Easy table etiquette tips

June 28, 2019 •

3 min reading

Easy table etiquette tips

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Table etiquette makes every meal more pleasant, whether you're dining with family, friends, or colleagues. Brush up on your table manners and learn dining faux pas to avoid with tips from hospitality education leaders at EHL.

Always greet your host and other guests

While you don't need to be formal if you're meeting friends, you should know the proper way to greet a meal host and other guests for more formal situations, like business meals. When you arrive at the dining table, shake hands with the person who invited you (the host) and others. Introduce yourself to anyone you don't know. Wait until your host takes a seat to sit down.

As other guests arrive, stand and shake their hands.

Napkin belongs on the lap

Your napkin belongs in one place during the meal: your lap. Place your napkin in your lap once your host moves their napkin to their lap. Leave it on your lap, except for when you need to bring the napkin up to wipe your mouth.

If your napkin falls on the floor, don't dive under the table to get it. Leave your napkin there and request a new one from the server.

If you need to leave the table, place your napkin on your seat, rather than the edge of the table, and push your seat in. While you may decide to fold your napkin neatly, that's not necessary.

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Particularly when dining for business, you must think carefully about what to eat. Your friends might not mind if you dig into a messy burger, but that heavy, greasy, and messy meal isn't the best choice for a business lunch. Others foods to avoid include pasta and pizza for their messy nature.

Take your cue from your host. If they order something light, look for something light rather than a heavy meal -- for instance, soup and salad rather than a deli sandwich. If your host orders something heavy, like a roast chicken, you can do the same. Ask the server about a couple items on the menu if you are having trouble deciding, but don't ask about everything on the menu, unless you have allergies.

Maintaining a pleasant conversation

At any meal, you should do your part to have a pleasant conversation. If it's a large table, talk to the people on either side of you rather than shout to a pal down the table.

Controversial topics, such as current events or religion, should be avoided. If someone else brings up one of these topics, try to change the topic.

Follow basic table manners when talking. Don't talk with your mouth full, don't gesticulate with your hands, and don't place your elbows on the table.

Eating with sense and manners

While eating, use common sense and table manners. Cut your food into bites, but cut only a couple of bites at a time rather than cutting all your food into morsels. Eat a bit of everything on your plate; it could come off as childish if you polish off your meat and potatoes but leave your green veggies.

Don't lick your fingers if they become messy, and don't fiddle around in your chair. If you finish before others, there's no need to push your plate away from you ro take your napkin out of your lap. Simply continue to take part in the conversation. When you're finished eating, place your silverware so the tines of your fork and knife point to 10:00 and the handles rest at 5:00. This way, your server will know you've finished your meal.

If you need to cough or sneeze, don't cough into your napkin. Instead, cough or sneeze into your elbow. If you need to use a tissue, excuse yourself to visit the bathroom.


When dining with friends, you may split the check or pay for only the items you ordered. When attending a business meal, don't get into a disagreement over who should pay the bill. Business etiquette calls for the host to cover the tab.

These basic table etiquette tips should take you far. If you are traveling internationally, check the customs that apply to your area of travel. Habits that may be frowned upon in Western countries, such as burping, can be encouraged in other cultures, like India. Brits tend not to mix business and personal lives, so asking personal questions at a business meal can create an uncomfortable atmosphere. 

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Lecturer at EHL Passugg

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