Social Etiquette Rules for Eating Party Food

by RealHousewife

This article explains the proper dining etiquette for social events. Do you use your fingers? Or a fork?

Hors d'oeuvres, canapes, finger foods? The proper way to eat some foods can be tricky! Remember, good social etiquette rules!

What is that?

I have attended parties where I have been asked if I liked the "canape`s".  Huh? We use a lot of words to describe courses of foods.  Course meals are still served at many formal events and there are rules! Don't be tardy for the party and be informed so that you can handle any food with class and style.  This will ensure that your calendar is full of invites and free food!


No Elbows on the Table!
No Elbows on the Table!
Free Digital Photos / Rosen Georgiev

First Things First


The French typically serve their meals in courses. There can be as many as 6 meal courses. En France, meals can be very involved but they really do not have many differences as far as etiquette rules. There are always exceptions to every rule and this one is buttering bread. Bread is not buttered prior to eating, it is used to sop up any juices that are left on the plate. American's thirsting for everything French have incorporated many of the French cuisines and practices in their dining experiences.

  • Aperitif - A drink that is served at cocktail hour and prior to dinner. This is usually a lighter drink such as a light wine or sangria.
  • Entre - The first course
  • Plate Principal - The main course (fish, meat or poultry)
  • Salad
  • Cheese
  • Dessert/Fruit
  • Coffee and/or Digestive Drink

The French usually do not have a large breakfast. Croissants, rolls and coffee or simplistic food is sufficient. Lunches and dinners are affairs that are relished and enjoyed. Dinners can last for at least two hours or longer and are ingrained in the fabric of France.

To fork or not to fork?

Fork, Spoon or Fingers?
Fork Spoon                             Fingers
Artichoke heart Avacado Artichoke leaves
Shrimp without tail Grapefruit Shrimp with tail
Limp Bacon Blueberries Bacon (only crispy)
Lobster Fruit Compote Pizza
Hard Shell Crab Stewed Fruit Tea Sandwiches



Mussels/Clams on halfshell Pomegranate Anything with a toothpick
Watermellon (if cubed use spoon) Sushi
Sandwich served open face Quesadillas
Banana - slice first! Caviar - spread on toast
Persimmon Corn on the Cob
French Fries - formal Cherries
Pieces of Hard Cheese


Berries on the vine.
Berries on th...
Free Digital ...

Food Faux Pas

Do not do this:
  • chew with your mouth open
  • double dip
  • lean over another diners plate
  • place elbows on the table
  • drink from the tap
  • season food prior to tasting (insulting to the chef)
  • lick your fingers - EVER - in public
  • touch food and put it back
  • speak while chewing
  • gesture with dining utensils
  • use your fingers for any food if dining with clients or business associates

For the most part - if food is messy you will need to use a utensil and if it is small, bite sized food you may use your fingers.  If using silverware one should always scoop away from themselves.  Food will be served on the left and removed when you are finished from the right side.  At fine dining establishments - a finger bowl will be provided by the staff to rinse your fingertips at the end of the meal. 

Dining etiquette can be tricky but if ever in doubt - look around and see what everyone else is doing and you will never have to fill up on your foot!


Berries on the vine...
Berries on the vine...
Free Digital Photos / Tony Curtis
Updated: 03/11/2012, RealHousewife
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FloraBreenRobison on 04/12/2012

It's been a while since I've been at a party that was big enough that I wasn't at a table when eating. But I quite often choose food that can be eaten with fingers when the utensils are plastic because I'm never sure what to do with a fork or spoon after I'm done with them unless it's birthday cake and it's the *only* thing on your plate.

RealHousewife on 04/07/2012

Hi Natasha - lol. I doubt you'd need it in print:) but funny!

I do sometimes thing it's humorous to see people fiddle with table wear or food they do not know what to do with:). I went out to lunch with a friend no too long ago - and they had never used a pepper grinder before! I was a little surprised?

Thank you very much for your comment!

RealHousewife on 04/07/2012

Hi Katie - sorry for the delay - I didn't realize I had a comment:( lol. Thanks that is a great idea..the Emily Post! I know your girls probably do not need that guide having a classy mom like you. I do see why they would want it anyway though and I'm going to get one for my girls!

Thank you so much!

Natasha on 04/02/2012

Very informative and helpful. I may have to print this out. It is something that I would have to read everytime I go out for dinner. Thumbs up!!

katiem2 on 04/01/2012

I love proper etiquette, would love to see Emily Post's Book of Etiquette for sale here. I give it to every young lady turning 13 I know. I feel its a great bit of knowledge to pass on. I'll never forget my own daughters 13th birthday. I wrapped a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette beautifully for each guest, they set taking turns reading from each of their books for hours. It was a big hit. My youngest can't wait to turn 13 so she and her friends get their copy. Love your page on etiquette rules for eating party, a great asset. Sharing this wide and far :)

RealHousewife on 03/31/2012

Thankn you so much Susan and buttonhead! lol

buttonhead on 03/20/2012

What a handy little chart. Thank you!

SusanZutautas on 03/16/2012

I used to laugh at my Dad all the time as whenever he'd eat pizza he had to have a knife and fork.
Great article!

RealHousewife on 03/13/2012

Thank you misty! I am glad you prompted me to join...I love it so far!

mistyhorizon2003 on 03/12/2012

You are doing great here already Kelly, and I love the look of this page. Clearly you went to the extra effort to make it look good with text style, colour etc. It worked! :)

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