Hotel Cadillac, dining room, Detroit

Victorian etiquette: 72 simple rules for men while at the dinner table (1889)

Hotel Cadillac, dining room, Detroit

Which treats of social manners and customs at the table

By Nathan B Medbery, author “Social Etiquette”

Number 1 — Perhaps it is quite a simple occurrence to eat your breakfast, your dinner, or your supper, yet the gentleman or lady, and the low-bred man or woman, are not more strongly contrasted than when at the table. The rules on this subject of table etiquette when in company, apply equally well to the home circle and family table, with perhaps a few unimportant exceptions.

Number 2 — Be prompt at meals. To be late is a wrong to your host or to your family, it is not calculated to promote good feeling.

Number 3 — If an invitation to dine is received, make no delay in replying, whether it is your intention to accept or decline.

Number 4 — Don’t seat yourself until the ladies are seated, or at a dinner party, until your host or hostess gives the signal.

Number 5 — We sometimes hear the phrase “company manners.” Practice “company manners” at home, for if you neglect them when at home you are sure to be rusty when in company. Extend the same courtesies to members of your own family as you would extend to those with whom you are not so well acquainted when in company.

Number 6 — Sit at the proper distance from the table, not a foot away, nor jammed against it.

Number 7 — Bibs are for children and are to be used in the nursery, therefore don’t tuck your napkin under your chin or spread it upon your breast.

Number 8 — When the dinner is announced, the sign to leave the parlor will be given by the hostess. Each gentleman will probably be asked to escort a lady to the table. This should be done in the most polite manner.

At the table, the gentlemen should wait until the ladies are seated before taking their places.

Number 9 — In leaving the parlor, the gentleman should pass out first, the lady following, holding his arm.

Number 10 — When the door of the dining room is reached the lady should drop the gentleman’s arm.

Number 11 — The gentleman should pass in and and then wait on one side of the door until the lady passes to the place assigned to her at the table.

Number 12 — There are a hundred and one points to be observed in conduct at the table, which, although perhaps not necessary, are yet the ear marks, by which the well-bred person can be distinguished.

Number 13 — When you eat soup do so in as quiet a manner as possible.

Number 14 — Take the soup from the side of the spoon and not from the end of it.

Number 15 — Refrain from overcrowding your mouth; in. other words, do not “stuff.”

Number 16 — Make an effort to sit easily and gracefully.

Number 17. — Avoid crowding or jostling your neighbor.

Number 18. — If your host or hostess passes you a plate, keep it — especially if you have chosen the food which is upon it. If you pass it to your neighbor, you may be giving him dishes for which he does not care and which are distasteful to him.

Number 19 — If, in the course of a meal, you should happen to discover something wrong with your food, do not speak of it, but pass your plate to the waiter and he will bring you another.

Number 20 — Take good care of the lady you escort to the table. See to it that she is well supplied with all that is necessary for her comfort.

Number 21 — Refrain from hitching up your coat-sleeves, it looks very bad.

Number 22 — Let your chair rest squarely upon the floor, do not tip it back or lounge in it.

The Breakers Hotel, South County Road, Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, FL

Number 23 — Avoid all manner of gesticulation, it is quite dangerous and is considered bad taste.

Number 24 — Let the conversation be carried on in an ordinary low tone of voice.

Number 25 — Do not attempt to speak when your mouth contains food, you are almost sure to fail.

Number 26 — Do not put upon your plate more food than you can use; it is better to be helped the second time.

Number 27 — The knife is to be used very little; it is proper to use it for the purpose of cutting your food but never as a means of conveying the food to the mouth.

Number 28 — Place bones or fruit seed on the edge of your plate or on a plate for that purpose, never on the table cloth.

Number 29 — In case a dish which you do not like is passed to you, decline it but under any circumstances do not explain the reason for your dislike, it may not be agreeable to your neighbors.

Number 30 — Don’t criticize the dishes or the manner of serving them.

Number 31 — Use the butter knife and the sugar tongs, not your knife or your fingers.

>> Also see: How to set the lunch table correctly (1899)

Number 32 — Do not eat bread from the whole slice, but break it off bit by bit.

Number 33 — Do not under any circumstances raise your plate to your lips.

Number 34 — Don’t blow your food; if it is too warm, wait until it cools.

Number 35 — If you are asked what part of a certain dish you prefer do not say “It is immaterial,” but name the portion which you desire.

Number 36 — There is, we know, such a thing as being “too nice,” more nice than wise. It is quite possible to be fastidious. Do not do this, it does not look well. However, there are also such things as decency and good order. Common sense will tell you where to draw the line.

Number 37 — Do not leave the house of your hostess as soon as dinner is concluded, but remain at least an hour in the parlor.

Number 38 — Do not drink from your saucer. While avoiding this, do not take notice of a similar error made by another.

