Family Meals, Western Style

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Family-style meals are common all over the world. For Americans, it is most traditional during our celebration of Thanksgiving. Although it’s similar to how we Chinese eat our meals, there are few distinct subtleties to keep in mind.

  • Do I PASS TO THE RIGHT OR LEFT?

Instead of platters remaining on the table at all times as in a Chinese-style meal, Western platters are passed around the table. At the beginning of a meal, always pass food counter-clockwise, to the right. Thereafter, it may be passed in whatever direction to reach a person the fastest.

  • WHEN MAY I BEGIN EATING?

Among close family and friends, you may begin eating as soon as everyone has received a little helping of each item. In more formal settings, you should wait for the host to begin eating. A good host should always encourage everyone to start eating while platters are being passed.

  • AT WHAT POINT MAY I ASK FOR SECONDS?

Assuming all the food is on the table, you may ask that a specific item be passed to you for seconds; it will be a compliment to the chef that you want more. You may also want to offer those on either side of you to have some. When food is not on the table, it is best to wait until you are offered more. This saves your host any embarrassment of having to refuse your request because there are no seconds.

  • HOW DO I POLITELY REFUSE SOMETHING BEING PASSED?

In my opinion, unless you have food allergies or clearly defined religious or other food restrictions, you should not refuse to eat something. You should take a small portion of all food served. You never know, you might like it! Refusing to taste something just because your mind says you don’t like it is not a reason to insult the host.

  • IS IT O.K. TO GRAB THE LAST PIECE OF SOMETHING, ESPECIALLY IF IT IS SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME WITH MY NAME WRITTEN ALL OVER IT?

It is best to first offer food to the dining companions on either side of you. You could say, “Jane, Joe, this last piece of turkey looks mighty delicious. Would you enjoy sharing some of it?” If yes, share it. When they decline, help yourself.

  • WHEN MAY I LEAVE THE TABLE AT THE END OF THE MEAL?

Generally guests remain at the table for about an hour after the meal has concluded, to enjoy a bit of after-dinner conversation. Watch your hosts for clues. Adults typically don’t leave the table until senior members of the family or the guest of honor leaves. Younger guests may ask to be excused from the table to enjoy their own conversations and activities in another room.
Next month: The Art of Thank You Notes, just in time for the holiday party and gift-giving season.

Happy Dining!

Syndi Seid is a professional trainer, speaker, and founder Advanced Etiquette. See AdvancedEtiquette.com for more information.

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