Traditionally in Western Europe, the host or hostess takes the first bite unless he or she instructs otherwise. The host begins after all food for that course has been served and everyone is seated. In religious households, a family meal may commence with saying grace, or at dinner parties, the guests might begin the meal by offering some favourable comments on the food and thanks to the host. In a group dining situation, it is considered impolite to begin eating before all the group have been served their food and are ready to start.
Napkins should be placed on the lap and not tucked into clothing. They should not be used for anything other than wiping your mouth and should be placed unfolded on the seat of your chair should you need to leave the table during the meal or placed unfolded on the table when the meal is finished.
The fork is held with the left hand and the knife held with the right. The fork is held generally with the tines down, using the knife to cut food or help guide food onto the fork. When no knife is being used, the fork can be held with the tines up. With the tines up, the fork balances on the side of the index finger, held in place with the thumb and index finger. Under no circumstances should the fork be held like a shovel, with all fingers wrapped around the base. A single mouthful of food should be lifted on the fork and you should not chew or bite food from the fork. The knife should be held with the base into the palm of the hand, not like a pen with the base resting between the thumb and forefinger. The knife must never enter the mouth or be licked.
When eating soup, the spoon is held in the right hand and the bowl is tipped away from the diner, scooping the soup in outward movements. The soup spoon should never be put into the mouth, and soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon, not the end. Food should always be chewed with the mouth closed. Talking with food in one’s mouth is seen as very rude. Licking one’s fingers and eating slowly can also be considered impolite. Food should always be tested before salt and pepper are added. Applying condiments or seasoning before the food is tasted is viewed as an insult to the cook, as it shows a lack of faith in the cook’s ability to prepare a meal.
Butter should be cut, not scraped, from the butter dish using a butter knife or side plate knife and put onto a side plate, not spread directly onto the bread. This prevents the butter in the dish from gathering bread crumbs as it is passed around. Bread rolls should be torn with the hands into mouth-sized pieces and buttered individually, from the butter placed on the side plate, using a knife. Bread should not be used to dip into soup or sauces. As with butter, cheese should be cut and placed on your plate before eating.