Modern American Manners: Dining Etiquette for Hosts and Guests

Modern American Manners: Dining Etiquette for Hosts and Guests

by Fred Mayo, Michael Gold


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This practical and humorous guide helps readers learn appropriate manners so they can enjoy the pleasures of good food, good drink, and good company without worrying about what behavior is proper. Chapters cover how to be a good host, how to be a good guest, and how to behave at business events, cocktail parties, formal dinners, and restaurants. There is also a unique chapter discussing pet peeves and how to handle them with grace, civility, and appropriate manners.

What’s the proper way to hold a wine glass? What’s an appropriate gift to bring a host—and what shouldn’t you bring? How should you correctly introduce guests to each other? If you’re the host, how do you determine who should sit next to whom? What should you do if you don’t want to drink alcohol at a cocktail party? What is appropriate cell phone usage at a business dinner? Here are easy-to-implement answers to these and many other important etiquette questions.

Lavishly illustrated with memorable full-color photographs that highlight both good and bad table manners, Modern American Manners is full of friendly advice for business professionals, college students entering the workplace, and anyone needing a refresher course or an introduction to proper behavior.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510717657
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 1,048,406
Product dimensions: 7.80(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Fred Mayo recently retired as Clinical Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at New York University. He has been a college professor, administrator, trainer, and small business owner. He currently teaches etiquette and manners courses. He loves to entertain and make each dinner party special. He has an MBA, a PhD, and certifications in hospitality. He lives in New Paltz, New York.

Michael Gold's photographs have appeared in the New York Times, Fortune, Esquire, and more.

Read an Excerpt


Civility, Manners, and Etiquette

* * *

"Bad manners will always be frowned on and good manners admired."

— Nicholas Clayton, a professional English butler

Before we can address good and bad manners (or, in fact, anything about manners at all), we need to understand civility and graciousness — two of the fundamental issues behind manners. And once we know more about civility and graciousness, we can distinguish between manners and etiquette and learn the challenges and importance of making manners a daily habit.


What happened to civility — the way we treat one another in social situations? We used to respect individuals — whether strangers, colleagues, or friends — and treat them with politeness and cordiality even if we disagreed with them. We used to extend ourselves easily to strangers and welcome them into our lives. While we used to treat each person we met with respect, in recent times, we have dropped the decent regard that most people associate with civility. We have lost the friendly greeting, the natural smile, and the kindness that people used to extend easily to others. We no longer practice patience with other people, listen to them before speaking, or care about their opinions.

In fact, 63 percent of Americans surveyed by Powell Tate, a research firm, stated that the United States has a significant civility problem, and 71 percent said it was worse than it was several years ago. You can see the lack of consideration in daily interactions and the surprise many individuals demonstrate when confronted with a smile or a kind "hello."

Civility includes a number of behaviors that we used to take for granted. Using polite language whenever there is a choice. Smiling — rather than frowning — at people we pass on the street or meet. Letting other people complete their sentences before jumping into the conversation. All of these examples are ways we can treat other people with dignity and civility.

Civility is the opposite of self-oriented behavior, which has become more common and valued. Some commentators blame the lack of civility on the prevalence of social media and the lack of direct personal interaction, while others ascribe it to a dearth of parents teaching basic social niceties to their children. Some even blame the lack of interpersonal skills on the prevalence of games and electronic methods of communication. Whatever the cause, the lack of civility has changed the patterns of interpersonal communication and the value of kindness, generosity, and graciousness. Against this background, it becomes ever more critical to remember to practice graciousness and to demonstrate care for the other person's comfort and enjoyment in social settings.


While civility is a basic human regard, graciousness is a continuing and consistent perspective of thinking positively about the other person and acting accordingly. Graciousness is a way of being in the world — it is an approach to people based on kindness, consideration, and empathy. It comes from a position of caring about other people and responding to them with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Gracious people show kindness and attention to others because they want to and because they think it is the right thing to do; they do not operate out of kindness in order to obtain some advantage. It is an other-person-oriented approach — rather than a self-oriented perspective — to interpersonal situations and life.

Gracious people are generous with their time and their spirit. They care about the other person and demonstrate that caring in a myriad of ways. They listen to the other person, demonstrate real interest in what they have to say, and ask questions to learn more. They show others little kindnesses and contribute to making the other person's life easier and better. If the person is experiencing some awkwardness or difficulty, gracious people help with the situation gently. They want the other person to be happy and to enjoy an event; they do not like watching the other person's unhappiness, awkwardness, or embarrassment.

