Etiquette: Fine-Dining Rules You Didn’t Know Exist

Most meals consumed with family and friends are pretty informal affairs. Honestly, a great deal of food is eaten out of our laps in front of the television. But even if you live in one of those houses where people get in trouble for putting their elbows on the table, that’s nothing compared to the rules you’d be expected to know and follow at certain fine-dining establishments.

So if you think you might unexpectedly fall into a My Fair Lady-type situation, or just want to take a few moments to giggle at the fanciful customs of the 1%, read on. Here are 7 fine dining rules we bet you didn’t know existed.

Your menu must never leave the table

Be sure to bring your reading glasses. Apparently, one’s menu should never leave the table entirely in fine dining situations. If you can’t read it while it’s lying flat, tip it up toward you but make sure that the bottom edge still has contact with the table.

We can’t find any historical context for this rule, but the fine dining expert who recommends it is etiquette expert Myka Meier, who trained in England with a former member of The Royal Household of the Queen. Perhaps this is something you can do when you want to add a royal touch to your meal.

Clinking glasses is gauche

Here we were thinking that toasting with a glass of champagne is fancy. Nope. Clinking glasses together could damage them. Plus, it’s noisy. According to Meier, we should all strive to be as quiet as possible during a fine dining experience.

Certainly you may formally congratulate the happy couple or the birthday boy, but only if you can get their attention without raising your voice.

Don’t ask for additional cutlery

What if you sit down to your oyster appetizer but find that there is no oyster fork? Silly person, that means that the oyster has already been loosened for your convenience. Use your knife to remove any remaining attachment if you must, but don’t insult the host by suggesting that they missed a crucial piece of cutlery.

Remember that the place setting will have been very carefully designed for the meal to come, so you shouldn’t need anything that isn’t already there. And for goodness’ sake, turn that oyster shell over on the plate to politely signal that you’re done.

Organize your plate correctly

In the theme of “everything has its place,” be sure that you are keeping any butter or sauces on the bottom right portion of your plate, while discarded items such as a fish bone or lemon rind go on the upper left.

It is also important to show respect to the servers by keeping the rim of your plate clean at all times, as this is where they’ll have to grab it while clearing.

Don’t pick up your bread to butter it

It may be terribly inefficient, but you really ought to butter your bread while it is still on the plate. And please don’t be that person who butters the whole roll or slice at once. Instead, break off one bite-sized piece, butter it without lifting it, and then finally put that one bite in your mouth. Repeat.

This advice goes for anything that’s even slightly bread-adjacent, including muffins, bagels, and biscuits.

Hide the shame of your messy face

There are a lot of rules when it comes to napkin use. One is that you must never wipe stains away, but only dab them. Another is that when you replace that napkin in your lap, fold it so that all the stains stay on the inside and no one can see the mess you made.

This honestly makes some sense, as a stained napkin is not a great accessory to that fancy dress or tux you’re wearing. But etiquette suggests that you fold the napkin in half with the crease facing toward your body, which makes it a bit challenging to surreptitiously open, use, and refold without revealing the stains.

Don’t give a reason for leaving the table

Fancy ladies and gentlemen don’t urinate, or at least don’t call attention to the fact that they do. It is appropriate to leave the table during the meal if you need to visit the restroom – excuse yourself first – but don’t mention why or where you’re going.

So that’s it, for the most part. We never said this was an exhaustive list. But you should be pretty well prepared to go ahead and enjoy that fancy meal. Just don’t eat all of it, as this could signal to your host that you’re still hungry or that they didn’t provide you with enough. Leaving one bite behind is more polite.