My table manners are far from watertight. I slump in my seat, rest my elbows on the table and have a tendency to slurp my soup. Plus I burp and fart. Thankfully I make up for all this by being sparkling company.
That’s the thing with table manners. If you’re fun to be around no one will give two figs whether you don’t balance your fork at eight o’clock and your knife at four when pausing between mouthfuls. Just say something hilarious and it won’t matter a jot if your gob is full of chewed cabbage.
Of course there are problems with this theory. Firstly not everyone can be a memorable dinner guest. Some people are crashing bores, telling lame jokes and expressing predictable opinions on everything from the death penalty (“Only for the murder of a policeman”) to marmite (“people either love it or hate it!”). If you fall into this category your choices are to get interesting or make sure your manners are up to scratch. If they’re not people will notice and comment in private (“Did you see the way Charles picked his bottom and ate it during pudding?”).
Furthermore there are circumstances when, regardless of personal charm or weight of charisma, our ways at the table are still crucial.
On a Date
Does the way we eat reflect the way we have sex? Maybe it does (messily, primly, with ketchup etc) but on a date, especially a first one, it is best to go by the book. This means letting the lady sit facing into the restaurant, waiting until both of you have your food before starting, and not doing a belch that reverberates through the structure of the building.
As a man you may want to play the rebel/charisma card. This could mean anything from leaning on the table and flicking grapes into your mouth to picking up your steak and devouring it Henry 8-stylee. This may work for some women but be aware that a disproportionate number will be more interested in the superficial particulars of shoes, hair, nails and table manners. You can always pour Bailey’s down her chest and lick it off during the second date.
The Business Lunch
The big boys are over from the States. There’s three mill riding on the contract. You’re hoping to seal the deal over a lavish Gaucho lunch off Piccadilly. So don’t fuck it up by picking your teeth, nabbing the last roll or eating other people’s leftovers. Fellow diners, particularly if they are American, will take this badly. “I can’t deal with an asshole who takes the final hunk of rye and doesn’t excuse himself when he goes to the head,” they will say. “Let’s get the fuck outta here, Brad.”
If you’ve got tabular habits that are a little outré, rein them in for the course of a course or two. You can always go out later and enact all the stuff you wanted to do (fart, burp, wet yourself). Hold it together.
Meeting the Queen
“You’ll never be invited to tea with the Queen if you eat like that,” my grandfather used to say. “But granddad,” I’d plead, “uncle Myer licks his plate!” “Yes,” he’d say with glee, ” and he’s never met the Queen!!”
Though I’ve yet to experience the pleasure of dining with royalty, it is a fact that minding your epicural Ps and Qs is an area of the upmost importance. Picture for a second your cold stare from the Queen were you to use the wrong fork, feed Corgi Alan under the table or wipe your schnoz on the table cloth. Or the cough the butler would expel if you dared so much as to touch a cucumber sarnie before her Madge. Twenty years ago people were beheaded for less.
So there you have it. Being a good diner is not a bad default position. If you were the kind of person who was brought up in a house where no one used cutlery and you threw food into each others mouths, buy a book on table manners. If all else fails just remember to keep your head down (though not in the soup), be polite and always pass the salt. Thank you.