Ending It All: How to Finish Your Dinner

I’ve served dinner to thousands of people over the span of my adult life. In that time, I have been alarmed– though seldom to the point of fits– by the number of those people who do not know how to behave at table. Proper table etiquette is often poorly executed.

I don’t mention this for reasons of stodginess, I mention it because I see what is happening at the tables of countless business dinners and first dates– people trying to impress one another and failing miserably. On one end of the spectrum, there are the overly cautious– those who navigate their dinner with extreme caution, eating their olives with knife and fork, for example. Then, of course, there is the other, cork-sniffing variety too hideous to mention this morning. Most people, fortunately, fall somewhere in between, but are sadly unclear on the finer and much more subtle points of dining. So I thought I might drop in from time to time and explain, as gently as I can, how you might avoid some of the most common pitfalls of eating in public.

Since my mood this week is decidedly morbid, I thought I would share with you the proper way of ending it all.

Finishing Your Meal

When one has had enough of whatever is placed in front of him, no pushing away of the plate is necessary, no handing your mess off to the first member of the waitstaff who passes by, no verbal proclamations other than those that convey how lovely everything was, is necessary to let others know your condition.

Only one simple, silent act is necessary to communicate your state of doneness. For those of you who do not already know this, here’s how:

The above photo illustrates the proper way to tell the world “Yes, I have finished with my meal.” Place your knife and fork together, with the business ends point roughly to “10 o’clock” on the clock face that is quite often your dinner plate and with the sharp end of your knife facing inward to avoid any show of aggression, no matter how you might actually feel. It is a clear and, hopefully, unmistakable signal to your fellow diners and to whomever may be clearing your plate.

Do not make an “x” with your utensils. Not only is this incorrect and, frankly, boorish, it is a potential hazard-waiting-to-happen. Proper placement of utensils allows whoever is removing your plate to stabilize the knife and fork with his or her thumb, ensuring that , upon removal, they do not slide off the plate and on to your clothing. Improper placement means your server must spend more time interfering with the flow of business conversation or the ogling of your date’s décolletage. And no one wants that– not you, not your server.

You should also be aware of when you finish. It is just as rude to lag far behind in pace with your fellow diners as it is to race too far ahead. Though you may be engrossed in deep conversation with the person sitting on your right, you may have failed to notice that everyone else at your table has been finished with their meal for a good fifteen minutes. No fine dining server worth his or her grey sea salt is going to clear anyone’s plate from your table until the last person has finished. But patience has its limits. For example, I occasionally have to let some of my guests sit with dirty plates for up to half an hour while their blithely unaware tortoise of a tablemate chews and chatters while everyone else squirms, wants coffee, or is jonesing for a post-prandial sugar rush. In such cases, I feel I have to act in the interest of the table as a whole and somehow signal to the lagger that he is on his own. The irritation of everyone from one’s boss (or clients) to the waitstaff is palpable. Be aware of your surroundings.

I hope this has been enlightening. It felt very, very good to share it today.

Now, if you will please excuse me, I have to go to work and wait on some more people so I can come back and tell you what they’re doing wrong.

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8 Responses to Ending It All: How to Finish Your Dinner

  1. Dani says:

    Well done.

  2. Sean says:

    You and I know this, but can you guarantee that every server in town knows it? I bet not.

  3. Nicky D. says:

    Michael Procopio, what would we do without you?

  4. michaelprocopio says:

    Sean– I know you’re right. Just think of this as a public service for both diners AND servers.

    Nicky D.– I could give you the short list of people who can very well do without me. You’, however, are another matter entirely.

  5. michaelprocopio says:

    And Dani– thank you very, very much!

  6. This reminded me of two of my pet peeves with waitstaff … servers in Portland are very casual, even at high-end establishments, and they often commit one or both of the following gaffes:

    1) Inquiring of a diner who has paused momentarily: “Ya still workin’ on that?” This phrase literally makes me cringe and wither inside. My usual response is: “I have not yet finished with my meal, but I would rather not think of it as work.”

    2) Asking my dining companion whether he or she wants dessert, while I am still workin’ on whatever I was eating in Item #1. Yes, I’m a slow eater, but not that slow. Geez.

  7. (Which is not to imply that the writer of this post would ever commit such indecencies … just that dining pet peeves came to mind in general.)

  8. roy says:

    Interesting. I’d been taught (years ago…not going to say how many years since I already feel old this morning) that the proper signal for being done with the plate was to place the fork on the plate with the tines turned towards the face of the plate (i.e. the fork is turned over).

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