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What Is Dining Etiquette?

Chopsticks have been the traditional eating utensils of many Asian countries for hundreds of years.
It is always considered appropriate to ask the servers at a restaurant about the menu.
At a formal dinner, the servers bring out the proper silverware along with each course.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2014
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Dining etiquette is an area of etiquette which pertains to dining, whether at home or out in a restaurant. Etiquette in general is a series of suggestions and rules for behavior which are designed to ensure that people behave consistently and within the norms of politeness. Many people receive some etiquette education as they grow up from family members and teachers, and it is also possible to take classes which provide instruction in etiquette. In some communities, it is traditional to take classes, often in preparation for a debut into society.

The rules of dining etiquette vary considerably around the world, with different nations having different norms when it comes to acceptable behavior at the table. In some cultures, for example, food is eaten with the hands, and a complex set of rules dictates how to behave at the table to avoid upsetting or offending people. Other nations may use chopsticks or silverware, each of which is accompanied by an assortment of etiquette rules which can vary by nation and utensil.

Dining etiquette addresses a wide variety of issues which can come up at the table. One is personal hygiene, an issue in a setting where people are eating because people could potentially pass diseases on to each other. Another is accepted rules of behavior when it comes to things like conversation, greeting people at the table, interacting with servers, and conversing with other diners. Other rules cover how and when to use utensils and tools, from finger bowls to forks.

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The setting of a meal can have an impact on the dining etiquette which is appropriate. Meals at home tend to be more casual, for example, while meals in restaurants are more formal. When people are entertaining as opposed to eating with family and close friends, the rules of etiquette also change. Likewise, there are etiquette rules for dinner guests, whether they are visiting a friend for dinner or attending an event hosted by a head of state.

Fortunately for confused diners, there are a number of dining etiquette guidebooks. Many bookstores and libraries have a section for books on manners and etiquette which includes books providing instructions about the rules of behavior. Staff can also point patrons to specific areas of interest; for example, someone who plans to travel in Japan might want to pick up a book on Japanese etiquette, including dining etiquette, to prepare for the trip.

Observing the rules of etiquette demonstrates that someone is respectful of other people, and, when traveling, that someone respects a foreign culture. Many people find the way smoothed when they follow even basic etiquette rules, as people are more inclined to be helpful when they feel respected.

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