Over the years I have observed that as people grow up they lose their sense of etiquette and basic good manners. I've seen young people without any form of manors at all. This is sort of pathetic to see so many doing simply what they want at the exact time they might feel like doing. Couth isn't in too many people's vocabulary.
The General Rule (apart from the commandment that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's knife) is to start from the outside and work your way toward the plate. The dessert fork and spoon are usually supplied as needed; sometimes, however, they are found at the top of the plate, parallel to the table edge.
There are two styles for cutting: the two-step European, or Continental, style and the four-step crossover American style. Both are acceptable.
In the two-step cutting method, the knife is held in the right hand (unless you are left-handed, in which case you may reverse these directions) and the fork in the left throughout the procedure. With the tines of the fork facing down, the food is cut and the fork brought to the mouth, tines down.
In the four-step method, the fork starts in the left hand, the knife in the right, and the main dish is cut. The knife is then placed flat on the plate, and the fork is switched to the free right hand and turned right side up in the process. It is brought to the mouth in the right hand.
When resting between bites, place the knife and fork, handles to the right, on the plate. Never rest them on the table. When you're finished, place the utensils side by side, across the middle of the plate, handles right, to secure their removal.
Food is always served from the left, and the silver service fork is placed to the left of the spoon, with both utensils angled in toward the food so that the next person served can easily pick them up. Also, start eating hot food when it is served — don't wait for everyone to begin.
A large dinner napkin is placed on the lap folded in half. If it is a luncheon-sized napkin, open it all the way. If you leave the table during a meal (or when you do so at its conclusion), never put your napkin on the chair. Always place it, loosely folded, to either the right or left of your plate.
Handling bread gracefully is the test of a well-bred diner, but you can pass with flying colors as long as you remember to break slices of bread, rolls and muffins in half or in small pieces before eating and buttering them. Small biscuits do not have to be broken.
Use your own butter knife and the butter on your plate; buttering should be done on the plate or just above it. Keep the butter knife slightly to the right, with the handle off the edge to keep it clean. Butter hot toast and muffins immediately. You don't have to break bread sticks, which can be buttered on one side. Cut Danish pastries (sweet rolls) into halves or quarters and butter each piece as you eat it.
To butter breads, rolls, biscuits or toast, use a knife and small pieces of butter on small pieces of bread. Do not butter vegetables, because it's an insult to the cook.
Drinking coffee, tea and other hot drinks from a mug is common in informal settings. A saucer may be provided underneath for you to put your teaspoon on. Most often, though, there isn't one. If there are paper mats, the spoon may be placed face down on one of them, or on the edge of a butter plate or dinner plate. Don't drink from a mug with a spoon in it — not least because you run the risk of poking yourself in the eye.
Tea bags should be placed against the edge of your saucer after the excess liquid has been squeezed out, either by pressing the bag against the side of your cup or mug with a spoon or by setting the bag in the spoon and wrapping the string around the bowl of the spoon and bag. If there isn't a saucer or plate, ask for one. Remove long-handled spoons from iced tea or coffee before drinking.
If coffee or tea slops into your saucer, ask for a new saucer. If this is inconvenient to do and paper napkins are available, use one to absorb the liquid on the saucer and let it sit there as a sponge. This is more advantageous than dripping across the table or yourself.
A glass of red wine is held at the base of the bowl. The stem — to preserve its chill, holds a glass of white wine.
A brandy snifter is warmed by rolling the bowl between both hands, and is then cupped in one hand. The warming brings out the bouquet. We don't light a fire to heat brandy.
If there are olives, onions or cherries in your drink, you may remove them with your fingers; it is easier to wait until all the liquid is drunk, when you can tip the glass back to allow the garnish to slip into your mouth.
Never put a glass down on an unprotected surface in someone's house. Ask for a coaster or napkin. If you spill liquid, try not to create too much of a fuss. Simply ask the host or hostess where you can find a sponge to clean it up.
Never dunk anything into your drink.
Don't ever blow on a hot drink to cool it. Stir it quietly and/or wait until it cools.
Soup may be served either in a soup plate or in a cup, depending on the type of soup and the formality of the meal.
Clear soups are often served in small, doubled-handled consommé cups. You can test the heat of the soup with a spoon, and then lift the cup to drink it. Any vegetables or noodles left at the bottom can be eaten with a spoon. A two-handled cream-soup bowl is larger than a consommé cup. You can drink the soup or use a spoon. In both cases, when you are finished, place the spoon on the plate underneath and to the right of the cup. Never leave it standing in the cup.
When a soup plate is used, always spoon away from the table's edge. When you reach the bottom, you can tilt the plate slightly away from you. When using a soup spoon, always sip from the side and never put the entire bowl of the spoon into your mouth.
