A Roadmap to Healthy Living


Back to COMPASS Topic Resource Homepage

  • Article
  • Resources
  • Looking Back
  • Challenge




Congratulations! You have made such a great impression on your professor that she has invited you out for dinner with a visiting professor and a few other students. After the initial shock, what comes next? Don’t worry, it will be fine! You should be very proud to be included – just bring your best table manners, be willing to try new foods you may encounter, relax, and enjoy yourself!

First, it’s considerate to RSVP as soon as possible. Not responding in a timely manner leaves your professor unsure of your intentions. All your life you’ve heard that you should be on time. You’ve probably already heard it from this professor. Well, the same applies in a social setting. It’s good to be on time both in the classroom and in social settings. Getting late to class only distracts other students who are there to learn, just like you are. Besides, frequent tardiness demonstrates to your professor that you don’t care enough about his or her class to be on time. You want a good grade, don’t you? Being late for social events or to meet friends is also inconsiderate. It only shows them that their time means very little to you. How would you feel if you had to constantly wait for your friends? So please RSVP and be on time for dinner.

Second, review the table manners below to be as prepared as possible for that great dinner occasion. Knowing these items will help you make a great impression. The following twenty items are numbered but not ranked, and many come from campus dining services both locally and across America. So, before showing up to dinner, read on!

  1. It’s best to order foods that can be eaten with a knife and fork. Finger foods can be messy and are best left for informal dining.
  2. Don’t slouch. You’ll look interested if you sit up straight at the table. It makes a good impression.
  3. Elbows on the table are acceptable only between courses, not while you are eating.
  4. Just in case the chef is watching, don’t season your food before you taste it.
  5. Although it may be possible to talk with a small piece of food in your mouth, never talk with your mouth full. Your parents taught you never to chew with your mouth open or make loud noises when you eat for a reason.
  6. Spoon soup away from you when you take it out of the bowl and sip it from the side of the spoon. If your soup is too hot to eat, let it sit until it cools rather than blowing on it.
  7. It’s normal to have food get stuck between your teeth. When you can't remove it with your tongue, leave the table and go to a mirror where you can remove the food from your teeth in private.
  8. Eat rolls or bread by tearing off small bite size pieces and buttering only the piece you are preparing to eat. When ready for another piece, repeat the same process.
  9. Engage in table conversation that is pleasant and ask questions of your professor, her guest, and your fellow students. Not only does this ensure that no one at the table will be neglected, but your interest will be appreciated.
  10. You should not leave the table during the meal except in an emergency. If you must go to the bathroom or if you suddenly become sick, simply excuse yourself. Later you can apologize to your professor by saying that you didn't feel well.
  11. If you need something that you cannot reach easily, politely ask the person closest to the item you need to pass it to you. For example, "After you have used them yourself, would you please pass me the salt and pepper?"
  12. If a piece of your silverware falls onto the floor, pick it up if you can reach it and let the server know you need a clean one. If you cannot reach it, tell the server you dropped a piece of your silverware and ask for a clean one.
  13. If you or someone you are dining with is left-handed, it is best for the left-handed person to sit at the left end of the table or at the head of the table. This arrangement helps ensure that everyone has adequate elbowroom to eat comfortably.
  14. If food spills off your plate, you may pick it up with a piece of your silverware and place it on the edge of your plate.
  15. Use one napkin and make sure it remains on your lap throughout the meal, except (of course) when you are using it to wipe your mouth. You already know not to ever wipe your mouth with the back of your hand, right?
  16. Never spit a piece of bad food or tough gristle into your napkin. Remove the food from your mouth using the same utensil it went in with. Place the piece of food on the edge of your plate. If possible, cover it with some other food from your plate.
  17. Do not push your plate away from you when you have finished eating. Leave your plate where it is in the place setting. The common way to show that you have finished your meal is to lay your fork and knife diagonally across your plate.
  18. The proper place to reapply lipstick when dining out is in the bathroom rather than the table.
  19. Keep your cell phone turned off from the moment you walk in to dine until you are out the door and the experience has concluded.
  20. Always shake hands and look each guest in the eye when being introduced by your professor and prior to leaving.

Finally, within the week, please send a handwritten thank you note to your professor and tell her how special you felt to be invited to dinner. She’ll remember that note when you ask her your junior year to write a letter of recommendation for an internship or when she’s calculating your final grade!



Table manners play an important part in making a favorable impression. They are visible signals of the state of our manners and therefore are essential to professional success. Take the following quiz to see how many table manners you have.

