If you watch “Downton Abbey” you might have wondered what it would be like to eat upstairs with Lord Grantham and his family or downstairs with the servants.
It appears that whether you eat upstairs or downstairs, solid manners are expected. Would you or your children measure up?
Good manners show respect and politeness. One definition simply states it is about consideration for others.
If your children are resisting your efforts to make them behave at mealtime, just tell them to trust you on this one. Let them know people will not call them out on poor manners; they will instead talk about them behind their back.
Following are generally agreed upon table etiquette tips to review and discuss with your family. A lively discussion of moaning and groaning should be expected. And if there are adults who have bad habits, draw them into the conversation. They might accept a subtle reminder to quietly chew or to keep elbows off the table.
Pick your battles carefully and gently so you do not totally destroy mealtime. Meals are to be savored and enjoyed, but by practicing a little dinner discipline you will help your children now and in the future. Impressions are made while eating and socializing, so you might as well help your children make good ones.
- Wait until the entire family is seated before eating.
- Children should ask to be excused with the idea that they otherwise stay until everyone is finished eating.
- Do not rest arms and elbows on the table while eating.
- When eating, the napkin goes in your lap, not beside your plate.
- Say please and thank you when food is passed, and avoid reaching across someone’s plate.
- Eat what is served without complaining.
- Hold belches and other unnecessary noises.
- Make friendly conversation by listening and contributing.
- Chew foods with mouth closed.
- Table manners need to be practiced, or they won’t really be learned.
If your family is doing these things already, well done. If not, perhaps the list will inspire you and even your children.
Manners are impressive on a subtler, more gentle level that we all recognize. It is really not about managing the silverware — which, by the way, is from the outside to the inside — it is more about respect for others at the table.
Your kids will think it sounds stuffy and old fashioned. They got it half right, it is old but not stuffy. The set-up, whether in a showy dining room or around an old kitchen table, allows for lively conversation and enables nurturing.
On a personal note, one of my children threatened that people might avoid eating with me if I wrote an article on table manners. My approach is one of humility, knowing that I would not be able to eat in the Grantham dining room without more research and some practice with all that silver.
Good behavior can have rewards. For example, there was a recent news story about a family from the Seattle area who went out to dinner and got a discount on their meal because the three children (ages 2, 3, and 8) were so well-mannered. The receipt actually had a line item for “well behaved kids disc.”
How brilliant! It is no wonder it made the national headlines. We all “get it” and are impressed by the tame children and the reward.
I can’t promise a reward but clearly people are watching.
Michele Lucas is a registered dietitian at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla and the mother of two children.