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Dining Etiquette Rules And Basic Table Manners

A dining table with a formal set-up, and little umbrellas in the glasses.

We all enjoy dining with our friends, family or colleagues. Whether you’re dining in a restaurant, hosting your own lunch, or attending a dinner party, everyone wants to make a good impression. That’s why a few simple dining etiquette rules and polite table manners can be useful to remember.

Etiquette is seen as an important trait to have. It shows that an individual has manners, and respects their surroundings. This includes the people surrounding them and their belongings. 

Everyone has a different perspective as to what etiquette involves depending on the situation. But there are some general rules you can follow to ensure you don’t make an etiquette faux pas! A few examples include arriving on time, not turning up empty handed when invited to a social gathering, and being respectful.

Different social situations will come with different etiquette rules. For example, there are a few etiquette rules to keep in mind when in a professional environment. Here you will be expected to dress appropriately, arrive on time, be friendly, and to maintain a professional image.

There are quite a few table etiquette rules for eating socially. For example, you will need to keep a napkin on your lap at all times to catch food spillages and remain well-kept. Furthermore, you should never put your elbows on the table as others find this impolite. Finally, in keeping politeness, you should always thank your waiter/server. These simple table manners apply to all meals, whether formal or informal.

If you are hosting a meal, it’s important to know how to lay the table for your guests. There is a different table layout for different meal occasions. Some examples include breakfast, casual lunch, formal lunch, informal dinner, and formal dinner.

We have put together a helpful guide so that you’ll never go wrong laying a table:

A long graphic titled "The Cheater's Guide to Table Etiquette " that covers table layouts for different meals so that you can easily follow etiquette rules

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Breakfast Etiquette

From the layout of the place set, to behaviour and how to dress, there are many rules for good etiquette during breakfast. However, we will just cover the table layout. Start by setting a butter plate and spreader in the top right hand corner. Along the top you need to place a water glass, cup and saucer set followed by a teaspoon. Finally, from left to right place a napkin, luncheon fork, luncheon plate with a cereal bowl atop, luncheon knife, and a tablespoon.

Casual Lunch Etiquette

The layout for a casual lunch is similar to breakfast, but the cup and saucer set, teaspoon and cereal bowl are not required. If invited to a casual lunch you should always arrive on time if possible, but never more than 10 minutes late. It is also best to try the food, even if it’s not to your taste. This is a polite gesture to your host or hostess who will have planned and prepared your food. Always thank the host or hostess. If a friend or family member is hosting the event, you should also arrive with a small gift.

Formal Lunch Etiquette

The layout will once again be different for a formal lunch. This layout requires the additional red wine and white wine glass next to the water glass. As well as this, you will also need a dessert fork, soup bowl, and a soup spoon. The table is set in this way because four courses are usually served at a formal lunch. Guests should behave in a similar manner to a casual lunch, but should instead arrive half an hour before lunch. They would also usually be expected to stay an extra 30 minutes to an hour after everyone has eaten.

A close up of a formal dining set up, with a fresh fruit bowl in the centre and in focus.

Informal Dinner Etiquette

An informal dinner is like an informal lunch, in terms of layout. For drinks, you’ll need both a water glass and a wine glass. On the left place a salad fork and a dinner fork. On the right place a dinner knife, a teaspoon, and a soup spoon. Finally, a plate with a napkin placed on top goes in the middle. During an informal dinner you may be served by your host or hostess. The same rules for guests apply to an informal dinner as they do for breakfast and informal lunch.

Formal Dinner Etiquette

For a formal dinner, the place set has a lot more dishes set out to cover multiple courses. Plates are always laid on the table before guests arrive. Place cards will be set out to allocate seating, and dinner is served by professional staff rather than the host or hostess. Ladies are served first. Formal dinner etiquette rules call for formal attire such as a suit for men and a dress for women. It is also polite to wait for everyone on the table to receive their food before starting the meal.


As much as we have tried to cover the basics, there are still many different perspectives on what the correct etiquette is, and how important it is. Each meal will have different rules of table etiquette. But, how closely you need to follow these will depend upon your host or hostesses’ own views on etiquette. You should always aim to follow the basic rules though; and in some cases good table manners will be enough.  As a general guide, the more formal the occasion, the more important it is to brush up on your etiquette. That way you will be sure you’re not crossed off the invitation list for next time!


The Spruce

Gourmet Food Revolution

Etiquette Scholar

Gentleman’s Gazette



Point Loma Nazarene University

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