Basic Dining Etiquette – Using a Finger Bowl

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 87,082
    Nancy Mitchell of The Etiquette Advocate explains how to use a finger bowl of water to clean your hands.

    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. I would like to tell you now about how to use a finger bowl. A finger bowl is traditionally served after the main course and before the dessert. The thought is that you may have had a course that involved picking something up with your hands, there maybe grease on your hands. In some way, you want to clean your hands very quickly and get ready for dessert. Its also a ritual if you will its something thats been around for many, many, many generations. So, it may seem that its very archaic, but its part of a traditional dinner service.

    What will happen is a waiter will bring you a plate, on top of the plate is a doily. On top of the doily is a small bowl that is maybe half filled with water and inside there maybe a lemon slice or there maybe a flower floating. Those are for decoration, you dont have to remove the lemon, you dont remove the flower, those stay in the water. You dip one hand at a time and we are talking very, very quickly, very unobtrusively you are switching the fingertips of your hand in the water. You are moving your hand down to your lap where your napkin is placed you are drying the tips of your finger. What you cant see below the level of the table is I am drying my fingertips on the napkin thats lying on my lap.

    I have done one hand I do the other hand, so its one hand at a time. I am drying my fingertips now, once thats finished. I pick up both the doily and the bowl with the water and I place them to the left and above my plate where my bread plate was before it was cleared away. This then becomes my dessert plate. I need to clear the doily away, so that whatever is coming next for dessert will sit on the plate and not on the doily. At that point, I will notice that I still have silverware here above my place setting its for dessert. My job as the diner is I pick up the spoon and the fork and place them to the left and the right of my plate setting. Just as before, forks on the left, spoons on the right. Those become my utensils for dessert. The doily and the bowl of water remain here, up to the left of your place setting until the waiter comes to take that away. Next, we will be talking about dessert and coffee.