A couple of weeks ago, the young women president in my ward asked me to be the guest speaker for the youth etiquette night. You want to know the first thought that ran through my head? “Alright, Ashley. You’ve got this. You’ve had plenty of experience eating (sad thought), so this should be a piece of cake.” (No pun intended. Alright, maybe a little pun intended.)
I was given about 15 minutes to talk to the youth, which when you think about it, isn’t that much time to talk about dining etiquette. (I was also assigned to talk about dating etiquette, but for the sanity of you readers and my word count, I’m sticking to “dining” in this post.)
When I got down to planning for the presentation, there were a lot of resources and differing opinions. I knew I only had so much time to keep their attention spans focused on me and my words, so I made sure to implant a few jokes and funny YouTube videos throughout my presentation. I think the YouTube videos were the biggest hit. The award for my biggest beneficiary in preparing this presentation goes to a YouTube clip of Randy, from the movie, A Christmas Story. (You know, that one movie that plays on repeat on TBS all of Christmas day? “’Fraaagile,’ must be Italian!”)
Do you remember the part in the movie where Randy, the little brother, is sitting at the kitchen table playing with his undesired meatloaf. In order to get him to eat his food, his mother asks him,
“Randy, how do the little piggies go?”
“Oink, oink, oink!”
“That’s right! Oink, oink! Now show me how the piggies eat. This is your trough. Show me how the piggies eat!”
Randy proceeds to lift his plate to his face and makes more of a face painting, than a meal, out of his meatloaf. A disgusted father and brother look on as they shake their heads.
Thank you, Randy, for teaching the youth what not to do. After I showed the youth that clip I asked somewhat sarcastically, “Okay – is this a good or bad example of how we want to eat?” A resounding “GOOD!!!” rang through the gym. I gave them the smuggest look I could put on my face and they burst out laughing. Typical. But, the point was made and understood.
So besides lifting your plate to your face and making a Picasso out of meatloaf, what other tips should you give your youth about dining etiquette? Sure, they aren’t going to go out tomorrow and need to learn how to use a shrimp fork, (I still don’t know how/where to use it) so I kept my tips, in the form of a quiz, basic and applicable.
1: When do you put your napkin on your lap?
A: When your food comes
B: When you sit down
C: You only need a napkin if you’re eating soup or spaghetti
Correct answer: B. As soon as you sit down at the table, you put the napkin on your lap. You may have not even received your menu or food yet, but the napkin goes in your lap.
2: When you excuse yourself to use the restroom, where do you place your napkin? (If you’re coming back to your table.)
A: On the seat of your chair
B: To the left of your plate
C: Hand it to your neighbor to hold for you
Correct answer: A. According to “Miss Mary’s Manners,” there is a “silent code language” between restaurant patrons and the staff – if you leave your napkin on the chair, it’s a “signal” that you’re not finished with your meal and that you’re coming back. (My junior high must not have offered that language elective, because I had no idea there was a secret language.)
3: When is it appropriate for you to begin eating?
A: Once you have received/ dished up your food?
B: Once everyone has been served.
C: As soon as the host/ hostess says you can begin.
Correct answer: B/C. It’s kind of a trick question. Technically, you should wait until the host or hostess says you may begin, but generally the polite thing to do is wait until everyone at your table has been served. Then you can start digging in.
4: Where do you place your silverware when you are finished with your meal?
A: Parallel, next to your plate
B: In your cup
C: Left to right, parallel, on the plate
Correct answer: C. The tops of the knife and fork should be pointing to the ten o’clock position on the plate. That is the “code signal” for being done. (See everything that you’re learning today? Code words and etiquette. Wow.)
How did you do? How do you think your children or the youth in your wards would do? Of course, I touched on the basics:
* Chew with your mouth closed.
* Cut small pieces of food.
* Don’t hunch over your food – sit up straight.
* Don’t “shovel” your food – never pick up your plate and bring it to your mouth. (The only exception to that rule is a Saturday morning bowl of Cheerios.) You take a bite and bring the bite to your mouth… not your mouth to the bite.
I asked them more questions than I posted here, but you get the gist of where I went with the presentation. We had a lot of fun, to be honest. I was excited to see that they were sincerely intrigued by what they didn’t know. I bet your youth would be too!
I think our world is falling into a level informality that is becoming normal. It’s okay to be formal. It’s okay to know the proper etiquette for holding a fork and knife. In fact, if I may be so bold, I suggest it. Being aware of dining etiquette doesn’t mean you’re stuffy or prideful. It is a simple, respectful formality that everyone appreciates. Even Randy.
Ashley Jones practices public relations for Deseret Book. She loves writing, emailing her missionary sister, and making/ eating home-made popcorn.