11 Fine-Dining Etiquette Rules You've Probably Broken Your Whole Life

·5 min read

Courtesy of Jaap Buitendijk (© 2019 By Focus Features LLC.)

If you're like me, you probably don't encounter the fine dining world every day. After all, restaurant etiquette standards have loosened in recent decades. (Imagine encountering a three-course place setting at Shake Shack!)

But maybe your next wedding invite will be formal dining. Or maybe your family is doing a special dinner at a swanky restaurant in town. Or perhaps you snagged a tea invite with a Royal — the point is, these rules are good to be familiar with.

And no surprises here, but there's quite a few you may have been breaking for years and not even know it. Hint: You've probably been eating your dinner rolls wrong.

The following rules come from Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and The Plaza Hotel Finishing Program. She trained in London under a former member of The Royal Household of the Queen, served as a consultant for Downton Abbey, and is an all-around modern manners pro.

Keep reading to learn basic fine dining no-no's, because no one wants that Princess Mia moment.

1. Never lift your menu off the table.

During formal dinner, your menu should always touch the table at least in one place. No pulling it close to squint at the name of the third course chilled soup… or anything, for that matter.

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2. Once you drink from a glass, you must sip from the exact same place on that glass for the rest of the evening.

This is to avoid a lip ring on the glass, whether it's from natural oils or your signature lipstick color. To easily drink from the same place on the glass every time, simply put the glass back in the place where you picked it up.

Also, make sure to hold it at the stem (with a minimum of three fingers) to avoid fingerprints on the bowl of the wine glass.

3. Don't clink. Not even for the 'gram.

Not only could your clink damage the glass (especially if your host is using very fine glassware), but in fine dining it's best to avoid making too much noise.

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4. Never ask for an oyster fork.

If you see a platter of bivalves come out but not an accompanying fork, that means there's no need for one.

Meier confirms that the lack of oyster fork means the oyster is already loosed and ready to (gracefully) toss back. And if a bit is still attached, just use your knife to loosen it from the shell.

Finally, turn the discarded shell over on the plate like this to signal to the sever that you're done.

5. Keep the rim of your plates as clean as possible.

This is good manners because it keeps the edges clear for the server, who will grab the plate when clearing the table between each course.

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6. Place "discards" on the upper left part of your plate.

In fine dining, this area of the plate is for items like lemon rinds or fish bones. And sauces and butter have their own designated spot, too: the opposite corner, on the bottom right of the plate.

7. Keep your bread on the plate at all times unless you are delivering it to your mouth.

Basically, this means it's polite to break off just the piece of bread (or bagel, muffin, or biscuit) that you plan to eat at the moment.

Also, you shouldn't butter the whole slice at once. Spread on just the piece you broke off, then you can lift it to your mouth.

8. Fold your napkin with the crease toward you before putting it in your lap.

When you first sit down and have unfolded your napkin, re-fold the cloth in half with the crease towards you in your lap. (Watch Meir demonstrate here.)

Other napkin advice: When you need to leave but are still eating, pinch your napkin and place it on your chair to tell the server you're still working on your food. Pinch it and leave it to the left of your place setting if you're stepping away and are finished eating.

If you wipe away a little stray sauce on your face, dab, don't wipe. And use the inside of your folded napkin, then close it back up. This ensures stains stay hidden on the inside of the napkin and you continue to look like a fancy, respectable person who never spills!

9. Never say you are going to the restroom.

If you have to leave to use the bathroom, simply excuse yourself. But do not say why!

10. Don't say "bon appetit."

Take it from etiquette coach Marie de Tilly, who told the New York Times: "When people use it, it sounds just like an invitation for a good digestion and suggests that you are so hungry that you may jump on any food that would cross your mouth."

The alternative? Meier advises saying, "Please enjoy."

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11. Leave one bite on your plate

Yes, even if you enjoyed every bit of your dish! This actually shows that you enjoyed the meal but weren't so famished that you cleaned the whole plate. The latter can indicate that you're still hungry or that the host didn't serve enough food.