The Butler Is In: Table manner dos and don'ts

Everyone needs to have good table manners no matter where they are dining.

People are judging you in all social settings

It's important to use proper table manners at all social events. (Getty Images)

Everyone needs good table manners no matter where they are dining.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Your manners are always under examination and by committees little suspected awarding or denying you very high prizes when you least think it."

Certified protocol and etiquette consultant John Robertson said there is always someone watching, judging, and making decisions based on your table manners.

John Robertson is a professionally-trained English butler. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)
"You never know who it is and you never know what opportunity you are going to miss because they have made a poor judgment of you." ​

Here are some important rules to follow. 

1. Don't put your stuff on the table

Don't unload your pockets and your purse onto the table. Don't put down your keys, your sunglasses, your business folders and ladies, don't put your purses on the table.

A big don't — never put your cell phone on the table. Robertson said every cell phone has a voicemail function. He says if you take a call during a meal with a colleague or business associate, you are saying to them — you're not important, my phone is more important.

"It's really rude and annoying to the other people to have to listen to half of your phone calls," said Robertson.

2. Pick up your napkin and put it on your lap

Robertson says it is very important to put the napkin on your lap. And if you have to leave the table during the meal — which he says you shouldn't — put the napkin on the chair.

"Don't put your used napkin back on the table while other people are still eating."

Napkins are only permitted back on the table at the end of the meal.

3. Am I using the right fork?

The easiest rule to remember for cutlery is work from the outside in to your plate. (Getty Images/Glow RM)

A bit confused about which fork to use first at the dinner table. Robertson said you always start with the cutlery that is furthest away from the plate. Go from the outside and work in.

"If you are in a restaurant and people have ordered different things, the waiter will ensure you have the cutlery for each course.

4. Silent service code

A waiter or waitress is able to tell if you are finished with your meal or not by the way you set your knife and fork on your plate. If you set it as an inverted V or thinking of the plate as a clock, setting them at 8:20, this means you are not done your meal.

Placing the cutlery at 4:20 or parallel together, indicates to the waiter or host that you are finished.

Roberston said an experienced waiter in a restaurant will wait until everyone at the table is done a course before clearing.

"This is why it's important to send out the silent service code."

5. Right or left?

Have you ever reached for the bread roll and were unsure about which one was yours? This can get confusing especially if you are at a crowded round table and the bread rolls are close to each side of your plate.

Robertson said to think of a BMW -- B for bread on the left, M for meal in the middle and W for water and wine on the right. 

6. Biggest meal mistakes

How we handle our bread at the dinner table is often the biggest mistake made by people in regards to their table manners.

Put the butter on your side plate and rip the bread, don't cut it. (Getty Images)
Different cultures have different rituals and customs around how they handle bread but Robertson said if there is a common butter plate on the table , you should take your portion and place it on your side plate.

"You don't take butter from the butter dish and put it directly on your bread," said Robertson.

You don't cut your dinner roll, you rip it. Tear off a piece about the size of a large olive, butter it on the plate and then eat that entire piece.

"If you are worried about doing it wrong, just don't touch it."

But the most important thing Robertson said to do in regard to table manners is to just follow the rules. 

John Robertson is a professionally-trained English butler who spends his summers in Murray Harbour, P.E.I. and is contributing to a weekly etiquette column for CBC called The Butler Is In.