A no-tears approach to taming the young barbarians at the feast.

Table Settings
Photo by Meredith

Having good table manners is a win/win for kids and the grown-ups who love them. And when you teach children proper behavior at the dinner table, you're giving them life skills that will pay off now and in the future.

Basic Training

It's never too early or too late to learn the basics of "company manners," and just like learning any skill, practice makes perfect. Here are eight easy ways to exercise your good table manners:

  • Wait for the cue to sit down. Unfold your napkin, place it over your lap, but don't pick up your fork just yet.
  • Watch and wait. When a parent or the host picks up a fork, that's your green light to do the same.
  • If you're eating "family style" and sharing food from serving dishes, pass them from left to right. Take only as much as you will finish, then pass the dish to the person on your right.
  • Sit up straight and bring the food to your mouth instead of hunching down over your plate. You are not your dog.
  • Speaking of bringing food to your mouth, use your utensils unless everyone is eating finger food. Note: you can eat pizza and still use good manners.
  • Chew with your mouth closed; talk with your mouth empty. And if you want to lick your lips, dab them with your napkin instead.
  • Ask your family how their day was and share something from your own day; eating in grim silence isn't any fun and making conversation is essential to good table manners.
  • Are you finished? Resist the temptation to push your plate away. Place your knife and fork side by side on your plate with the handles pointing right. Straighten your napkin and leave it on the table, near the left side of your plate. Some parents might let you leave the table early, but you should ask permission first.

Know Your Way Around

Which fork do I use? Is that my bread plate? Are you drinking out of my glass? Here's how to face the most complicated place setting with confidence.

  • More than one fork? Start from the outside and work your way in. The smallest fork on the left side of your plate is usually for appetizers or salad. If you're having soup, you might find a large spoon on the right side of your plate. If you're having bread, your bread knife will be placed on your bread plate.
  • Your bread plate is above and to the left side of your dinner plate.
  • Your glassware is above and to the right side of your dinner plate.
  • Sometimes a dessert spoon or fork might be placed above your dinner plate.

Social Graces

How to behave like a civilized human being.

  • Say please and thank you.
  • Try a little of everything you're served, even if you suspect you won't like it. You might be pleasantly surprised. And if you really don't like it, just don't say anything hurtful.
  • Is your family hosting a party? Ask how you can help. Maybe you can take coats or serve hors d'oeuvres.
  • Are you dining out? Ask your parents if you can order for yourself. (Hint: don't point at the menu when you order.)
  • Do you need to use the restroom? Ask your parent quietly.
  • Did you accidentally burp? It could happen. Say "excuse me" and hold back the giggling.
  • Are you going to sneeze? Turn your head completely away from the table and cover your mouth with your napkin.
  • Here's one even grown-ups forget: if you're a dinner guest, send a short thank-you note the next day.