Graciousness goes beyond civility and focuses on making people comfortable. In social and business situations, gracious people encourage introductions, help make connections between people, ensure that no one is left out of a discussion or a group, and bolster the confidence of those who are ill at ease.

If you have the instinct for civility and the inclination toward graciousness, you can understand manners easily and you will be able to demonstrate good manners in any situation. Gracious people know good manners and demonstrate them since they already are focused on the comfort of others.


As the term is most commonly used, "manners" refers to proper and appropriate behavior in a range of social contexts. A person with good manners is a person who knows how to act, with ease, in many different situations while making other people feel comfortable and relaxed. People who possess good manners recognize the importance of making people around them feel like they belong in a social situation and that they are welcomed in the circumstances. Good manners mean valuing the quality of interpersonal experiences such as sharing a drink, a dinner, or an evening. Part of good manners involves being appropriate and gracious in any and all settings.

Although good manners often refer to the proper ways of behaving in a dining or entertaining situation, they don't have to be complicated and confusing. Perhaps one of the best definitions of manners comes from Craig Claiborne, who said, "Good manners are nothing more than common sense and consideration for others." However, common sense is not very common anymore.

Manners can be hard to define, but most of us can recognize bad manners and may want to criticize people who demonstrate them. Don't. It shows a lack of graciousness, which is a sign of poor manners. People with good manners do not want others to be uncomfortable; criticizing someone for doing something wrong only makes a difficult situation worse. Using proper manners means overlooking simple gaffes.

Having good manners means not drawing attention to the poor manners of others; it means acting kindly when others do not know what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to do it. There are many stories of elegant hosts drinking the water in their finger bowls when they see a guest do it simply in order to make the guests comfortable. Their ability to overlook this breach of good manners is a matter of style and grace.

How do you identify good manners? Good manners include the cordial attitude and approach that people bring to interacting with others. Being welcoming, friendly, and gracious is part of good manners. Remembering to treat other people decently and communicate with some sensitivity is part of good manners. As Emily Post has written, "Hello," "please," "thank you," "you are welcome," "I am sorry," and "good-bye" are considered essential elements of basic manners. In the United States, these phrases are used — with some variations — to communicate an appreciation for the other person. They are used to grease or lubricate interpersonal communication and exchanges. Without them, we would often seem rude or neglectful of the other person. In fact, Emily Post, a powerful arbiter of manners and etiquette, has indicated that manners are based on respect, consideration, and honesty.

Manners do not change from situation to situation. In fact, good manners belong as much at family meals as they do in restaurant settings; they matter as much in casual settings as they do at fancy events. In dining situations, good manners are one way to make sure the event goes smoothly and that everyone has a good time. As Nicholas Clayton, a professional butler, wrote, "Eating is as fundamental as breathing. It is very important, however, to learn good manners, as they help to smooth our way in the company of others. A society devoid of manners would be a jagged and jarring society of clumsiness and unfriendly behavior." Good table manners make interacting with other people much easier and provide maximum comfort for everyone involved. Manners help us enjoy dining together. Emily Post once wrote, "All the rules of table manners are made to avoid ugliness. To let anyone see what you have in your mouth is repulsive; to make a noise is to suggest an animal; to make a mess is disgusting." Most importantly, paying attention to good manners helps everyone enjoy the pleasures of good food, good drink, and good company.

Manners always make an impression on others, especially when dining. You remember a person with excellent manners, and you will not forget a person with atrocious manners. It therefore behooves all of us to learn, practice, and use excellent manners in every situation. Both good and bad manners communicate a great deal about a person.

When in doubt, use better manners than the situation warrants, since you can always simplify your behavior, but it is hard to recover from a situation where you did not show your skills.

In fact, having no decent table manners has become a dealbreaker in a job interview. It is also a deal-breaker in dating, since it often shows a disregard for the other person or a lack of willingness or ability to act graciously and comfortably in social situations where the goal is everyone's enjoyment.

Manners can, and often do, change and adapt to the times, since they depend on paying attention to the people you are with and the way your host has planned the meal.