A story is told of an English nobleman who, once upon a time, gave a grand dinner, at which many of the fashionable families of the realm were present. It happened that a rustic or countryman was present, one who was not well versed in the manners and customs of good society. During the dinner, the countryman poured his coffee into his saucer, much to the amusement of the other guests. The host noticing the amusement and its cause, quietly poured his coffee into his saucer and drinking from the saucer in that manner rebuked the ill-mannered guests.

Number 39 — If the meat or fish upon your plate is too rare or too well done and you do not eat it, give an excuse that you prefer some other dish before you, but never tell your host that his cook has made the dishes uneatable.

Number 40 — If you wish to use your handkerchief, and cannot leave the table, turn your head away and as quickly as possible put the handkerchief in your pocket again.

Number 41 — Do not use your own knife or fork to help either yourself or another. There is always one before the dish at every well-served table, and it is proper to use that.

Number 42 — Try to accustom yourself to using your fork with the left hand when eating, in order to avoid the awkwardness of constantly passing the fork from your left hand to the right and back again when cutting your food and eating it.

Number 43 — It is becoming the rule that persons eat too fast. Take plenty of time, enjoy the meal, and save yourself from becoming the victim of dyspepsia.

Number 44 — Always wipe your mouth before drinking as nothing is more ill bred than to grease your glass with your lips.

Number 45 — Avoid mystery or an air of mystery when speaking to one near you at the table, it is bad taste.

Number 46 — Do not pour coffee, tea or chocolate into the saucer as a means of cooling.

Number 47 — Do not blow the coffee to cool it.

Number 48 — After the finger bowls are passed dip your fingers into them gently and wipe them on your napkin.

Number 49 — Do not leave the table until the hostess gives the signal.

Number 50 — On leaving the table, do not fold your napkin unless you are a member of the household and expect to use the same napkin again.

Number 51 — Avoid stretching across another plate in order to reach anything.

Number 52 — Don’t mop your face or your beard with your napkin. Draw it neatly across your lips.

Number 53 — Do not ask the one who sits next to you to pass articles to you unless there is no servant present.

Number 54 — It is quite a common thing to see persons playing with their napkin ring, their goblet, their knife or their fork. Avoid this.

Number 55 — Don’t reject bits of bone or other substances by spitting them back into the plate. Quietly put them on your fork, holding it to your lips, and then place them upon your plate. Fruit stones may be removed by the fingers.

Number 56, — Do not turn your back to one person for the purpose of talking to another; don’t talk across the one seated next you at the table.

Number 57 — Don’t bend over your plate or drop your head to get each mouthful. Keep in an upright position as nearly as possible without being stiff.

Number 58 — In eating soup, do not break your bread into bits and put it in the soup.

Number 59 — When you are cutting your meat do not spread your elbows, keep them close to your side.

Number 60 — When you drink do not elevate your glass as if you were going to stand it inverted on your nose, bring the glass perpendicular to the lips and then lift it to a slight angle, doing so gently and easily.

Number 61 — Eat vegetables with a fork as far as possible. The rule is not to eat anything with a spoon that can easily be eaten with a fork.

Dining Room, Planters Hotel, St. Louis, Mo. 1897

Number 62 — Do not leave your knife and fork on your plate when you send for a second supply.

Number 63 — Avoid, if possible, the appearance of trying hard not to be vulgar. It is perhaps better to make a few mistakes than to be obviously struggling not to make them.

>> Also see: Victorian etiquette: 27 rules for men when out in public (1889)

Number 64 — Perhaps it is unnecessary to advise the ladies not to come to the breakfast table in curl papers, or to advise the gentlemen not to wear their dressing gowns at meals or to sit at the table in their shirt sleeves; the last is very vulgar.

Number 65 — Please don’t decorate your shirt front with egg or coffee drippings, and do not ornament your coat lapels with grease spots. Use care and you can prevent these accidents. It is rather disgusting to see a gentleman bearing upon his apparel an ocular demonstration of having been to breakfast or dinner.

Number 66 — In connection with the last rule, let me protest against the English fashion of omitting napkins at breakfast.

Number 67 — Do not leave your spoon in your tea or coffee cup; if this is done it quite frequently leads to disaster, viz: the spilling of the contents of the cup.

Number 68 — Don’t forget that the lady next you has the first claim upon your attention.

Number 69 — Endeavor to be perfectly at ease, an embarrassed person may make many stupid blunders at the table.

Number 70 — In case you happen to drop your knife or fork do not be disconcerted; ask the servant for another. Do not under any circumstances call attention to the blunder of yourself or another but let it pass without notice and without comment.

Number 71 — Don’t rest your elbows on the table, it is no place for them.

Number 72 — Make it a rule not to use a toothpick at the table, suffer a little before doing so. If, however, its use becomes necessary, cover your mouth with your hand while you remove the cause of the trouble.

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