I. Napkin Notes

1. When should I put my napkin on my lap?

  1. As soon as you sit down.
  2. Follow the lead of the host, in other wards, after she does.
  3. If it is paper, why bother?

    The answer is B. The meal begins when the host unfolds her napkin. This is your signal to do the same. Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin.

2. I have to excuse myself to make a quick phone call. What should I do with my napkin?

  1. Place it on your chair.
  2. Lay it on the table.
  3. Take it with you.

    The answer is A. If you need to leave the table during the meal, place your napkin on your chair as a signal to your server that you will be returning.


II. Order Up

3. What if I have no idea what I’m ordering?

  1. Ask others to go before you.
  2. Order something that sounds familiar.
  3. Ask your server if you have no idea.

    The answer is C. If there are items you are uncertain about, ask your server any questions you may have. Answering your questions is part of the server's job. It is better to find out before you order that a dish is prepared with something you do not like or are allergic to than to spend the entire meal picking tentatively at your food.

4. Should I order something expensive?

  1. Why not?
  2. No!
  3. Only if your professor suggests an expensive item.

As you have probably surmised, C is the correct order. If the professor says "The prime rib is the specialty here; I think you'd enjoy it," then it is all right to order that expensive item if you would like.

5. While ordering the main course, should I also mention my dessert desires?

  1. Why not?
  2. No!
  3. Only if your professor suggests it.

    Again, the correct answer is C. As a guest, you should not order more than two courses unless your host indicates that it is all right. If the host says, "I'm going to try this delicious sounding cheesecake; why don't you try dessert too."

III. Silverware Scenarios

6. True or False – There is a systematic way to choose which utensil to use.

The answer is True. Starting with the knife, fork, or spoon that is farthest from your plate, work your way in, using one utensil for each course. The salad fork is on your outermost left, followed by your dinner fork. Your soupspoon is on your outermost right, followed by your beverage spoon, salad knife and dinner knife. The systematic rule is to work from the outside in.

7. True or False – There is only one way to use a knife and fork to cut and eat my food.

The answer is False. There are two ways and either is appropriate. In the American style, one cuts the food by holding the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand with the fork tines piercing the food to secure it on the plate. Cut a few bite-size pieces of food, and then lay your knife across the top edge of your plate with the sharp edge of the blade facing in. Change your fork from your left to your right hand to eat, fork tines facing up. (If you are left-handed, keep your fork in your left hand, tines facing up.) The European or Continental style is the same as the American style in that you cut your meat by holding your knife in your right hand while securing your food with your fork in your left hand. The difference is your fork remains in your left hand, tines facing down, and the knife in your right hand. Simply eat the cut pieces of food by picking them up with your fork still in your left hand.


IV Exit Stage Left

8. How do I know when my professor is ready to leave the restaurant.

  1. She will stand and invite the rest of the guests to do the same.
  2. She will place her napkin on the table.
  3. Both A. and B.

    The correct answer is B. The host will signal the end of the meal by placing her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your napkin neatly on the table to the right of your dinner plate. Neither refold your napkin nor wad it up.



Amy Vanderbilt, queen of etiquette, has nothing on you if you follow these suggested table manners. By embracing these suggestions at and beyond the table you will be considered mature, considerate, interesting, and especially employable! The benefits are endless.


Brenda P. Wiggins, Ph.D.
Associate Professor in Recreation and Coordinator of Student Affairs,
School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism
College of Education and Human Development


Baldrige, Letitia. The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Contemporary Living. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978.

Craig, Betty. Don't Slurp Your Soup: A Basic Guide to Business Etiquette. New Brighton, Minnesota: Brighton Publications, 1991.

DuPont, M. Kay. Business Etiquette and Professionalism: Your Guide to Career Success. Los Altos, California: Crisp Publications, 1990.

Sabath, Ann Marie. Business Etiquette in Brief: The Competitive Edge for Today's Professional. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Bob Adams, 1993.

Stewart, Marjabelle Young, and Marian Faux. Executive Etiquette in the New Work Place. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. retrieved July 4, 2005. retrieved July 4, 2005.

Mason Resources

 Office of Continuing Professional Education offers a non-credit course on business etiquette. The course is available on a contract basis and can be tailored to suit specific goals.

Manners, Etiquette and Strangers is a series of paragraphs from history about appearances.

The Mason Spirit – The Magazine for Alumni and Friends reported an article on “Mind Your Peas and Cues” regarding students and alumni learning the rigors of business dining and etiquette.

