Holiday Manners Makeover- Table Rules

by Cindy Post Senning on December 13, 2011

This post originally appeared at my parenting blog The Gift of Good Manners. I will be cross posting some of my favorite content from that blog here at the Etiquette Daily periodically. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Table Conversation

The art of dining includes several things: the table setting which brings order and beauty, the menu which delights the taste buds, and the conversation that brightens the day! The following tips will help your children learn the art of table conversation.

  • Talk to people on both sides of you and across the table.
  • Volume: Not too loud; not too soft.
  • Don’t talk with your mouth full! (If it’s a problem, try putting a mirror in front of your child during a meal, so she can see how it looks.)
  • The art of small talk: Suggest topics like the weather, sports, local events, school and then practice. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead use who, what, where, when, and how. Here are some practice questions. Help your kids make up their own:
    1. “What did you think of the ball game last night?”
    2. “What was the sledding like after that snow storm?”
    3. “I heard you won the state spelling bee last week! That is so cool…What comes next?”
    4. “Mom says you went to Spain last summer. Can you tell me about it?”
  • Avoid talking about personal family issues.

Practice at each meal this week. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something about your children you didn’t know. And, better yet, maybe they’ll learn something about you!

Table Manners

Practice setting a simple table setting:  fork on the left, knife and spoon on the right (knife next to the plate), glass on the right above the knife and spoon. (The kids can help with the table decorations – make holiday place cards, ask the kids to make up a seating plan, create a special holiday centerpiece – not so high you can’t see over it!)

Then review the basics and practice, practice, practice:


  1. Wash up.
  2. Napkin in lap.
  3. Wait until all are served or the hostess begins to eat.
  4. Please and thank you.
  5. Hold utensils properly.
  6. Chew with your mouth closed.
  7. Offer to help clear.
  8. Thank you to the cook!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Theresa December 28, 2011 at 8:51 pm

what side does the napkin go on when setting the table?


Winifred Rosenburg December 29, 2011 at 12:53 pm

The napkin generally goes on the plate. However, sometimes in a casual setting it can go to the right of the plate.


Cindy Post Senning December 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Hi Theresa,

The napkin goes on the left side of the plate. The fork(s) also goes on the left. The knife and spoon go on the right. And finally – the glass on the right and bread and salad plates (if you have them – not essential) go on the left. The bread plate just above the forks; the salad plate to the left of the forks.

I hope that helps.


Cindy Post Senning December 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Hi Theresa,

The napkin goes on the left side of the plate.



James February 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

This question was addressedto Cooks Country, they replied that only cooking questions are answered, can you Help?
As Children in the 1945- 50′s We were taught to eat from a Book my Mother had on Etiquette.
The knife was used by your favored hand, placed on the side of the plate, and the fork, transferred to that
favored hand, the fork held at a 90 degree angle to your erect body, the portion then placed in your mouth,
and while chewing the fork was laid on the plate. hands in the lap, never on the table.

I note when any of you eat it is efficient, with neither instrument leaving the ready position, nor switching hands.
And the fork skewering meat is efficiently inserted in the mouth with an upward thrust at a 45 angel.

We would have been skewered and sent to our rooms.
Were we taught wrong, or have manners changed, or do they differ by region?

I’m nearly 72, and I doubt it matters, but as a point of interest, I would really like to know.
Thanks very much,



Alicia February 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Depends where you live. In the Us vs Europe people do it differently. In the US you generally switch hands from your right hand with the knife to your right hand with the fork.


A.T. April 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Any recommended comments to a hostess who routinely begins clearing the table and cleaning up as soon as SHE is through eating, whether anyone or everyone else is through eating, at a formal or casual dinner or 5 or 50 for family, friends or business associates? She has been doing so for the last 45 years and we all have had as much as we can take. We continue eating and she continues cleaning around us. Thanks for your comments.


Elizabeth April 6, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I think the answer depends on whether this person is the hostess (whether the events are in her home) nor not. For example, if the event was held at another home by another host/hostess, it would be well within their purview to say, “Sally, most people are not finished. Please stop clearing – we’ll take care of that later.” If it is a corporate event, the manager or host in charge could easily same something similar. “Sally, you’re making people uncomfortable by clearing so early, they think that you’re rushing them out the door. Please hold off until later.”

It would be much more difficult to instruct a grown woman of advanced age, however, in her own home. I think you are doing the best you can by continuing to eat and ignoring it.


A.T. April 7, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Sorry, should have noted that she is hostess of dinners at home …


Elizabeth April 7, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Right…in that case, it’s really hard to tell someone what to do in their home. But I completely empathize with how annoying and off-putting it must be! Perhaps gently asking something like this might work: “Sally, some of us aren’t quite finished yet. Won’t you sit down and tell us about your visit with Great Aunt Myrtle while we finish up?”


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