No matter how much I fight it, I admit I have an almost overwhelming compulsion, a tremulous tic that, if left unguarded, would surely relegate me far from the comfy social confines I so sincerely enjoy. Every meal I have, either in the confines of my own home or, more perilously, the public sphere, finds this unthinkable thoughtform begin to form in the back of a brain that knows only too well what dangers it might spell. The scariest thing of all? That even after an evening of rigorous, righteous control, the slightest slip in my guarded nature will allow this hateful habit to display itself for every and all appalled guest to enjoy and deride. And just what manner of maleficent mannerism am I speaking of? What perverse peculiarity is it that could spell disaster for my career and very existence as I know it? I love putting my elbows on the table! There. I’ve said it. And, you know what? I really do feel better. But isn’t that okay? And if not, what parts of my arm am I allowed to drape across my meal?
To answer those questions and many more, I reached out to Judy Nicholson, Etiquette Expert at Etiquette Florida, a member of the Manners Partnership. When it comes to elbows on the table, her expert opinion is to-the-point. “Under absolutely no circumstances,” she says. “Everything from your elbow to your wrist should never, ever, ever be laid across the table. I know it’s difficult, but your hands simply must remain in your lap except when using your utensil.” Less a stern manners matron than bubbling font of wisdom, Nicholson additionally notes a couple of creeping changes in the way people traditionally treat meals. “One thing a lot of people don’t know is that the napkin no longer gets placed on your seat when you go to the restroom, but instead, to the left of your fork,” she says. “We don’t recommend you leave it on your seat because there is some fear the seat might be dirty.”
And, a final word on meals with mobile devices in hand? “Never! It’s boorish,” she says. “Speak to the people that you are eating with, and not only will you always give a better impression, but your meal will taste better as a result.”
When it comes to tablesetting etiquette, the rules change depending on the complexity of the meal being served. However, for most meals, each placesetting should be at least 24 inches apart and 1 inch from the edge of the table with utensils placed in the order of use. In other words, the first utensil to be used should be the farthest from the plate. Forks should be set on the left of the plate, while knives (with the cutting edge facing the plate) and spoons are on the right, with the latter placed furthest from the plate. Dessert utensils should be above the plate. Remember: Only set the table with utensils you will use. No soup; no soup spoon. Water and wine glasses should always be on the top right of the setting.