Notes on Email Etiquette answer some questions regarding proper emailing.

The Honor Code is a form of etiquette. It promotes a stronger sense of mutual responsibility, respect, trust, and fairness among all members of the George Mason University community.

Local Resources

An on-line library – offers an on-line resource guide about the “perfect behavior” for many common situations, such as courtship etiquette, engagement and weddings, travel etiquette, concert and opera behavior, games and sports, proper correspondence and invitations, and dinners and balls.  

National Resources

The Flag of the United States of America offers flag etiquette rules about standards of respect, displaying the flag indoors or outdoors, raising and lowering the flag, parading and saluting the flag, and much more.

Flag Rules and Regulation is the Betsy Ross Homepage Resources offering such proper tips as to how to fold and display the flag. – offers a wide variety of information regarding entertaining etiquette and manners; for example, how to write an invitation, the meaning of RSVP, bridal showers, dinner parties, do’s and don’ts of thank you cards, giving grace, funeral, and much more. offers internet-published literature, references, and verse providing students, researchers and intellectually curious with unlimited access to books and information on the web. Search for topics about etiquette at

Beach Etiquette is a guide to courtesy at clothing optional sites. It offers such topics as the impolite act of gawking, obeying all parking rules and regulations, arriving early, respecting the environment, helping to keep the area clean, getting dressed before leaving, and many more.

Dining Etiquette offers guidelines on basic table manner and dining etiquette, such as napkin use, ordering or use of silverware.

Elements of Dance Etiquette offers guidelines about what to wear, personal grooming, how to ask for a dance, whom to ask, how to decline, on the floor, and much more.

E-Mail Etiquette is intended to offer guidance to users of electronic mail (e-mail) systems. It offers such advice on topics as to, Cc and Bcc, reply to all, “don’t be a novelist,” and “too much punctuation!!!”

Email Etiquette explains how to send effective email replies. It discusses why email etiquette is necessary, lists email etiquette rules, and explains how to enforce these rules by creating a company email policy.

Emily Post – Etiquette in society, in business, in Politics and at Home offers a way of living. The web site offers a long list of subjects, such as greetings, on the street and in public, conversation, pronunciation, cards and visits, and much more. An Institute offers the latest in etiquette advice, seminars, and links to books and surveys.

Etiquette grrls has a web site devoted to the do’s and don’ts of how to behave in various settings. It offers a question and answer section, a list of books, and what media has to say about etiquette.

The Etiquette Survival Guide offers a guide that includes activities and guidelines about what etiquette is, work etiquette, meeting people, telephone etiquette, and more.

Etiquette – Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia offering information about the evolvement of etiquette including the norms and effects of etiquette, manners, cultural differences, and other links.

Miss Manners is an American writer and etiquette authority. She writes a twice-weekly advice column for the Washington Post. For more information about a list of the books written or links to the Washington Post columns visit

Phone Interview Etiquette offers guidelines on how to properly deal with pre-contacts, missed contacts, dealing with contacts, and more.

Books and Other Readings

Baldrige, Letitia. The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette: A guide to contemporary Living. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1978.

Craig, Betty. Don’t Slurp Your Soup: A Basic Guide to Business Etiquette. New Brighton, Minnesota: Brighton Publication, 1991.

DuPont, M. Kay. Business Etiquette and Professionalism: Your Guide to Career Success. Los Altos, California: Crisp Publications, 1990.

Fox, Sue. Etiquette for Dummies. New York: Hungry Minds, Inc, 1999.

Greenleaf, Clinton T. A Gentleman's Guide to Appearance. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Adams Media, 2000.

Martin, Judith. Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. New York: Warner Books, 1983.

Mitchell, Mary. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette. Indianapolis, Indiana: Alpha Books, 2000.

Morgan, John. The Times Book of Modern Manners: Perfect Behavior in an Imperfect World. London: HarperCollins, 2000.

Paskoff, Sharon G. Easy Etiquette: Sample Thank-you Notes and Sympathy Cards. Memphis, Tennessee: Starr*Toof, 1999.

Post, Emily and Peggy Post. Emily Post's Etiquette. 16th ed. New York, NY : HarperCollins, 1997.

Sabath, Ann Marie. Business Etiquette in Brief: The Competitive Edge for Today’s Professional. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Bob Adams, 1993.

Stewart, Marjabell Young, and Marian Faux. Executive Etiquette in the New Work Place. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

Vanderbilt, Amy. Complete Book of Etiquette. New York: Doubleday, 1958.

Back to COMPASS Topic Resource Homepage