Manners may be a dying art. Parents probably still teach their kids not to chew with their mouths open or sit with their elbows on the table, but the subtleties of dining etiquette are lost on most people. Did you know that there are very specific guidelines for utensil placement, or rules for how to order in a restaurant? I did a bit of research using the manners bible, Emily Post’s Etiquette [Yes, I do own this book. Every Savannah debutante should know these 900 pages by heart. Kidding, kind of. Thanks Mom.] and found that there are even certain do’s and don’ts for particular foods.
Here are a few that apply to brunch:
Bacon: Eat fried bacon as a finger food when it is dry, crisp and served whole. If the bacon is broken into bits, served in thick slices (as with Canadian bacon) or limp, eat it with knife and fork as you would any other meat.
Berries: Berries are usually hulled or stemmed before the meal, served with cream and sugar and eaten with a spoon. Sometimes berries are served as or with dessert or perhaps as part of breakfast. If strawberries are served unhulled, you can hold the berry by the bull to eat it; the hull and leaves then go on the side of your plate.
Coffee/tea: Don’t 1) leave your spoon in the cup 2) take ice from your water to cool a hot drink 3) dunk doughnuts, biscotti or anything else in your coffee unless you’re at an ultra-casual place where dunking is the norm 4) crook your pinkie when drinking from a cup, Victorian-style. Crumple empty sugar packets or cream containers and place them on the edge of your saucer/butter plate.
Cocktails: If you want to eat cocktail garnishes like olives, cherries or onions, by all means do. Garnishes on cocktails are easy to retrieve at any time, while those in the bottom of the glass should be fished out with the fingers only when you’ve finished the drink. Think twice about eating orange slices, since chewing the pulp off the rind is messy.
Bread: Break into moderate-sized pieces, then butter the bread one piece at a time, holding it against your plate, not in your hand. Hot biscuit halves and toast can be buttered all at once because they taste better when the butter is melted.
Butter: When diners need to transfer the butter to their own plates and no communal utensil is provided, they use their own clean knives or forks. When individually wrapped squares or small plastic tubs of butter are served in a restaurant, leave the empty wrappings or tubes on your bread plate, not on the table.
Condiments: Don’t salt and pepper your food before tasting it. When someone asks for the salt and pepper, pass both. These items travel together, so think of them as joined at the hip. Pouring ketchup over your food is fine if you’re with family and friends or at a chain restaurant, but you’ll have to do without at more formal spots.
Grapefruit: Grapefruit should be served with the seeds removed and with each section loosened from the rind with a grapefruit knife. The rind, plus any seeds encountered, should be left on the plate.
Muffins: At the table, cut regular muffins in half either vertically or horizontally and butter the halves one at a time. English muffins are split in half, and each side is spread with butter, jelly, honey or marmalade.
Pastries: Croissants are eaten with the fingers. When adding jelly, etc., carefully tear off a small piece and spoon on the topping. Danish pastries are cut in half or in quarters and eaten with fingers or fork. Popovers are opened and buttered before being eaten with the fingers. Sticky buns should be cut in half or in quarters with a knife and eaten with the fingers. If too sticky, use a knife and fork.
There are all kinds of rules for how to eat specific kinds of fruit, shellfish and other items you might encounter at brunch, but the basic idea is use common sense, especially when dining out. How you eat/behave in your own home is totally up to you, and believe me, I would consider some of these things “suggestions” rather than musts. But don’t think you’re going to get off easy with just one manners-related post–Emily has 873 more pages of teachable material on the subject.