Good table manners go beyond knowing how to use your utensils correctly. They are also about navigating awkward moments smoothly and understanding subtle cues to the waitstaff and other diners. Many of the table manners below might apply when dining at your home or as a guest at someone else’s, too.

“How do I…”

  • …cut my food? One bite at a time. Always.
  • …pass food around the table? If possible, offer a dish to your left, then serve yourself, and pass to the right. You can either hold the platter for the person you are passing to while she takes her food or, if the platter seems easy to hold and serve from, you may simply pass it to the guest next to you once you’ve taken your share. Remember to take a small enough portion so that there’s plenty left for everyone else. When you pass something with a handle, like a gravy boat, pass it with the handle side toward the person you are passing to, so that she can take it easily.
  • …deal with an unpleasant experience in my mouth? If something that tastes funky or foul ends up in your mouth, you can raise your fork to your mouth and subtly use your tongue to remove the object from your mouth and place it on your fork. (Easy rule: If it went in with a utensil, it comes out on a utensil; if it went in with your fingers, it comes out with your fingers.) Then place the item to the side of your plate. Never place the or directly spit item in your napkin—it’s too easy for it to fall out, and stain your clothes or end up on the chair. You may also excuse yourself to the restroom and remove the offensive bite there you think doing so at the table will be distracting to other diners.
  • …signal that I’m finished? Imagining your plate as a clock, set your utensils on the plate so that both handles are resting on the numeral 4. Then leave your plate exactly where it is. Pushing it away is not considered polite.

“What do I do when…”

  • … I’ve dropped something? Don’t pick up a dropped utensil and put it back on the table. Tell your server, who will retrieve it and bring a replacement. The exception is when you drop a utensil that might be stepped on or cause an accident; in this case, act fast and pick it up yourself.
  • … my fork or glass is unclean? The next time a server stops by, discretely ask for a replacement. Don’t use your napkin to try to rub smudges off a utensil or glass. Also, don’t announce the problem to everyone at the table; discretely ask your server for a new item.
  • … I spot a hair or bug? If there’s the proverbial fly in your soup, try your best to avoid any fuss. Simply catch the attention of the waiter and quietly alert him to the problem. He’ll bring you a replacement or something else if you choose—usually pretty speedily.
  • … someone at the table has food on his face? Do your friend a favor and subtly call his attention to it. Dabbing your chin and upper lip with your napkin occasionally is the best way to avoid finding yourself in need of this assistance.
  • … I knock over my drink? Immediately set the glass upright and apologize. Offer your napkin to dam the flow of liquid. Summon your server who will take care of the rest and provide dry napkins or utensils if necessary.
  • … the waiter tries to whisk my plate away? If a server tries to take your plate before you’ve finished, don’t hesitate to say, “Oh, I’m not finished yet,” even if he’s already on his way to the kitchen.

Remember, no…

  • Slouching
  • Fidgeting
  • Smacking
  • Crunching
  • Touching your face or hair
  • Blowing your nose
  • Chewing with your mouth open
  • Talking with your mouth full
  • Pushing away your plate when finished
  • Picking or flossing your teeth