While the subject of manners is about helping others feel comfortable and at ease, etiquette refers to the set of rules for what is proper in situations ranging from letter writing to extravagant weddings to simple dinner parties. The basic rules of etiquette make social situations more comfortable for everyone present.

Some of the rules of dining etiquette in the United States include:

• When asked to pass the salt or the pepper, always pass them together.

• When you want something at the table, ask for it — don't reach for it.

• When passing dishes, offer them to other people first before helping yourself.

• Do not help yourself to food served family style by using a fork or spoon that has already been in your mouth.

• Do not use your hands to eat food.

• Do not help yourself to food on another person's plate.

• Do not talk with your mouth full.

Keep in mind, though, that rules of etiquette are not helpful if they're not accompanied by good manners. As etiquette guru Amy Vanderbilt has explained:

I believe that knowledge of the rules of living in our society makes us more comfortable even though our particular circumstances may permit us to elude them somewhat. Some of the rudest and most objectionable people I have ever known have been technically the most "correct." Some of the warmest, most loveable, have had little more than an innate feeling of what is right toward others. But, at the same time, they have had the intelligence to inform themselves, as necessary, on the rules of social intercourse as related to their own experiences. Only a great fool or a great genius is likely to flout all social grace with impunity, and neither one, doing so, makes the most comfortable companion.

In many situations, being friendly and making others comfortable are more important than knowing the rules of etiquette but refusing to act positively or graciously with other people.

"Etiquette" refers to rules for situations, and "manners" refers to habits of behavior. Etiquette refers to how to do something appropriately, and manners are a matter of not noticing if someone did it well or poorly. Manners and graciousness are about helping people be comfortable. Etiquette is about knowing the rules and the protocol and following them absolutely correctly.

Etiquette is important because the rules help everyone know what to do so that they can focus on the meal and the interaction. It has been defined as "the science of social living which consists of rules and guidelines to help social interaction run smoothly; it helps us to know how to behave and what behavior to expect from others." Others have defined it as "a set of rules and guidelines that make your personal and professional relationships more harmonious, productive, and meaningful."

While etiquette used to be limited to elegant and formal settings and entertaining primarily, it currently covers proper behavior in informal situations as well. Increasingly, etiquette is applied to a range of situations such as office etiquette, social etiquette, social media etiquette, dating etiquette, and interview etiquette. The field of etiquette also refers to matters of protocol, which covers rules that honor differences in status or position. Protocol is a matter of deference and is always appropriate, although more often an issue for diplomatic situations and parties involving senior executives or politicians. For example, protocol refers to not making a toast at a formal dinner party before the host has made his or her toast and invited others to make their toasts.

Finally, the rules of etiquette do not change. They are fixed and focus on doing the right thing in the right way.

With your new expertise in civility, graciousness, manners, and etiquette, you have the context to read the following pages.


Conduct Becoming a Guest

"There is nothing more off-putting than sitting at the same dining table with someone with appalling table manners — you know the sort of thing: eating with the mouth open (doing an impression of a cement mixer); making dog-like slurping noises; talking and gesticulating while eating; gulping at drinks and burping; constantly scraping knife over fork to remove an abnormal amount of food build-up; resting elbows on the table with knife and fork stuck up like oars; holding the knife poised as if ready to sign a cheque; elbows stuck so far out as to resemble a black London taxi with both doors open; hunching over the plate, guarding it from some unseen predator, and shoveling in huge mouthfuls as if the food is just about to be taken away. Not a pretty picture, is it?"

— Nicholas Clayton, a professional English butler

Basic table manners are a critical part of being a happy guest and one who will be invited back. They provide the guidelines to help you relax and enjoy the meal, the company, and the entire evening; focus on interesting conversation; and experience the quality of the event. Dinner parties are a time for engaging with others in good conversation, networking, and the enjoyment of good food and drink.

A well-mannered guest follows the lead of the host and enjoys himself during the event. With these two ideas in mind, you will have a great time and contribute significantly to the success of the evening.

Basic Principles of Good Manners

While you may find yourself in lots of different situations as a guest, there are five key principles of good manners that will help you in all of them. Taken together, they GRACE your behavior in any event where you are a guest.

Gather clues about what to do from your host. Wait for your host to start eating, watch what they do and how they do it, and follow his lead.

Refrain from dominating the conversation, eating too much, or drinking too much, all of which make other people uncomfortable and can ruin the evening.

