Formal Dining Etiquette Rules

The Is Real Dining Etiquette - Not The Don't Leave Your Phone On The Table List

The Rules of Formal Dining Etiquette

(DM) — Men. Let’s be honest. Do you know what a demitasse is? What’s a 3-star Michelin?

You need some churchin’ up. You’re not the fine example of civility at dinner you aim to be. Thankfully you have DangerMan here to help. At some point, we all benefit from knowing the rules to formal dining etiquette.

Rules you say? Absolutely.

Some dining rules are hard and fast. Others are general rules you should at least understand so you can decide what’s required of you.

Let’s begin with fine dining in a restaurant, work our way through a 3-star Michelin and finish with private dinner party formalities where you can be rest assured, you will never find yourself so fortunate to be enjoying a demitasse.

What is formal dining anyway?

Well, if it’s formal, you were probably invited. There’s your first clue.

Then there is attire.

A formal dinner is clearly defined as one in which the man is required to dress formally. Evening attire, a tie, a tux. The nines. From there a number of things kick in.

Let’s begin with the world in which most of us live. General etiquette.

General Etiquette Rules

Always say please when asking for something. Be sure to say thank you to your server and bus boy after they have removed any used items.

If asked for the salt or pepper, pass both together, even if a table mate asks for only one of them. This is so dinner guests won’t have to search for orphaned shakers. Set any passed item, whether it’s the salt and pepper shakers, a bread basket, or a butter plate, directly on the table instead of passing hand-to-hand. Never intercept a pass. Snagging a rollout of the breadbasket or taking a shake of salt when it is en route to someone else is a no-no.

Pass food from the left to the right. Food is served from the left. Dishes are removed from the right.

Butter spreads, or dips should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating.

Never turn a wine glass upside down to decline wine. It is more polite to let the wine be poured and not draw attention. Otherwise, hold your hand over the wine glass to signal that you don’t want any wine.

Always scoop food away from you. If it’s foul, move it to the far left of your plate.

Taste your food before seasoning it.

Do try a little of everything on your plate.

Leave one bite. It’s etiquette.

Don’t blow on your food to cool it off. If it is too hot to eat, take the hint and wait.

Keep elbows off the table. Keep your left hand in your lap unless you are using it.

Do not talk with your mouth full. Chew with your mouth closed.

Cut only enough food for the next mouthful. Eat in small bites and slowly. Don’t clean up spills with your own napkin and don’t touch items that have dropped on the floor. You can use your napkin to protect yourself from spills. Then, simply and politely ask your server to clean up and to bring you a replacement for the soiled napkin or dirty utensil.

Do not blow your nose at the dinner table.

Excuse yourself, but do not announce you are going to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the dining room. If you cough, cover your mouth with your napkin to stop the spread of germs and muffle the noise. If your cough becomes unmanageable, excuse yourself to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the dining room.

Turn off your cell phone or switch it to silent or vibrate mode before sitting down to eat, and leave it in your pocket or purse. It is impolite to answer a phone during dinner. If you must make or take a call, excuse yourself from the table and step outside of the restaurant.

Whenever a woman leaves the table or returns to sit, all men seated with her should stand up.

Do not push your dishes away from you or stack them for the waiter when you are finished. Leave plates and glasses where they are.

Restaurant Fine Dining

Fine dining is considered anywhere you will be served multiple courses, you’ve dressed for the occasion (some have requirements), and    …. up to 3-star Michelin rated restaurants.

When To Eat

Wait until all are served before beginning to eat.

The Napkin

Once seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, unfold it, and put it in your lap. Do not shake it open. Fold it in half with the crease or fold towards yourself. To be clear, the open end is facing out.

At some very formal restaurants, the waiter may do this for the diners, but it is not inappropriate to place your own napkin in your lap, even when this is the case.

The napkin rests on the lap until the end of the meal. Don’t clean the cutlery or wipe your face with the napkin. NEVER use it to wipe your nose!

If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold the napkin and place it to the left or right of your plate. Do not refold your napkin or wad it up on the table either. Never place your napkin on your chair.

