‘Elbows on the table are not the end of civilisation,’ writes David Meagher in his book The A to Z of Modern Manners. ‘Actually eating with your elbows on the table, however,’ he continues, ‘is close to it.’ Can’t tell your finger bowl from your soup entrée? Fear not! With a little help, table manners need not be a hotbed of transgression and controversy. Follow Meagher’s guidelines and you can dine with confidence.
Straight from the pages of The A to Z of Modern Manners, here he offers insights into some instances the knife, fork and spoon may be abandoned altogether.
There are a few occasions when abandoning cutlery altogether and eating with your hands is perfectly acceptable:
Corn: Corn on the cob is a pain to eat with cutlery and can be picked up and held at each end, either in the hands or with special corn handles.
Olives: Olives are always eaten with your fingers. Dispose of the pits from your mouth into the palm of your hand and place them on your plate. If you’re serving olives as a hors d’oeuvre then provide a dish for the pits.
Fruit: Some fruits, such as cherries and plums, are also always eaten with the fingers, as are strawberries if they still have the hulls on them. Remove cherry pits or grape seeds from your mouth in the same manner as for olives.
Bacon: Crispy breakfast bacon, if it’s too brittle to spear with a fork, can also be picked up to eat.
Chops: Picking up chops or chicken legs in your hands and gnawing at them was a wartime food-saving measure. Some posh caterers have decided they make good finger food, but it’s impossible to eat these without making a mess of your hands (and sometimes your shirtsleeves).
Chips or fries: If they are a side dish they may be picked up with your fingers, but if they are on the same plate as the main course you should eat them with a fork.
Pizza: Pizza can be eaten either with your hands or with a knife and fork. But don’t pick bits off the pizza and eat them as if the crust is a snack plate.
Mangoes: To prepare a mango, hold it upright and cut as big a slice as possible down each side, avoiding the stone. Place the slices flesh-side up and score a checkerboard pattern into it, then turn the skin side from convex to concave. You can then easily remove the mango flesh with a knife or spoon, or, if there are no implements at hand, you can use your teeth to remove each chunk.
Bread: Your bread plate is to your left. You eat bread with your hands by tearing off bite-sized pieces – don’t cut it with a knife. If you are sharing a butter dish, take some butter off the dish and put it on your side plate with the bread – don’t spread directly from the butter dish.