I took a 'Downton Abbey'-inspired fine dining etiquette class. Here are 5 things that surprised me most.

·4 min read
Downton Abbey etiquette class
Insider's Tufayel Ahmed attended a "Downton Abbey"-inspired etiquette class.Tufayel Ahmed/Insider/Carnival Films
  • I took a "Downton Abbey"-inspired etiquette class to learn table manners for fine dining.

  • The class was overseen by Philip Sykes, founder of the British School of Excellence.

  • I learned the proper way to sit and stand, salt your food, and even eat soup.

I recently got to learn how to eat like a 1920s British aristocrat when taking a "Downton"-inspired etiquette class.

Photo of Tufayel Ahmed at Downton event and screenshot from Downton Abbey
The author about to dine like the aristocrats of "Downton Abbey."Tufayel Ahmed/Insider/Carnival Films

The dining room scenes in "Downton Abbey" are some of the most lavish in the hit TV show and its spinoff movies, as well as often being the backdrop for some of the Crawley family's most explosive moments.

I recently tried my hand at pretending to be 1920s British aristocracy by taking a "Downton"-inspired etiquette class to mark the home entertainment release of "Downton Abbey: A New Era." (A note that Universal Pictures provided Insider travel and accommodation for the trip.)

The etiquette class was led by Philip Sykes, the principal of the British School of Excellence, who imparted his wisdom on how to conduct oneself when seated for a formal dinner — or, supper, as the Crawleys might call it.

Here are some of the most surprising things I learned.

You should seat yourself from the left, and stand up from the right.

 

The first thing we were taught was how to enter our chairs.

When you're taking your seat, enter the chair from the left-hand side to avoid bumping into your tablemate as you sit down.

When you're finished with the meal, exit from the right-hand side, again to avoid any stray elbow jabs or stepping on someone's foot.

When you're sitting, according to Sykes, you should only take up about three-quarters of your seat and sit with a straight posture. Your back shouldn't touch the back of the chair. (This is easier said than done!)

Think "BMW" — bread, meal, and water.

Place setting at etiquette class.
A place setting at the etiquette class.James Gifford-Mead

The number of plates, knives, forks, and glasses that make up a place setting can be overwhelming, and you may end up drinking from the wrong glass.

Sykes taught us a simple way to remember which crockery to use: BMW. No, not the car manufacturer, but bread, meal, and water.

Your bread plate is to your left, your plate should be in the center, and your water and wine glasses should be to the right of your plate. So, now you can avoid accidentally sipping someone else's wine!

When eating soup, move the spoon away from you.

"Downton Abbey" character eating soup.
Eat your soup like the Dowager Countess.Carnival Films

If you're sitting down to a fancy meal, the chances are you're going to be dressed in your finest tuxedo, gown, or other formalwear. So, the last thing you want to do is splash soup on yourself.

Sykes taught us that when taking a spoonful of soup from your bowl, always move the spoon away from you rather than towards you to avoid any soup splatters. Once you've ladled your soup, carefully bring your spoon to your mouth and gently sip the soup, as opposed to placing the whole spoon in your mouth.

Another rule of etiquette we learned is to never blow on your food to cool it down. This is seen as a major faux pas, and could be considered rude.

Don't cut your bread, but break it.

bread
Break off tiny pieces of bread — don't cut it.Daniel Day/Getty Images

This may seem less than refined in a formal setting, but breaking bread is good, and cutting bread is bad.

Sykes explained that cutting bread can be distracting to your fellow guests — think clinking cutlery and crumbs everywhere, and may even damage the fine china used to serve your meal.

If you're eating bread with your soup, for example, break off dainty pieces and eat them alongside your soup. Don't try and shovel the whole roll in your mouth in one go.

Don't season your food without tasting, and use salt discreetly.

salt dish cellar fine dining table
Instead of a salt or pepper shaker, you're more likely to see a salt cellar (pictured above). Taste your food before using it discretely.Merethe Svarstad Eeg/EyeEm via Getty Images

Seasoning your food without tasting it first can be considered rude, according to Sykes. Always sample your meal first before adding a dash of salt, pepper, or, if you're like me, chili flakes.

If you must add salt, do it discreetly, Sykes explained.

In fine dining experiences, you're most likely to be served salt in a salt cellar rather than a grinder. Don't just scatter salt all over your meal, however. Use the accompanying salt spoon to place a small mound of salt on the side of your plate, and then take a pinch of salt between your fingers and sprinkle it delicately over your food.

"Downton Abbey: A New Era" is available now on digital and Peacock, and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 5.

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