According to an article written by Jess in When Harry Met Sally, "restaurants are to people in the 80's what theatres were to people in the 60's." Dining out has become a social situation, a way for people to (re)connect with friends. The meals are filled with laughter and conversation; reminiscing about the past and fantasizing about the present. The only lull in the evening occurs at 1 awkward moment: how many plates must be served before one can and should start eating? Knowing that the food in restaurants is rarely brought out at the same time, does everyone need to have a dish in front of them before beginning the meal?

Different behaviors are revealed in the moments when the server brings out the first plates. Some of the people begin eating the moment their food arrives, carefully avoiding eye contact with the hungry stares around the table. On the flip side, others are adamant about waiting until all people at the table have been served, whether there are 4 people or 20. Which is correct?

To answer that burning question: neither is correct. Like many situations in life, the topic of "how many people need to be served before eating" falls into a gray category, with several aspects that need to be considered. First of all, how many people are sitting at the table? Second, is the meal a dinner salad or an entree? If the table has six people or less, all occupants should receive their food (hot or cold) before someone takes a bite. The only time it would be acceptable to begin eating earlier would be if those without food insist that the lucky folk start their meal instead of waiting for the rest of the entrees.

If the table has more than 6 people, statistics and math skills come into play... 3 "hot" plates (entrees, pastas, secondi) should be served before taking the first bite (dinner salads are not included in this). Of course, it is polite to provide permission for those with hot plates to begin immediately, as no one enjoys eating cold steak. If the table has more than 10 diners, it would be preferable for 4-5 hot plates to be served before delving in. Typically, one-third of the table should have their food... However, the most appropriate table etiquette would be to wait until permission to eat has been granted by those without plates (the conversation being, "no, please go ahead and eat. I insist!").

And of course, this manner can be taught to children that are of the preschool age and older. To utilize developmentally appropriate math skills, the child must count how many "hot" plates are served before they can begin. Sorting out the types of food that are "hot" versus "cold" enables the child to practice placing items into separate categories. Using one to one correspondence (assigning every meal a number) will keep the child entertained for a few moments. When the preschooler becomes a working adult, this skill will ensure that he/she will not become the "rudie" at the business dinner, who started eating before all of the bosses. Knowing how many plates should be served before eating is a practice that will help children in work and social situations in the future.  Visit the Dear Julie section of our website for answers to other questions you may have.

Bon Appetit!

Do you remember that scene in Pretty Woman, when Vivian (aka Julia Roberts) asks Barney (aka Hector Elizando) to teach her how to behave at a fancy business dinner? She learns many things, such as the napkin on the lap, and count the tines on the fork in order to know which one to use (I myself prefer to remember that as each course is served, forks are used from the left, going inwards). I am sure countless numbers of people referred to that scene in Pretty Woman in order to determine proper dining etiquette; however, there was always a part missing for me...

Sitting at a round table with more than 2 people used to be intimidating, as I always felt there were endless amounts of cups and plates (bread plates). Never knowing which one to use, I would either wait to see which water glass my neighbor chose or would just start drinking a water, praying that I did not take someone else's drink (after all, the whole point of a place setting is that utensils don't have to be shared!). I then discovered a trick that saved me countless hours of embarrassment in front of others...

While you are reading this (please) make two circles with your pointer finger and thumb by having them touch. Stick the remaining 3 fingers straight up. As this is done on both the left and right side, you should notice a lowercase b and d. The b, on the left, is for the bread plate, while the d, on the right, is for the drink. Pretty fancy, right?! It took me a little bit of getting used to, and perhaps some definite letter formations under the table. I managed to learn that if I can tell my left from my right, I can decipher which glass is mine!

So, go spread the word; teach them well and teach them young.  EtiKids can help!
I once knew somebody, who stated that cleaning dishes was “the woman’s job,” so he was not going to help, even if it meant bringing his dish to the sink. True story. Despite the obvious problem of labeling “girls’ and boys’ jobs,” which is definitely a message that one does not want to impart upon impressionable young children, another statement was made in that phrase. That statement was, “you are not as important as me, so I do not need to clean up after myself.” After cooking AND cleaning after a long day at work, it is needless to say: that person was not the beneficiary of my culinary expertise ever again.

In today’s society, having social skills dictates that one must learn to keep track of personal belongings, as well as be responsible for discarding that individual’s trash, including dirty dishes after enjoying a delectable meal. That concept is facilitated in a preschool classroom, with pictures and words of what item belongs in each bin. Detailed lessons on how to put a napkin into a cup and tuck the chair under the table after snack time is over are discussed within the first days of school. At 2 and 3 years of age, of course mistakes are made, but it is hoped that the behaviors will become automatic by the end of the year.

To a 3 year old, one can explain that the toys have to go away because if someone breaks it (due to it not being in the proper place), it will not be replaced. Precious art work, created during “work” or “free” time can get stepped on and destroyed, and the creator will be pretty sad if that happens. Testing the waters, every child experiences the pain of losing an important item once and vows to never let it happen again. The cherished stuffed animal is placed much more carefully in selective and appropriate spots. And for that matter, expecting someone else to set up and clean up snack makes the “setter-upper” feel like those actions are just expected. Bringing the empty cup and napkin to the trash is a way of saying “thank you.”

Think about it: no relationship should have one person always doing the cooking, cleaning, giving and/or taking. Relationships between families, significant others, peers, employees/employers, and friends are no different. The "give and gets" of a relationship means that teamwork is important, but being responsible for one’s own belongings is required.

As everything has its place, it is unnecessary to throw the jacket on the floor when first entering the house. Empty gum wrappers, and gum for that matter, belong in the trash can. For grade-school students and beyond, expecting someone else to scrape the gum from the underside of the desk is disgusting. Dog feces should not be left in the street or your neighbors’ lawns. Think how you feel after stepping in dog poop; considering that you don’t enjoy it, clean up after yourself, and your dog! And if you are a guest, anywhere, leave a place better than how you found it.

These scenarios might all seem quite different and unrelated, but they most definitely are. Having good social skills means that one is responsible for his/her own personal belongings, and does not expect anyone else to remove them. If everyone made a concentrated effort to put personal items in their appropriate place/receptacle, this world would be a much cleaner place! And if you teach your child, at an early age, to clean up his/her dishes, you will feel more like a parent and less like an indentured servant.  Or you can send your kid to EtiKids, and we will teach your child for you.