Proper etiquette at the table

Bread and Butter Etiquette

  • Baskets may be passed with rolls, sliced breads, crackers or breadsticks, or the roll may already be on your bread plate when you're out dining.

  • Take only one roll to leave some for others around the table. You can always have seconds!

  • Place the piece on your bread plate to the left of your dinner plate. For butter, also place one pat on your plate. If the butter is in foil, remove the foil, fold and place to the side of your bread plate

  • The golden rule of bread is to only break off a small piece of bread, hold it in your fingers (not your palm) and butter it ONE bite at a time. One never butters an entire roll!

  • When you are ready for your single bite, butter it with the butter knife on your butter plate and gently glide the piece to your mouth with as few crumbs as possible.

  • Bread may de dipped (or sopped) in gravy or soup but buyer beware, it will be messy!

  • Bread baskets are always passed to the right. If you are the host, pass the basket to the right but offer one to the person on your direct left first so they do not have to wait until the basket makes it around the table. For larger groups, there should be more than one basket on the table.
Dining Dilemma What If's

Good etiquette is always about being able to handle the what if's. So, what if...
  • Your guest is late? Call their office to make sure they're on their way. If they've left, you're welcome to sit at the table. If after 20 minutes they have still not arrived and you have other appointments, you're ok to leave. Leave word with the matre'd, call your guests office and leave a message. You may also want to tip the matre'd for holding your table.

  • You need to make a phone call at the table? If you are paged or need to make a call, the rule is to never leave for more than a few minutes, otherwise it's rude. No details need be given when you excuse yourself.

  • You have a visitor to the table? As the host, you should get up and greet the visitor. However, it's not necessary for you to introduce them to your guest. It can be disruptive and a time constraint. You can acknowledge them but try not to engage in conversation.

  • You need to go to the restroom? The rule is to never leave for more than a few minutes otherwise it's rude. No details need be given when you excuse yourself.

  • Your client's phone rings at the table? First rule is to obviously turn your phone off, but if it does ring, politely ask your guests if they'd care to be excused to take the phone call. This may be disruptive.

  • Your pager goes off? This is more forgiving as many people use them for emergencies such as doctors. Excuse yourself table to make the call. No details need be given when you excuse yourself.

  • If you have to leave the table, where does your napkin go? The napkin stays on your chair when you leave the table. This is because no wants to see a soiled napkin. If it stays on the table, they'll be forced to view it.

  • You have a meeting outside of your city? Check with the concierge of the hotel. They are familiar with all hot spots and can make reservations for you. They can be a wealth of information and make you look good. Don't forget to drop off a tip in a sealed envelope when you arrive for help given.

  • Someone has food in their teeth? Discreetly tell them without making a spectacle of it. If you have food in your teeth and can't swipe it away quickly with your tongue, then politely excuse yourself from the table.

  • Can't reach an item? Ask the person nearest to you to pass it to you. Avoid reaching.

  • Drop your silverware or napkin? At home, pick it up but don't use it. At a restaurant, don't pick it up but ask the waiter for another.

  • You must sneeze or blow your nose? Turn your head and cover your mouth and leave the table if it persists. Never blow your nose at the table.

  • What if I get a seed or bone in my mouth? Remove it with your fork and place it at the edge of your plate or bread and butter plate.

  • You spill something? Help clean it up if it's not physically on someone else, but also call the waiter for assistance.
Soup Etiquette
  • There are two types of soup spoons: a round deep spoon for broth and a long narrow spoon for cream soups.

  • For clear soups, there will be a bowl with no under plate. For cream soups, there will be a plate underneath to put your spoon in between bites. This is because clear soup will not leave a mess and cream soups will!

  • Soup is always spooned away from you. If you must tilt your bowl to get at your soup, tilt away from you.

  • Avoid leaning over the bowl and no slurping, and sit up as straight as possible.

  • Sip the soup from the end or the side and avoid putting the whole spoon in your mouth or you will choke.

  • If your soup is too hot, skim from the top, not the bottom where heat permeates.

  • Never blow on your soup as it will splatter!

  • When you are finished (and in between bites), if your soup has a rim bowl, the spoon stays there in between bites. If not, the spoon stays in the bowl.
About Lisa M. Grotts
Lisa M. Grotts has lived in San Francisco since 1984. She has been a certified etiquette and protocol consultant for 12 years and a former director of protocol for the City & County of San Francisco. From 2005 - 2007, she was president of the San Francisco Ballet Auxiliary. Her other volunteer affiliations include Raphael House, the Assyrian Aid Society, the Junior League of San Francisco, Delancey Street, and she is a current trustee of the Museum of Performance and Design. To learn more about Lisa's online etiquette courses for teens and adults, please visit her website

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