19 Common Dining Blunders and How to Avoid Them

Whether you’re heading to someone else’s house for dinner, you’ve been invited to a large social event, or you’re visiting a new restaurant, it is important to show your host, staff, and other guests respect. Dodge any embarrassing moments by avoiding these 19 common mistakes.

Using the Wrong Utensils

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According to Business Insider, “If the table has been set correctly, all the cutlery—including soup spoons and fish cutlery—will follow the outside-in rule.” Formal restaurants and hosts may have specific utensils, such as salad forks, dinner forks, and dessert forks.

Overloading Your Plate at a Buffet

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The variety of food on offer at a buffet can leave you tempted to grab a bit of everything, but it’s polite to select a few small portions instead to avoid wasting food and allow everyone else a chance to try the dishes. You can always return for seconds; just make sure you’re not piling your plate too high.

Neglecting Proper Posture at the Table

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When sitting at a table, it is important to sit upright without slouching. You should also keep your elbows off the table and bring your food to your mouth instead of leaning forward to meet your plate. It’s also important to maintain a polite distance from your plate to allow for comfortable eating and conversation.

Ignoring Dietary Restrictions of Guests

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It’s important to inquire about your guests’ dietary restrictions or allergies ahead of the event; if your host hasn’t asked, you should politely inform them of your needs ahead of the event. According to Healthline, the most common dietary requirements include vegetarianism, veganism, gluten-free, lactose-free, and kosher.

Speaking with Your Mouth Full

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Always make sure that you chew your food completely and swallow before attempting to speak in order to prevent accidental spitting or choking. If someone asks you a question while you are chewing, politely signal that you’ll answer shortly without speaking to let them know you’ve heard them.

Not Using Serving Utensils

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It’s polite to use the serving utensils provided, not your personal cutlery, to serve yourself from shared dishes. This will mean none of the dishes are contaminated with different flavors or cutlery that has been in your mouth. Once you’ve used the serving utensils, make sure to place them back on the serving dish.

Reaching Across the Table

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If you need a condiment or dish from across the table, you should ask the closest person to pass it to you rather than reaching across and disrupting other diners. If someone requests the pepper or salt, you should pass both together and pass around the table rather than stretch across to someone who’s asked for it.

Starting Before Everyone is Served

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It is key to wait until everyone at the table has been served before beginning to eat, unless the host insists you start. If you are at a formal event, you should follow the host’s lead, as they’ll typically indicate when to start eating. 

Not Thanking the Host or Staff

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When you are hosted by someone else, it is important to thank the host for their hospitality after the meal. If you are at a restaurant, you should politely thank the servers and staff as they serve your meal and again when you leave the venue.

Overindulging in Alcohol

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You should be mindful of how much alcohol you are consuming, especially in a business or formal dining setting. Be sure to sip your drink slowly to enjoy the flavor and to maintain composure throughout the meal, as excessive alcohol can lead to inappropriate or offensive behavior.

Using Mobile Phones at the Table

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Show your host and other guests respect by keeping your phone on silent and out of sight during your meal. This will help you fully engage with others, enhancing the dining experience for everyone involved. If you must take a call or respond to a message, excuse yourself from the table.

Handling Accidental Spills

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If you accidentally spill something, remain calm and politely ask for assistance or a napkin if you’re unable to clean it up yourself. If you’ve spilled something on someone else, offer to help clean up or fetch anything they may need. Of course, you should apologize, but try to avoid making too much fuss to keep the atmosphere light.

Forgetting to Compliment the Cook

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If you enjoyed your meal, you should compliment the chef or the host on specific aspects you liked. Even if you didn’t find the meal to suit your tastes, it is polite to find a positive aspect to compliment to show genuine appreciation.

Ignoring the Dress Code

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If you are given a dress code for an event or venue, it is important to show respect and follow it. This will also help you feel comfortable among other guests. If you are unsure about the dress code, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.

Poor Handling of Silverware

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It’s important to handle your cutlery correctly, and the Etiquette Consultant says in the continental style of dining, “the fork always stays in the left hand, with the tines pointed down, and the knife is always held by the right hand. The food is then speared by the fork and brought to the mouth with the tines facing down. The cutlery never changes hands.”

Not Respecting Personal Space

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If an event is crowded or tight, make sure you remain mindful of others’ personal space. You should keep your belongings, like bags or coats, off neighboring chairs or in shared spaces and be aware of your movements, ensuring you’re not bumping into others or encroaching on their dining area.

Improper Soup Etiquette

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According to the Etiquette School of America, “spooning it away from you allows any soup that is going to dribble off the spoon to end up back in the bowl on its short journey back across the bowl, instead of on your shirt, blouse, or lap.” It’s also important to wait for it to cool rather than blowing on it.

Not Offering to Help With the Meal or Cleanup

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If you are attending an informal or family dinner, you should offer to assist with meal preparation or cleanup. In someone else’s home, a small gesture like helping to clear the table can be greatly appreciated, but it is always important to recognize when it is appropriate to offer help and when to allow your host to take care of things themselves.

Interrupting the Meal for Non-Emergencies

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You should always aim to prioritize the shared time, conversation, and dining experience over non-emergency interruptions where possible. If you must address something urgent, excuse yourself politely from the table without too much fuss and, where possible, in between courses.

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