How did you eat your dinner last night? At the table? On your lap in front of the telly? With a knife and fork, or just gobbled up with spoon?
I ask because it seems the way we’re eating is changing – apparently, among the under 30s, one in five are now doing what’s known as the ‘cut and switch’ method, where they cut up meat and veggies to start off with and then swap the fork from their left to right hand and just use that to eat.
But, according to the Ask Jeeves survey, 90% of older Brits are sticking to the ‘European style’, keeping the fork in the right hand.
Debrett’s Handbook is the last word on British etiquette, so we turned to them to guide us in all matters related to correct cutlery positions, table manners and mobile phone use at the table…
Debrett’s on… Using cutlery
“The fork and spoon are the only things that should go into the mouth. Never lick the knife or eat off it. If using a knife and fork together, always keep the tines of the fork pointing downwards and push the food on to the fork. It may be necessary to use mashed potato to make peas stick to the fork but it is incorrect to turn the fork over and scoop.
“There are foods that are eaten with just a fork, including some pasta and some fish. In this case use the fork in the right hand and have the tines up, more like a spoon. It is not traditional in England, but quite usual in America, to see someone cut all their food up and then discard the knife and eat with the fork alone.
“It is not correct to hold your knife like a pen. The handle lies in the palm of the hand and is secured by the thumb on the side and the index finger on top of the handle. It is permissible in a restaurant to ask for a steak knife, if the meat is tough, but rude to ask for anything extra in a private house.
“When finished, the knife and fork (with tines facing upwards) or spoon etc, are placed on the plate in a six-thirty position.
“Always eat puddings with a spoon and fork (both should always be laid); the spoon should be a dessert spoon. Ice cream may be eaten with a teaspoon, or a long teaspoon if served in a tall glass.
“Sorbet, served between courses, is eaten with a teaspoon.”
Debrett’s on… Table manners
“Most people have been taught table manners as children, but surprisingly often such tenets have been forgotten, or are conveniently overlooked, in adulthood.
“While children may be told not to speak with their mouths full, it is easy for adults to forget to practise what they preach.
“Modern family life is so frantic that eating together at the table is less usual than it once was, so standards may slip or simply be unfamiliar. In short, the opportunity to monitor and be exposed to good table manners is being lost.
“It is not advisable to keep certain manners for ‘best’ and, even when eating informally or alone, good table manners should still apply. Constant practice will make manners easier to remember so that they come naturally when it really matters. “It is worth remembering that it used to be said that the mark of a true gentleman was a man who used a butter knife when dining alone.
“As with all manners, it is also important to be accommodating; if someone does something wrong, then never criticise, comment or draw attention to it. The story of The Queen politely drinking from her fingerbowl as one of her guests had done so in error is probably an urban legend. It does, however, demonstrate that excellent table manners are always flexible and pragmatic.”
Debrett’s on… Mobile phones at the table
“Answering phone calls, texting, or even repeatedly glancing at the screen in a social situation, is never acceptable. Mobiles should be put away at the dining table (whether at home or eating out) and calls should only be taken, away from the table, in exceptional circumstances.
"Parents should encourage their children and teenagers to use their mobiles appropriately and unintrusively.”
For more etiquette advice, visit: www.debretts.com