At the end of the meal, leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting. It should not be crumpled or twisted; nor should it be folded. The napkin must also not be left on the chair.

Your Wine

Do not hold it by the bowl. Grasp it by the stem. It’s the reason it exists. Holding the stem means you don’t warm the drink from your body heat and thus affecting the flavor or your fine chardonnay.

Proper Tipping Etiquette

At a restaurant, always leave a tip. Tips can vary from 15% to 25%.

Waiter: 15% to 20% of the bill; 25% for extraordinary service
Wine steward: 15% of wine bill
Bartender: 10% – 15% of bar bill
Coat check: $1.00 per coat
Car attendant: $2.00 – $5.00

Remember that the amount you tip reflects the total price before any coupons, gift certificates, etc. Just because you get a discount, does not mean that your server did not serve up the full order.

If the owner of the restaurant serves you himself, you should still tip him. He will divide the tip among those who work in the kitchen and dining room.

Private Formal Dining

This is the stuff of legend. Dinners that last four or more hours. In the modern world, few of us will ever experience the Private formal dinner. But — if you should be so lucky to have dinner with the Queen, let’s get some of the trivia out of the way first. Such as — did you know you should keep the edge of your plate clean. Why? It’s rude of you to leave food on the rim which staff will be touch with their fingers.

If for any reason you forget everything here. Consider that you can always watch others and follow their lead.

When to Eat

When your host or hostess picks up their fork to eat, then you may eat. Do not start before this unless the host or hostess insists that you start eating.


The meal begins when the host or hostess unfolds his or her napkin. This is your signal to do the same.

Let’s repeat that. You’ve sat down. There is a napkin. Leave it! Wait for your cue.

Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin. Do not shake it open.

The napkin rests on the lap until the end of the meal. Place the napkin in loose folds to the left of your plate.

The host will signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate. (Do not refold your napkin, but don’t wad it up, either.)


This is etiquette, don’t argue, just execute. Ready? Use the bathroom before. Not during. You do not use the bathroom during a function such as this. If you must. You do not announce your intentions.

Silverware and Dinnerware

Use the silverware farthest from your plate first.

The rule: Eat to your left, drink to your right. Any food dish to the left is yours, and any glass to the right is yours.

Silverware and Flatware

Starting with the knife, fork, or spoon that is farthest from your plate, work your way in, using one utensil for each course. The salad fork is on your outermost left, followed by your dinner fork. Your soup spoon is on your outermost right, followed by your beverage spoon, salad knife, and dinner knife. Your dessert spoon and fork are above your plate or brought out with dessert. If you remember the rule to work from the outside in, you’ll be fine.

Use one of two methods when using the fork and knife.

American Style

Knife in right hand, fork in left hand holding food.  After a few bite-sized pieces of food are cut, place a knife on edge of the plate with blades facing in. Eat food by switching the fork to right hand (unless you are left handed).

Continental — European Style

Knife in right hand, fork in left hand.  Eat food with the fork still in left hand. The difference is that you don’t switch hands-you eat with your fork in your left hand, with the prongs curving downward.

Once used, your utensils, including the handles, should not touch the table again. Always rest forks, knives, and spoons on the side of your plate or in the bowl.

For more formal dinners, from course to course, your tableware will be taken away and replaced as needed.

To signal that you’re done with the course, rest your fork, tines up, and knife blade in, with the handles resting at five o’clock a tips pointing to ten o’clock on your plate.

Any unused silverware is simply left on the table.

The Nine Course Meal

Let’s solve the mystery.

  1. Appetizer — Often shellfish. You may now use your oyster fork.
  2. Soup —  Served to you at the table.
  3. Fish — Brought to you, you serve yourself.
  4. Game — Wild game. Venison to foul.
  5. Roast Main course with veggies
  6. Salad —  Or Fruit, or cheese.
  7. Dessert — It will be posh. (Means Port Out Starboard Home)
  8. Fruit —  And cheese. And you thought it would be coffee.