Basic Dining Etiquette – Eating Difficult Foods

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 142,673
    Nancy Mitchell of The Etiquette Advocate suggests solutions for eating difficult foods at a dinner event.

    Nancy Mitchell

    Nancy R. Mitchell is an established protocol and etiquette consultant and advisor with more than 30 years of experience in the field. Currently, she is an adjunct faculty member at George Washington University, where she developed and teaches protocol courses to Event Management Certificate Program students in the School of Business and Public Management, and at Stratford University, Falls Church, VA. She serves also as protocol and special events consultant to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library and cultural center. For 23 years, Mitchell was Director of Special Events and Public Programs at the Library of Congress where she and her staff were responsible for planning and managing over 400 events each year. She coordinated the institution’s major special events, visits of heads of state and other foreign dignitaries, fundraising galas, conferences and meetings. As the Library’s chief protocol advisor, she served as liaison to the White House, U.S Department of State, the Congress, the Supreme Court and other government agencies, foreign embassies, academia and corporations. Mitchell owns The Etiquette Advocate, Inc., a firm providing etiquette and protocol training to corporations, universities, embassies, government agencies, non-profit organizations and individuals. She is the etiquette consultant to Engaged! magazine, has been featured on Good Morning America, Fox 5 News, WTOP Radio and National Public Radio, and is quoted on matters of etiquette and protocol by the New York Times, Washington Business Journal, and the Washington Post. She is a co-owner of the firm, Protocol Partners-Washington Center for Protocol, Inc., and is a member of the Protocol and Diplomacy International Protocol Officers Association and the Women Business Owners of Montgomery Country (MD).

    Nancy Mitchell: Hello, I am Nancy Mitchell with The Etiquette Advocate and we are talking about dining etiquette.

    We are going to talk now about attacking some challenging foods. Often we will be served a dish that we are not comfortable with eating. We need to at least make an effort to see if we can get through that course. I like to say take cues from other people at the table especially your host or hostess. Wait, watch, look, see what are other people doing. You dont have to be the first person who starts to eat that course. Find some cues from other people at the table. Lets start by talking about spaghetti because thats something that weve all had, its going to come up time and time again, how do we eat that without making a mess, without embarrassing ourselves whats the right way to attack a bowl of spaghetti.

    Three ways that you can eat spaghetti; you can eat spaghetti with just a fork, you can use the side of your fork, cut pieces of the spaghetti, pick it up in that fashion. You can roll spaghetti on the end of your fork and here I caution you to start with only two or three strings literally, no more than two or three strings. Thats how you will get a bite of spaghetti that is not going to be too large to get into your mouth. The third option is to ask for a spaghetti spoon. In many cases, especially Italian restaurants will have these handy. You might choose to roll the spaghetti, as we just talked about, in the bowl of the spoon in order to control it in a little bit easier fashion. Again, you are not going to start with more than two, three strings at the most; you can move it up, pull it up a little bit to separate those strings from the rest of the spaghetti in the plate. Keep rolling until you have a nice little bite of spaghetti on the end of your fork and then put that into your mouth. Those are the three options that you have for eating spaghetti.

    If you are nervous at all, use the side of your fork, cut small bits, get those into your mouth. I also like to say if you are dining on very important occasion, a business function, sometime when you think that others are judging you, order foods that are easy to eat. You would probably not order any of the foods we are talking about in this segment.

    Spaghetti has gone, now we are going to talk about a few other challenging foods. Lets say you are served corn on the cob. Are we allowed to pick it up? Absolutely, its a food thats meant to be a finger food. What you may not want to do when you care about your image and you want to eat as neatly as possible, you may not want to cover that with so much melted butter that its very drippy, when you are trying to eat it, but yes, indeed you do pick up corn on the cob, two hands, you eat it. You are not going to look like the old typewriter joke, but you are going to take a few bites at a time, put it down, eat some other things. Hands go immediately to the napkin, thats in your lap, wipe your finger tips after you have picked corn on the cob or any food that you eat with your fingers. Lets talk about shellfish. Its a whole category of its own and many, many times fingers are involved in eating shellfish. If a caterer has done something very creative with a shrimp cocktail in this fashion, if the tail is left on the shrimp, you are permitted to pick it up. Tail on, fingers are okay. You may find that it is served with a cocktail fork on the plate, may come with a cocktail sauce, you get a spoon, you dip a little bit of the sauce into the middle and then each of these can be dipped into the sauce in that fashion. If its a larger shrimp, you will spear it with your fork, you can bite it two bites, leave it on your fork as you bite it, take that second bite. This is if the tail is off the shrimp, or you may choose to always hold the base of the glass like this so it doesnt tip over, take the shrimp to the liner, which is the saucer under that cup, cut it with the side of the fork and eat it in that fashion. If thats what youve chosen to do, I would still put the cocktail sauce in the main dish and you can dip in that fashion.

    If you have ordered clams, oysters anything that comes in the half shell, the cocktail fork is going to be here on the right side of your place setting, its the only fork that isnt placed to the left side of your place setting. Small three prong, youll know thats your cocktail fork. Again, your fingers come into play here because you are going to hold the shell thats holding the oyster or the clam and if its been separated by the chef in the chicken, you just literally pick it up, put it in your mouth. If it hasnt, then you may have to spear it, twist it, release the shellfish from the shell and then put it in your mouth. Normally, shellfish are eaten in one bite. Again, you may have to put some cocktail sauce here, you can dip it in that fashion. If you have a taste for lemon on any of these seafood dishes that we are going to be talking about, what youll want to do is from the common dish, youll pick up the lemon, spear it with your cocktail fork, squeeze it with your other hand and that keeps the juice from squirting other people as well. So, spear it, squeeze it, low and over the food that you want to have the lemon served with. Here is a real challenge, a fish course. This may or may not be something that you will encounter. Traditionally, fish course came immediately after the soup course. Fish course served whole, they were steamed, head and tail on, and this is our lucky day, the chef took the head off. Ive always had a real knotty, anything thats staring back at me. So, today, we have a fish with out of head, but the tail is there. If youve noticed, we have a knife that is slightly different shape, than our traditional dinner knife it has a point. A fish knife is held like a pencil, unlike the other knives in the utensils that youve been given. Its held in that fashion and its shaped in that way so that you can use it to not only remove the skin from the fish, but you can use the point of that knife to cut down the backbone of the fish, pull the skin away, also cut the tail off, move the tail to the side and once the skin is removed, you may choose to put the knife down and eat with the fish fork only, if your eating in American fashion or the knife stays in your right hand and the bites of fish come to your mouth, using your left hand. But again, this knife is held like a pencil because you need it to separate skin from fish. You need it to slice down the backbone, you need it to remove that top fillet and you need it to remove bones. Even if the fish were not served whole, you may find a fish knife and fork is served, when you have a Salmon course or any fish that may have bones. Thats what the fork is for, the knife and the fork, are for the fish course.

    Next well talk about toasting to end our meal.