Food on the table

Travel Tips: Eating Food Etiquette in Local & Foreign Lands

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Are you a food enthusiast, a professional food critic, or do you want to know about food etiquette before joining a formal business dinner tonight? Or are you a curious cat that is prowling the internet just to gather some knowledge about eating?

Whichever case may it be, we at Penguin Engine will provide you with tips that will definitely help you in impressing your hosts or fellow diners with your sophisticated food etiquette. You will always feel good when you impress your peers or even strangers in a foreign land with the know-how of managing yourself at the dinner table in their communities.

There are a large number of different cultures and societies that prepare food in their own traditional way while improving them or even introducing a new food. So if you are wondering how many varieties of food are available on this world’s menu, then rest easy, the answer is very simple; just too many.

Each society or community has something different to offer to those who want to visit them. There are places where raw meat is considered a delicacy, or places where preference is given to the rice, or even places which offer spicy food which will jolt your taste buds.

In this article, we would give you an idea of how different cultures consider different practices besides the most common ones while eating. Proper food etiquette will help you socially and professionally. Let’s start!

Before the dinner

Before you go to the dinner which may be in a restaurant, or in a public place or community or even at someone’s house you need to know what you may expect at the dinner table. Formal dinners will require you to adhere to a proper dress code, and may or not encourage you to bring a friend or kids with you. You should inquire about this beforehand.

You may bring a gift for the hosts with you if the dinner is at a friend’s place. This will have a great impression on them. Keep in mind that even if your gift is a food time, do not expect your hosts to open it for that current dinner. That item may not be a good fit for the meal. Do not bring yellow flowers as a gift for your hosts which is considered a sign of hatred in some cultures, for example in Bulgaria.

Bringing gift at dinner invitation
Bringing gift to dinner invitation/

Keep your cell phone turned off or set to be in silent mode. It is considered rude if your phone rings during the dinner or for you to take it out to check calls or messages. It is always better to check your phone after the dinner is finished.

Taking a seat

In a formal business dinner, usually, tables are furnished with the names of the reserved guests. If the name cards are not used, you may ask for your seat from the dinner organizers. Wait for other diners to take a seat at your table before getting started.

If invited to a dinner at someone’s house, let the host offer you to sit at the table. Elders of the family or the family head may prefer a specific seat. Let them sit first.

Take a seat
Take a seat/

Getting started

In some cultures, a blessing may be said at the start of the dinner. Show respect and keep silence during it even if you do not believe in the prayer. If the host offers up a toast, lift your glass. Although it is not necessary to clink your glass with other diners, if you need to, try to keep your glass in the same level of height as the other person. If you prefer not to drink wine due to any reason, it is acceptable to toast with some other beverage such as soda drink.

If you are at a dinner party, you should wait for all your group members at the table to be served with food before starting to eat. If you are at a buffet, you may start when there are others seated at your table.

Napkins are important

The importance of using napkins is well known by parents and guardians of children or toddlers, as well as for those who find themselves a bit more towards the clumsy side. Having proper food etiquette does require you to use your napkin in certain ways.

If you are unsure about anything, keep observing your hosts for cues or your seniors that you know have better table manners. Take your napkin from the table or your plate after the hosts unfold theirs. Put your napkin on your lap, instead of tucking it in your shirt. If you are dining out, place the napkin on your lap as you take your seat. In some cultures or upscale restaurants, your host or server may offer you the napkin, graciously accept it with thanks.

If you need to leave the table due to any reason during the dinner, you may put your napkin on your chair or either side of your plate. In case if your napkin falls on the floor, your server will bring you another or you may ask for another yourself. Gently use the napkin to wipe off your mouth. Do not use it for wiping your lipstick or makeup, use tissues for that.

After the dinner is finished, put your napkin on the left side of your plate. You may need to wait for your hosts to place their napkin on their table and follow their lead.

Place napkin on lap
Place napkin on lap/wikiHow

This may become one of the most confusing aspects of a dinner which may comprise of several courses. In such cases, you should start with the farthest utensil from your plate and work your way towards the center of your plate setting. You may want to follow the lead of your hosts where you may deem required. If you are comfortable with this, you definitely have a good sense of food etiquette.

Tableware setting on a table
Silverware on the table/

If there are several food items placed on the table, pass the dishes in a counter-clockwise flow. It is considered primitive to reach across the table for an item or condiment. Ask the person closest to that item to pass it to you. Do keep in mind that in some cultures such as Japanese and Korean, it is a sign of good upbringing to accept a plate or glass with both hands.