Assist the host in making the evening a success. That can mean contributing to the conversation, assisting in serving or clearing the table if the dinner is relatively informal, and helping in whatever way you can.

Care about the comfort of your fellow diners. Make good conversation by asking questions and listening well, monitor what they need to enjoy the dinner, include new people in conversations, and offer to pass items before being asked.

Enjoy and appreciate the food, beverages, decorations, and company. Enjoy yourself, and you will help other people enjoy themselves as well. Don't forget to show your appreciation for the evening.

These five principles will help you enjoy dinner parties and other occasions; Peter Rossi has written, "the most important thing to remember about table manners is to behave graciously. Evening at the table should be enjoying both the meal and the company, not evaluating and judging each diner's familiarity with the rules of etiquette." Good manners begin the moment in which you receive an invitation to a dinner party.


Excerpted from "Modern American Manners"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Fred Mayo and Michael Gold.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Who Will Benefit from This Book? xi

Global and Local Manners xii

Scope of This Book xiii

Ways to Use This Book xiv

Chapter 1 Civility, Manners, and Etiquette 1

Civility 2

Graciousness 2

Manners 4

Etiquette 7

Chapter 2 Conduct Becoming a Guest 10

Basic Principles of Good Manners 11

Responding to an Invitation 12

Hostess Gifts 15

Greetings 19

Cocktails or Before-Dinner Drinks 20

Sitting Down to Eat 21

Beginning the Meal 23

Bread and Butter 24

Unusual Goods 25

Carrying on Conversations 25

Glasses and Stemware 26

Flatware 31

Reaching or Passing Food 33

Common Poor Manners and Courtesy 34

Fingers, Hands, and Elbows 39

Excusing Yourself 40

Ending the Meal 42

Leaving the Table 43

Ending the Evening 43

Thank You 44

Thank You Notes 44

Thank You Presents 45

Thank You by Email 46

Chapter 3 Conduct Becoming a Host 47

Hosting 47

Guidelines for Hosting 49

Invitations 54

Greeting Guests 56

Seating Guests 59

Eating Dinner 61

Starting and Facilitating Conversations 64

Challenges at Dinner 65

Extending the Dinner Party 69

Encouraging Guests to Leave 70

Chapter 4 A Well-Set Table 72

Getting Started 72

Designing a Beautiful Table 75

Centerpieces 77

Placing Plates 81

Setting the Table with Flatware 83

Placing Glasses 85

Napkins 87

Place Cards 88

Serving Styles and Serving Dishes 89

Chapter 5 Cocktail Party Manners 93

Types of Cocktail Parties 94

Before the Party 96

Entering the Party 97

Being Introduced 100

Mixing and Mingling 100

Eating 105

Not Drinking Alcohol 107

Making Conversation 108

Drinking 110

Leaving the Cocktail Party 111

Chapter 6 Manners in Business Settings 113

The Setting 114

Types of Business Events 114

Networking 118

Introductions 119

Meeting and Greeting 121

Badges 123

Principles of Manners at Business Events 124

Seating at a Business Event 126

Selecting Menu Items at Business Events 128

Dress Codes 131

Table Manners 132

Hosting a Business Meal 134

Cell Phone and Technology Manners 135

Cultural Variations 136

Sexism and Gallantry 137

Spouses and Partners 138

Leaving the Event 139

Chapter 7 Pet Peeves at Dinner Parties 141

Poor Eating Habits 142

Poor Manners 146

Restaurant Behavior 149

Serving Issues in Restaurants 157

Host and Hostess Issues 160

Conversational Gaffes 162

Inappropriate Personal Grooming 163

Behavior of Children 165

Chapter 8 Special Situations: Political Events, Dating Manners, and Very Formal Settings 167

Manners for Public Servants and Elected Officials 167

Hosting Public Servants 172

Dating and Manners 174

Very Formal Dinners 176

Being Served in Very Formal Settings 178

Chapter 9 Enjoying Yourself 184

Monitoring Voice Tone and Volume 185

Using Language with Care 186

Dressing to Enjoy Yourself 186

Managing Personal Space 188

Treating Restaurants with Respect 188

Tipping 190

Pleasures of the Table and the Evening 191

Works Cited 195

Acknowledgments 197

Customer Reviews