirl your water glass. Don’t grab your knife and fork as though you were afraid they would run away, and sit with their tips pointed toward the sky.

Do not wipe your silver on your napkin. You would be insulting your hostess’s kitchen sanitation.

If you are dignified and unhurried, you will avoid mistakes and give the appearance of being completely at ease.

Take your time while eating. Remember that dinner parties are supposed to be “social” gatherings and you are supposed to act as though this weren’t the first meal you had ever eaten. You are expected to to contribute your share to the entertainment. If you don’t feel up to talking, you can be a good listener and ask bright questions.

You may think you are more comfortable if you eat with your elbows sticking out at your sides like a duck under full sail. If you do, you are nothing but a menace to your neighbor. The place for elbows is hugging your ribs.

A little practice will teach you to cut the toughest steak without bumping into your neighbor’s arm.

When you aren’t eating don’t rest your elbows on the table.

And don’t lean on one elbow and eat with the other hand. You’re supposed to do your sleeping in bed.

Let’s supposed you are eating in a mess hall, at a table with a bunch of other fellows and no girls present. This is about as informal as a meal can be, but there are still good manners you can remember.

When a dish is passed to you, help yourself and pass it on. Ask for any dish which is not right before you. Don’t stand and reach for it! And don’t take more than your share!

Don’t use your own knife, fork, or spoon in a serving dish. If there is no serving implement, ask for one.

If you are unhurried, you won’t spill food on the table, floor, or your clothes. This may help cut down your laundry bill.

Chewing with your mouth open and trying to talk with your mouth full of food are very ugly table habits. Remember that the other fellow has to look at you. If you don’t care, or forget about him, remember that some day you may forget in the presence of some nice girl you hope you’re impressing.

If you are dining with a family, which does not have a maid, it is proper to pass the dinner plate along if you are less than halfway around the table. If you are halfway or more, the plate has come to you first because you are a guest. You are to keep it. If you wish salt, pepper, or anything else, you are to ask for it quietly from the person sitting next to you. If you are asked to pass something, the proper reply is “Certainly!” or “With pleasure!”

If you want to make a big hit with Henrietta’s mother (supposing they have no maid), you might offer to help clear the table. If you are told “No, thanks,” let it go at that. But if your offer is accepted, then take the dishes out two at a time, not stacked, and place them near the sink.

If you are at a house where a maid serves the meal, the host may carve and serve the meat and the hostess may serve the vegetables or have them served by the maid. She will place your plate in front of you (generally from your left side) and bring vegetable dish to you, holding it beside you low enough for you to help yourself. Each dish will have the implement necessary for serving it–whether fork, spoon, or both. Use the service spoon and take what you want, dipping away from you as when eating soup. Replace the serving implement. The maid will pour water and other beverages on your right, so be careful not to bump her and cause an accident.

Do not ask for a second helping of anything. Wait until the host asks what you would like or the maid brings a dish for the second time.

At the first serving it is polite to take a little of everything on your plate, whether you like it or not. You embarrass the hostess by refusing a dish. She likes to feel she has provided food which will please you.

If you have an accident (such as spilling a glass of water), apologize to the hostess once and once only. You embarrass everyone at the table by dwelling on a mistake.

If you are dining informally and passing your plate to the host for a second helping, leave your knife and fork on the plate, a little to one side.

If it is a large dinner party, talk to the people next to you and don’t shout across the table so that it will interrupt the conversations of the other guests.

If it is a small party, probably the conversation will be general. It’s nice if you can tell some amusing or entertaining stories, but don’t let them run very long. Give other people a chance to talk!

After dinner, do not light a cigarette until you are told that it is all right. At very formal parties the ladies will leave the room and let the men smoke together. And smoking may be disliked in the house where you are a guest.

When through eating, you will remain at the table until the host and hostess rise to leave. If there is a lady on your right, you will draw back her chair as she rises, and hold it aside for her to step away. Let her go ahead of you out of the dining room.

When you take a young lady to a restaurant where there is a head waiter, he will show you to your table. You will let her follow him and you will walk behind her. There is no rule about which side of the table either of you should occupy. If there is no head waiter, you may let the lady go first. You will pull out her chair and “seat” her before taking your own seat. If you are with two ladies, you will seat them both, the elder one first.

It is proper for you to give both orders to the waiter. Ask your lady what she would like to have, and tell the waiter her order before you give your own. It is nice if you can suggest things you think will appeal to her appetite.

After dinner go around the table, help her on with her coat, and draw back her chair as she rises. She should walk ahead of you as you leave the café.

No matter where you are dining, or in what company, you should always remember to take your time. Be neat and inconspicuous in the way you eat. Be dignified. Don’t gobble the food or the conversation. If in doubt, watch the hostess, the head of the table, or your dinner companions. Show your appreciation by being polite.

How is your voice? AT a dinner table do you keep the floor because no one else can “hear himself think”? In a restaurant do you broadcast your opinions to the whole room?

We hope you’re too smooth for that! When you’re out in public you try to keep your conversations a private affair. You stop discussing personal matters while the waiter is in the vicinity of your table and you keep your voice low every minute.

That’s a rule for private dinner parties, too. Don’t shout to Bill at the end of the table that you saw him at the movies with that-certain-party last week. You can tell him later. Even when you think you’re being pretty witty don’t try to impress everybody at once. If you have said something good those people who heard it will tell the others later.

Voice manner and radio manners should be alike: soft and sweet with plenty of consideration dialed in for the people around you. Don’t you hate it when someone calmly switches your favorite radio program to something dull and turns the speaker so high it runs everyone out of the house? Remember that when you’re around anyone’s radio or have guests listening to yours. Ask what the others would like to hear before you change a program. Then keep the machine tuned to a reasonable volume.

So with your speaking voice. Practise cultivating a pleasant and interesting one. Nowhere does it shine more than at a dinner party or across a table-for-two. Dead voices often go with “dead pans.” Why not have a session with yourself before a mirror and see how well you respond? Say out loud those usual conversation bits: “Is that so?” “How do you do?” “I’m certainly glad to know that!” etc. You may get a shock. Try to really feel what you say, let it show in your voice and on your face. If you can look interested when you say those small things, you won’t have to talk any more than you wish. And you will be popular everywhere.

If you must cough or sneeze, hold your napkin before your mouth and turn your head away from the table.

If you must leave the table, ask your hostess quietly to excuse you, and leave and return to your place quietly.

Before leaving the party, thank your hostess for your good time. Say something like “Thank you for a most enjoyable dinner.” It isn’t necessary to go into a long speech of rapture. She will know by your manners how much you mean what you say.

Think of the other fellow and remember that your manners tell others what sort of person you are.

<< Read Part 1 of Manners for Moderns | Read Part 3 of Manners for Moderns >>

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