In today's fast paced, eat-on-the-run world, it seems very few of us make time for a regular sit down meal at the dinner table. That's until the holidays roll around, when the pressure's on to be perfect. Before you read any further, ask yourself - are you confident with your table manners, or do you have to take your cues by watching others?
"Etiquette has truly become a lost art," says manners coach, Dubravka Vujinovic. "People are busy on their cell phones or watching television and they've lost sight that having a family meal is a great way to connect family members. Manners should be important at every meal, whether you are sitting down to a formal dinner or a casual afternoon get-together."
Vujinovic is one of the etiquette coaches at dinnerware giant Replacements, Ltd. Throughout the holidays, the company hears from folks looking for a crash course in social graces. It doesn't matter if you're the guest, or the host - 'tis the season for good manners and proper etiquette.
Etiquette dictates forks go to the left of the dinner plate, knives and spoons to the right.
Set the perfect table
Remember: forks go to the left, spoons and knives to the right, with the sharp side of the knife turned toward the dinner plate. Place utensils in the order they will be used according to the courses you plan to serve.
Very importantly, don't set the table with implements you don't plan to use. "If you aren't serving soup or salad, then you don't want an extra spoon or fork in your place setting. Not only will these extra pieces get in the way and create extra clean up, it may be confusing for your guests," Vujinovic says.
The bread plate goes to the left of the dinner plate, water glasses and other beverages to the right. Water glasses should be the only glass filled before your guests arrive. Wait to fill iced tea, wine and other drinks until after your guests are seated.
Don't panic if you're not sure about the proper place setting for each meal. Vujinovic says you can find "cheat sheets" or place setting guides on Replacements' website, under the "neat things" tab.
Be a gracious guest
Always pass food around the table counterclockwise to the right without serving yourself first. Pass the salt and pepper as a set, even if you are only asked for one.
Ladies should always blot their lips before sitting down to the table, to keep from getting lipstick stains on linen napkins or glassware.
If you're not sure which utensil to use with each course, start on the outside and work toward the plate.
And don't forget...
Remember, the host/hostess always sits last. This person will let you know when it's OK to begin eating by offering a blessing or statement or perhaps passing a dish.
Don't cut more than one or two bites of food at a time and never butter an entire roll or piece of bread. Rather, pinch off one or two small pieces and butter those first.
If you need to excuse yourself temporarily, place your napkin on your chair to indicate you are coming back. Signify you are finished with your meal by placing your napkin to the left the dinner plate and your fork and knife side by side diagonally across your plate with the sharp side of the knife blade facing inward and the fork times down.
Perhaps most importantly, don't bring your cell phone to the table.
Vujinovic emphasizes good manners transcends all ages.
"I think it's very important to start teaching your children proper manners even at a young age," Vujinovic says. "As I've noticed with my own children, kids are very open-minded when it comes to learning, so if you introduce them to etiquette now, this will become habit and stay with them throughout their lives."
Should you cause a major holiday fumble by accidently breaking a piece of the host's dinnerware, you should certainly offer to replace the piece. If you don't know the name of the pattern or manufacturer, you're in luck - Replacements offers a free identification service.