Passing food atdinner
Passing food at dinner/

Food Etiquette while Eating

Here are some essential dining etiquette rules that you should follow while eating:

  • Chew your food slowly and with mouth closed. Try not to make unnecessary noises with your mouth when you chew. This is the most basic food etiquette common among most nations and societies.
  • Do not use the utensils like a shovel or use them to stab the food.
  • When you need to place your utensils, keep the used part on your plate and the handle on the table.
  • Always remember to use your napkin. Do not pick your teeth while eating.
  • Cut only one piece of food at a time instead of cutting all you have on your plate at once.
  • Whenever you need to drink or sip, chew and swallow your mouthful first.
  • Take part in the conversation, but do not talk while you have food in your mouth.
  • Proper food etiquette dictates that you should sit in a proper manner at the table. Do not slouch or spread your legs wide. In societies such as Japanese where it is common to sit on the floor mat, keenly observe the sitting postures of your hosts or accompanying guests. In case you are facing difficulty with that posture, inform your hosts.
  • When you are idle during the dinner, rest your wrists or forearms on the table. Do keep in mind that unlike the French culture, in America it is considered bad to put your hands on the table.
  • Taste your food first and add salt or pepper later if you need it.
  • Some food is eaten with fingers, therefore don’t be shy and follow the lead of your host.
  • Be considerate of the people in your group and try to match their eating pace.
  • When eating soup, dip your spoon in the middle of the bowl and move it away from yourself. Sip the soup from the side of the spoon instead of putting the whole spoon in your mouth. Proper food etiquette dictates that you should not move the soup bowl from its place while you are having soup from it or move it near your mouth.
  • Use table utensils to put the food items on your plate. It is considered not good food etiquette if you use your own spoon or fork for this purpose.
  • If you do not wish to drink wine, place your hand on your glass when the server is near you to pour it. If you missed this opportunity, do not worry, just don’t drink the wine.
  • In French culture, bread is considered as a food utensil. You may use it to push food on the spoon. If the bread is provided with a holder on the table, break it into eatable sized pieces and eat with your meal or butter. It is considered bad manners to bite chunks off of a whole bread. When not in use the bread belongs on the table or the bread holder.
  • In most Asian cultures where you may need to each rice with chopsticks, please note that it is considered as a disrespect to stick the chopsticks in the rice and leave it there. This act resembles the way how in those cultures the dead are offered rice in a bowl with upright incense. So instead of bringing bad luck to yourself or your hosts, always place your chopsticks horizontally on the table.
  • Place the fork in the hand you normally eat or write with.
  • According to the American way, for cutting a meat piece you will first need to hold it with the fork and cut it with the knife in your strong arm. Then switch the knife and fork and use the fork to bring the food to your mouth. The British do not switch the fork after cutting the meat with the knife, instead uses the fork in their less used hand to take the food to the mouth.
  • The Germans use their fork to smash the potatoes in the plate. Using a knife means that you do not think the potatoes are done.
  • In situations where the food seems a bit spicy for your taste, you may ask for some yogurt or a variant of yogurt to deal with the spiciness.
  • In Thailand, use of chopsticks except for Chinese food is uncommon. So do not be alarmed if you find Thais to be a bit different at the table. Also, note that Thais use fork only to push food in their spoons and not use them to eat the food.
  • In Ethiopia, India and the Middle East, eating food with hands is a custom. If you are invited to a dinner from these areas, properly clean your hands, and use your right hand for eating. Using left hand to eat is considered unclean habit.
  • In some cultures, such as Chile, touching food without any utensils is strictly forbidden. You will need to use fork even for fries.
  • You may consider pizza or burger to be eaten with hands as it is very common around the world, but in places such as Brazil, you will need to use utensils for these as well.
  • The British prefer to eat a banana with a fork. So if you find a mate eating one like that, do not be surprised, this is a century old custom.
  • If you are provided with noodles on the table, do remember that slurping and getting noisy while eating noodles in Japan is considered good manners. It shows that you are enjoying your meal.
  • Most cultures consider this bad, but in places like India, Turkey, and parts of Middle East, burping after eating food means that you really enjoyed your food.
  • In Italy, when you are served pasta before anyone else, you do not need to hold back, dig right in.
  • Also in Italy, never ask for an extra topping of cheese separately if it is not offered to you. It is considered a sin to put extra cheese on top of your pizza or even seafood.
  • In America, if you are asked to pass salt or pepper, you would need to pass both. But there are countries where if you are asked to pass the salt, you should only pass that.
  • In Portugal, if salt and pepper are not present on the table, you should not ask for them as this is considered an insult to the seasoning skill of the chef.
  • There are some cultures, such as Ethiopia, where sharing food from a single plate is a common practice. Using separate plates is considered wasteful.
  • If a lady from your table leaves for a few minutes and returns, it is a sign of respect and courtesy to slightly stand up when the lady is taking her seat.
  • In case you are still eating but need to leave your table for few minutes. Put your fork and knife in different places on the plate. If you are done eating, you will need to put these two utensils together on the plate.

After the Dinner

After you have finished eating, partially fold and place your napkin on the left side and the utensils on your plate. It is always a good idea to converse with your peers before the dinner is officially over which is signaled by the host.

If it is a dinner with your friends or peers in a restaurant, although it is mostly understood to split the dinner bill, in certain cultures such as France, splitting of the bill is considered bad. If you want to pay, you will need to pay the whole bill or let someone else pay it.

Do not be in a hurry to leave if there is no emergency for you. It is appropriate to socialize a bit with other guests. Send a thank you note to the host the next day with positive comments about the dinner.

Do you have any food etiquette familiar to your people or country and not mentioned here? Do mention in the comment section below.

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