Manners Monday- How to Sit for a Formal Meal

Note: This is not me. It’s a picture of a Server I found on Google. He’s doing a fine job. 

Believe it or not, when you’re serving a formal meal, there’s a proper way to put food in front of a guest and a proper way to pick it up. Knowing this will help you to be a really well-mannered guest at your next event and allow your server to serve all guests and clear tables efficiently and easily…

As a Server, when I bring food to the table, I place it in front of the guest with my left hand from the left side. Please clear a big space in front of you as the first course comes out!

When I clear dishes, I take them with my right hand from the right side. The goal is never to put an elbow in a guest’s face, or show them the back of your hand (or glove, as the case may be). It’s almost like you’re bringing their food in and giving them a hug from behind (without touching them or being creepy, lol).

When I’m filling drinks, I fill them with my right hand from the right side (which is where they are located).

When I clear dishes from each course, I also take the silverware and anything else on the table that goes along with it. For example, if you’re finished with your salad, bread, butter and dressing after the first course, I’ll clear your salad plate, 1 fork, 1 knife, your bread plate, your butter knife and any dressing vessels and serving utensils on the table.

When I clear dinner, I’ll take another plate, fork and knife.

When I come around with coffee, I usually place the cup and saucer in front of a guest and fill it from the right side.

When the whole table is finished with coffee, I take coffee cups, saucers, spoons, creamer, and sugar. Sometimes this doesn’t happen until the end of the party, so these items may stay out longer than those from the main meal.

After dessert, I take plates, forks, and anything that is left from the meal except for water and any active drinks (the ones you’re probably still working on). I take empty glasses throughout the event to get them out of your way and make sure you don’t look like an alcoholic. You’re welcome 🙂

At the venue where I work, we typically leave napkins through the entire event. That way, if you want to use it for your coffee, dessert or drinks, you have it there. We aim to keep them folded and looking nice during the main meal (as guests get up from the table).

So that’s that. Note that not every venue does it this way, but many do. If somebody is doing it differently, don’t say anything. It’s just as rude for you to point out that a Server is doing something ‘wrong’ as it would be for them to tell you that you used your dinner fork on your salad. Oh, and it doesn’t matter THAT much as long as everyone gets their dinner in a timely manner, right?

Also not me. Thanks, Google 🙂 



What can you do to be a better guest at the dinner table? Here Are 5 Tips to Remember: 

1. Sit down when you’re asked to and stay there (within reason) until the meal ends- When it’s time to eat, it’s time to eat. As soon as you’re asked to make your way to your seat, you should. Don’t grab one last cigarette, mosey to the bathroom, stand around your table talking, or ignore the request and keep doing what you’re doing. There’s a schedule that your hosts have set up and every minute you waste is a minute you lose from the dance party (or whatever is happening) after the meal. Once your food is in front of you (especially for the first course), stay in your seat and eat what you want of it. Keep in mind that that course has to be cleared for your entree to be delivered, and until most people in the room are finished, that can’t happen. Again, time is of the essence and the kitchen, DJ, hosts and servers are waiting on you 🙂 No pressure, though! Of course, if you need to get up or want to go get a drink, you may, but use your discretion on the timing. After you’re finished the meal, feel free to get up, bust a move, hit up the photo booth, check out the bathroom and that cool bathroom basket the bride & groom made, grab some flip flops, a have a blast!

2. Allergies & dietary restrictions- At the venue where I work, we try to come around and confirm food orders before bringing the first course out. When your server comes over, be sure to let him/her know if you have any special dietary restrictions that the kitchen should know about. This way, when your food comes, it’ll be right the first time and won’t take time away from you or them as we know you both have places to be and things to do! If your server does not come over, see if you can get the attention of a staff member and let him/her know.


3. Keep your hands in your lap- or at least try not to throw them up in the air or wave them around like you just don’t care during dinner service. This could result in a spill, broken dishes, etc. Placing your arm around a loved one is really sweet, and I can’t be upset if somebody does this. However, sometimes it makes placing food on the table and clearing it away a little more difficult. If you are aware of the procedure and can move your arm as your server comes by, that might be nice 🙂 Just saying…

4. Keep the space in front of you clear- These days, we go to weddings with cameras, cell phones, purses, tissues, little jackets/ shrugs, and more, and we acquire hors d’oeuvres, drinks, place cards, favors, etc. along the way. Put these things anywhere EXCEPT right in front of you. Your place setting- or cover- has a specific purpose and when you put things there, it keeps servers from being able to fulfill that purpose (bringing your food right to you). You can put them under your chair, on your chair, in front of your place setting, etc. Be careful with things on the floor though, as they could present a tripping hazard if they’re sticking out. I asked a guest to place a crutch further under the table last week as it was sticking out just enough that anybody walking by (including me) could’ve tripped on it. Keep in mind also that anything you’re finished with that is going to be cleared away should remain within arm’s reach of your server, so please don’t push empty glasses, empty plates and such toward to center of the table as you finish with them.

5. Be nice to the staff- Smile, have fun, and tip your server for exemplary service if you want to. This is not required at most formal events as the hosts have already taken care of gratuity in many cases. However, if your server went above and beyond and you want to thank them monetarily, the venue should not have a problem with that and your server will certainly be grateful. While dining, consider your server and use the golden rule. Treat them as the people they are, and treat them the way you want to be treated. Don’t leave trash you wouldn’t want to pick up, including dirty diapers (Oh, I’ve seen it), gum on your plate, a messy conglomeration of food and drinks (especially an issue with kids), etc. Somebody has to clear that and break it down, and just because that person isn’t you, doesn’t mean it’s okay to do it. I thank you for taking the time to be nice to staff, because I know what it’s like to be on the other side, and I love what I do, but I’ll never get over some of the gross things that I’ve seen and touched (I wash my hands every time I go back to the kitchen, and still need a really good shower when I get home). Thank your Servers, and pass on your recommendations for the venue if you had a nice time.

Nice job, Google servers! 

Was this helpful? What other tips do you have? 

By the Way…
Want to learn about the etiquette and history of Napkins? This post is an oldie but a goodie!

Your Table Awaits: Silverware, Glasses and Plates is super helpful as you get ready for a formal meal, too!

Salt & Pepper etiquette? Yes, please!

Cocktail Hour etiquette is a biggie. Check it out here!

Want to learn more about the biggest Tips for Tipping at a wedding or other formal event?

Are you in an upcoming wedding and wondering what to expect?

Deciding what to wear for an upcoming soiree? Check this one out!

(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today)
Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*