A Guide to Etiquette for the 21st Century
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re invited to dinner with Catherine, princess of Wales. Immediately, your Google search bar would be full of questions, such as “How should I curtsy?” or “Which fork should I use, and at what time?”
When formal affairs arise, the questions of etiquette come along with them. Luckily (or unluckily) for most of us, we won’t be invited to Kensington Palace anytime soon, so we can rest easy and save the curtsy lessons for a later date.
However, there are a few modern etiquette tips and techniques that you can keep in your back pocket for galas, formal dinners, dinners with the in-laws, or even just everyday conversations.
At the Table
Proper dining etiquette begins before you ever sit down at the table. In fact, it begins before you even arrive at your dining location.
If you’re invited to a dinner party, RSVP to let your host know you will or won’t be attending, even if an RSVP isn’t specifically requested. And don’t show up empty-handed. A simple host gift like a bottle of wine or a beautiful set of linen napkins from a local shop are all that’s needed to let your host know you appreciate being included.
Approaching the table, keep an eye out for place cards that note assigned seating. If none exist, politely ask your host if they have a preference on where everyone sits.
Once you and everyone else at the table are seated, place your napkin in your lap. If you need to excuse yourself from the table, place the napkin on your seat rather than back on the table.
Table Setting Etiquette
If you’re hosting a more formal dinner or dining at an upscale restaurant, you may be faced with several plates, glasses, and utensils. An easy trick for which plates and glasses go where is to remember “BMW.” Bread plates go to the left, meal plates remain in center, and wine and water glasses are on the right above the utensils. Another easy trick for remembering what side forks, spoons, and knives go on is this: “Fork” has four letters, and “left” has four letters. So, forks are placed to the left of the center plate. “Spoon” and “knife” have five letters, and “right” has five letters, so spoons and knives are placed to the right.
On the Phone
We know, we know, no one really talks on the phone anymore when so much can be communicated over text. However, even when texting, there are some modern manners rules that can be applied.
For starters, even though it’s easy to dash off a text when a thought hits you, consider the time of day that you’re sending it. Work-related text messages should be sent during regular office hours, and personal text messages should be sent when you’re certain your friends or family are awake. For example, if you know your friend is an early riser and would enjoy a cheerful message from you in the morning, it’s okay to shoot a text at 7 a.m. However, if you know your friend works a late shift and your text may wake them up, wait until a more reasonable hour to reach out.
Perhaps the most courteous of texting etiquette is this:
Don’t text when you’re talking face-to-face with another person. Whether you’re catching up with a friend or checking out at a store, give the person you’re face-to-face with your full attention.
As a rule of thumb, silence or turn off your cell phone when you enter a theater or a place of worship unless you’re on call for your job. In which case, you should turn your phone to vibrate to create as little disturbance as possible.
If you do receive a phone call that you have to take, discreetly excuse yourself from the space before you answer the call.
If you take a call in a public space, such as a grocery store, keep your voice low and avoid sharing personal information.