I learned just how fascinated I was with etiquette when I bought a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette, 19th Edition, Manners for Today for my niece, an aspiring baker and future food biz entrepreneur. She's a senior in high school and plans to pursue a hospitality major in college. The almost 700-page book is a luscious, turquoise-and-cream colored hard-covered bible, and I could not stop reading every excerpt on food—from how to properly eat meat dishes with bones to sending back food in restaurants.
I'm romantically obsessed with manners because our civilization relies on certain guidelines for common courtesies in order to feel a sense of comfort and connection. When walking into Joebella Coffee Roasters for a morning cappuccino or Caliwala for some local produce, we greet our fellow humans, shoppers, and employees, with a nod or a "good morning," and it just makes everyone's day.
"People behave no worse than they used to," Ms. Post wrote in chapter one. "But with the pressures of modern life it, can be more challenging to stay civil."
It's fair to say making manners a fundamental part of your interactions sets the tone for a better way of life in everything food and wine related.
In a way, it's a form of gratitude.
After I sent the copy of Emily Post's Etiquette to my niece, I ordered a copy for myself—and I'm going to keep myself in line.
I learned good manners through a combination of a few things: My mother was a suburban socialite, which meant as the second oldest of six children, I passed around the hors d'oeuvres tray at every dinner party. I learned mostly from observing the manners of others.
When I was in fourth grade, I took a class in Catholic school called Poise and Self-Confidence, where we practiced our posture with books stacked on our heads and ate mock dinners in the school library.
And then I remember my older sister and I being taught manners at a special dinner out in a "fancy" Ghirardelli Square restaurant in San Francisco. On that occasion, my mother made it her mission to show us how to manage in the culinary real world, such as how to finish a bowl of soup by tilting the bowl slightly away from you, then spooning the rest outwardly by sipping from the side of the spoon, being careful not to slurp.
We hardly ate out when I was a child, so I think we learned the most by my mother's little reminders at the family dinner table: Don't talk with your mouth full. Napkin on your lap! Please pass the peas. And so forth.
Not too long ago, I found a kindred spirit, a woman who also believes strongly that good manners (namely civility, inclusion, and kindness) have every place in our homes and restaurants. Chef Debbie Duggan, of Central Coast Culinary and Catering, said she's been teaching etiquette classes to children in SLO County for years. She infuses lessons on manners and social grace into every class and camp she teaches. There's hope for those children, but what about the rest?
- Photo By Beth Giuffre
- STILL THE BEST Published in 1922 and revised every year since, Emily Post's Etiquette is the most trusted resource for our question on everyday manners—from common courtesies to table manners.
Duggan shared her philosophy with me recently: "The best way to teach children good table manners is to sit down with them and eat dinner," she said. "Children need to be taught how to hold a knife, fork, and spoon correctly and then learn how to cut with a knife. If they do not learn the correct way when they are young, then as adults they are awkward when eating and cutting their food.
"It is such a problem because a lot of families do not sit and eat together due to busy sports and lesson schedules," she said.
Duggan added that table manners really begin with washing hands before you eat, setting the table, sipping milk or water without a full mouth of food, placing used utensils back on their plates, napkin use, eating with their mouths closed, not interrupting, etc., all of which is taught at home.
"Parents have to display great manners and educate their children on the importance of those manners," she said. "I always tell children that their manners are theirs and they take them with them everywhere the go. You have to carry them with you all of your life. And great table manners are inspiring to other parents and children once they see them, so let that inspiration come from you."
Her pro tips for parents include taking kids out to eat, if they can afford it.
"Teach children how to look waiters in the eye and be respectful and then continue to use those manners throughout dinner," she said. "Children need to be reminded just as they need to be rewarded for those outstanding table manners."
Now we all know the new generations are coming in with whatever we decide to share with them. It really is up to the Gen Xers and the boomers to pass the torch on these American traditions and common dining courtesies that seem to be, quite frankly, dying out.
The new edition of Ms. Post's book speaks to the technologically inundated with its smartphone etiquette:
- Image Courtesy Of Emily Post's Etiquette
- KNOW HOW TO HOLD 'EM No matter how many annoying reminders I give my oldest son, he still holds his fork like he's ready to fist-punch his food. We can all use this handy drawing from Emily Post's Etiquette to illustrate manners to our teenagers ... and in the meantime, relearn what we've forgotten (or never even knew in the first place!).
"Without exception, turn your device off in a house of worship, restaurant, or theater, during a meeting or presentation; or anytime its use is likely to disturb others," the guide explains in Chapter 19. "If you must call, excuse yourself and go to the lobby or outside."
For Duggan, cellphones represent her No. 1 affront to good manners, but she also has another peeve: chronically late adults.
"Whether it be a gym class, coffee date, business appointment, and/or dropping or picking up children," she said. "What makes it OK for that person to always be late?"
And in case you were wondering the etiquette of tipping, the guide says restaurant tips should be 15 to 20 percent. Tip discreetly, without being flashy. Tip jars at coffee shops or other counter eateries are not obligatory but considered good mannered, especially if you're a regular. Bad service or not, Emily Post says tipping is an expectation for the team that makes up the wait staff. So leave a tip, no matter what, and talk to a manager if you have a complaint.
The new book reminds readers of the timeless table manners, including these gems: Always taste your food before seasoning it.
Having a second course? Rest your utensils on an available plate. Your waiter will probably replace them with clean ones.
You may only start eating when everyone is seated, served, and the hostess lifts her fork.
And if you want to send food back, only do so if it isn't what you ordered, if it isn't cooked to order (a rare filet mignon that arrives well done, for example), if you find a hair or a pest in your dish, or if the dish tastes spoiled.
According to Emily Post, you can ask the server to bring you a fresh portion, "just don't make a fuss." But most of all, remember your magic words. Δ
Flavor writer Beth Giuffre still practices poise. Send your favorite fancy etiquette tips and worthy restaurants to email@example.com.