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Top Ten Etiquette Mistakes When Dining

Whether you're on a first date or attending an important business lunch, good table etiquette is an absolute must if you want to present yourself in the best possible light.

Vintage photo of woman sitting across from a turkey at a restaurant.

We've all played a little fast and loose with the rules of good table manners when dining in the comfort of our own home. There, we're simply eating to satiate ourselves. Dining out with others, however, is a far different situation.

In this case, there's much more to a meal than the mere consumption of food. Dining out with others is a social event. In a business context, a meal allows us to evaluate someone outside a conventional office setting. In a romantic context, a meal enables us to get to know another person in a relaxed setting.

It goes without saying that dining etiquette is critically important in such situations. Make a mistake, and you could give a poor impression, torpedoing your chances at a job, a new business contract or a relationship.

With that in mind, let's review ten of the most common etiquette mistakes people make when dining.

Brandishing Your Smartphone

For modern diners, there is no etiquette lapse more annoyingly frequent than a smartphone fixation. Whipping out your phone incessantly conveys the message that your texts or e-mails are more important than your dining partner.

Impeding Your Server With Food Photography

If you're under 30, posting photos of your lunch or dinner to Instagram is almost a national pastime. Yet that doesn't give you free rein to impede the activities of your server and others around you. If you ignore your server to capture the perfect angle of your spicy tuna roll, you're committing a serious breach of etiquette.

Failure to Use Your Napkin Correctly

Napkins aren't handkerchiefs. Nor are they supposed to sit on the table between wipes. Once you sit down, pick up the rolled utensils on your left side, then place the napkin on your lap. When necessary, dab at your face - don't wipe.

Using the Wrong Utensils

It's a given that the more elaborate a meal is, the greater the variety of cutlery you'll be asked to use. While using the wrong utensils isn't a horror-inducing mistake, it will be noted. There's a simple rule for avoiding this: Always start from the outside and work your way in. You'll find the salad fork on your far left and your soup spoon on your far right.

Failing to Remember What Your Mother Told You

Even though most of us are instructed not to "eat with your mouth open" or "speak with your mouth full" as toddlers, that doesn't mean we always remember to follow this foundational instruction. Sometimes, in the heat of conversation, lapses occur. It's your job to resist them.

Nibbling on Your Food While Waiting for Others to be Served

It doesn't matter if it's just a bite - you should never start eating while others are waiting to be served. Even if your dining companion says she doesn't mind, there's no reason to breach table protocol.

Holding Your Utensils Like Weapons

A distressing number of people wield their cutlery like a dagger. Use a relaxed grip, and don't clench your fork in your fist. Always make sure cutlery stays clean and off the table.

Poor Posture or Body Control

Slouching in your seat or propping your elbows up on the table are etiquette deal breakers. Sit up straight and display good posture. It helps you appear alert and engaged with what your companion is saying.

Eating With the Rapidity of a Starved Animal

A good meal should be savored and enjoyed. Wolfing down your dinner gives the impression you can't wait for the evening to end - not a good feeling for your dining companions.

Treating the Server Poorly

If there's one sure fire way to alienate those you're eating with it's mistreating the staff. Even if you feel the service is sub-par, remember that you're sharing a server with the whole table. Your dining companions may not been keen on conflict with the staff.

The Takeaway

Good table etiquette is crucial for presenting yourself in the most flattering way whether you're on a first date or attending an important business lunch.