Tiny crackers or croutons can be added to soup, whole, a few at a time. Larger crackers should be eaten separately - except with such hearty soups as chowders at informal meals, when you can add a few pieces at a time. At all times, drink soups quietly.
Salad is traditionally eaten with a fork. However, oversize pieces should be cut in order to avoid having them spring off your fork. Historically, a steel knife stained black was used for salads and fruit, but stainless steel has changed the etiquette.
A wedge of iceberg lettuce should always be eaten with a knife and fork. Who serves this anymore? When the salad is served at the same time as your main course, don't transfer it onto your plate. If no salad plate is provided, put the salad on your butter plate, to the side of your main plate. A piece of bread or a roll is often used against the fork to aid in pushing the salad onto it.
Finger bowls are genuinely helpful after eating artichokes, shellfish, and corn on the cob, asparagus or any other handheld food. And they're easier to use than you might think. Just dip the fingers of one hand and then the other into the bowl, and wipe them with a napkin. Never bring the water to your mouth.
After you've used a finger bowl presented on a dessert plate, pick up the dessert silver (if it is on the plate) and put it to either side of the plate, then lift the finger bowl and its doily and place it to the left of the plate. This requires two hands.
Pasta, lasagna or cannelloni can be cut with a fork if size requires it, and any remaining sauce can be sopped up with fork-speared bread.
Spaghetti is eaten with a fork. Pick up just a few strands and twirl them on a fork. You may need the aid of a large spoon to help with the winding, but never lift the spoon from the plate. You can also have a small piece of bread in readiness to buttress the fork if you want to avoid the frowned-upon spoon. Never cut spaghetti.
If your platter comes with sauce and grated cheese on top of the pasta, it can be tossed with a spoon and fork prior to eating. The remaining sauce can be picked up with small pieces of speared bread.
A pie-shaped wedge of pizza is held in your fingers with the sides curled up to avoid losing the filling, especially if you are from New York. If the slice is large, you may eat it with a knife and fork.
Garnishes — celery, olives, radishes etc. — are passed to you on a tray, use the serving spoon (if one is provided) to place a portion on your butter plate. If there is no butter plate, use your main dish. Never put the garnishes directly into your mouth. If you want to salt them, shake some salt onto the plate next to them and, using your fingers, dip and eat. Olives are taken whole into the mouth, and pits are removed into a tightly cupped fist and put on your butter plate.
Pickles are eaten with your fingers when they accompany a sandwich. When served with meat, they are eaten with a knife and fork. Dill, parsley and watercress are eaten with a fork as part of the meal. They may be eaten with fingers — but never when they are covered with salad dressing or sauce.
Thin lemon slices are decoration; lemon wedges or halves are meant to be squeezed. Gently pierce the pulp of the larger pieces with a fork, and squeeze the segment over the food to be seasoned with one squirting. (Some restaurants cover lemon halves with cheesecloth in order to avoid stray squirts.)
If you have any doubts; always follow the cue of your host or hostess. And remember: When finger foods are offered on a platter, place them on your plate before you put them into your mouth.
The following foods are meant to be eaten with the hands: corn on the cob, spareribs, clams and oysters on the half shell, lobsters, sandwiches, dry cakes, cookies, certain fruits, crisp bacon, frogs' legs, chicken wings and bones in informal situations, shoestring potatoes or small French fries, and radishes, olives and celery.
Always keep in mind that small sandwiches and canapés are eaten with your fingers, and that large ones should be cut before lifting. Any hot sandwich served with gravy requires a knife and fork.
Pick up one chopstick as you would a pencil, in the middle of the chopstick, holding it between the base of your thumb and your index finger, using your third and fourth fingers for support. This leaves your index finger free. Place the second chopstick parallel to the first, holding it firmly between the thumb and index finger. The first chopstick remains stationary, while the second one is used as a lever.
Rather than lowering head to plate, lift the small bowls of rice to just below your mouth for eating. Place the chopsticks across your bowl or plate between bites or at the end of the meal. Some Japanese restaurants provide a small ceramic piece on which to rest your chopsticks.
Don't be embarrassed to ask for help, and if you are more comfortable using a fork, ask for one.
Add salt and pepper only after you taste the food. It is an insult to the cook to add either beforehand. If there is a saltcellar (a small open bowl of salt), use the spoon that's in it; if there isn't a spoon, use the tip of a clean knife.
Anything to be dipped in salt should be put on your butter plate or on the edge of your dinner plate. If you are provided with an individual saltcellar, you can take a pinch with your fingers.
Frogs' legs are typically eaten with your fingers, although large ones can be disjointed with a knife and fork before they are picked up.