The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat butter. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.

artisanal butter

What butter etiquette is

Butter etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve, use, and eat butter. Such rules help avoid behaviors that may disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow butter etiquette to serve it to your guests appropriately.

As a guest, respect butter etiquette rules to properly use it at the dining table and avoid offending your hosts.

What you should know about butter

Butter is a dairy product. It is usually made from cow’s milk.

Butter is firm when refrigerated, becomes soft at room temperature, and melts to a liquid at 32°C (90°F). Its color ranges from white or pale yellow to intense yellow. Its flavor varies depending on production methods and the animal’s diet. Butter in commerce can be salted or unsalted.

rules to eat and serve butter and spread it on bread

Etiquette rules to serve and eat butter

1) How to store butter

Store butter in the fridge. Direct light and oxygen spoil butter. Keep it tightly wrapped in wax or parchment paper. When properly stored, butter in the fridge can last between 3 and 6 months.

In the freezer, butter can last up to 12 months. However, the cold temperature risks spoiling its texture and flavor.

Do not keep butter at room temperature, unless you are going to use it on the same day.

2) How to clean butter

Butter in commerce is ready for consumption. Before using it, check that it hasn’t turned rancid. Discard butter if you notice mold on its surface or a foul odor.

3) How to prepare & cook with butter

You can use butter as a spread, a condiment, or an ingredient.

In cooking, butter is used for baking, pan-frying, sautéing, and coating. It is widely used to make sauces, such as Béarnaise and Hollandaise. Butter is appropriate for cooking at low temperatures, as its non-fat components burn above 150°C (250°F). For high-temperature cooking, it is best to use butterfat or clarified butter that can reach abound 200°C (390°F).

Extra virgin olive oil is suited for cooking below 210°C (410°F). Higher temperatures burn the unrefined particles in the oil, spoiling its taste. Thus, for deep frying or cooking at high temperatures, it is best to use refined olive oil, which has a smoke point of around 230°C (446°F).

Butter is 80 percent fat, of animal origin, and milk-based. Some guests may avoid butter in their diets, such as the vegan diet or lactose-free diet. Others may avoid it for health reasons, such as limiting cholesterol. Thus, before hosting a meal, it is considerate to ask your guests whether they have some dietary restrictions.

4) How to serve & present butter

Butter is the most present spread in dining etiquette. On formal occasions, butter is served as an accompaniment to bread.

Serve butter at a spreadable consistency. Butter softens at around 15°C (60°F). Take it out of the fridge a few hours before serving. Do not serve too cold and firm butter.

You can present butter on a serving dish or individual small butter plates for each guest.

If you serve butter on a serving dish, serve a large stick sliced into individual servings. Present it with a fork that guests can use to serve themselves.

If you serve butter on individual small butter plates, put a smaller stick on each plate. Place the butter plate on the left side of each setting. Present butter with an individual butter knife that guests can use to spread it on bread.

At the end of the meal, before serving a cheese course, fruit, or dessert, it is polite to remove the butter from the table.

5) Foods & beverages to pair butter with

You can use butter to cook almost any food. Such as meat, fish, or vegetables.

Serve butter to accompany bread or focaccia. Butter goes well with jams, caviar, salmon roe, smoked salmon, steaks, and baked potatoes. Avoid serving butter with other cheese.

6) How to use & eat butter

When butter is presented on a shared dish, serve yourself by taking one slice and placing it on your plate or butter dish. Do not spread butter directly from the shared dish.

Use a butter knife to spread butter. If a butter knife is not available, use the first knife in your place setting. Spread butter on bread one morsel at a time. Do not spread it on a larger slice of bread in one go.

it is appropriate to eat butter until the first course is served. After the first course, it is best to avoid eating butter.

butter etiquette mistakes

Butter etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst butter etiquette mistakes. 

  • 8/10. Spreading butter directly from the serving dish.
  • 8/10. Not asking your guests about their dietary restrictions.
  • 7/10. Spreading butter on a slice of bread in one go.
  • 7/10. Serving too cold and firm butter.

Additional information for properly serving butter

How many calories per serving?

Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.

Butter contains about 717 calories per 100 grams (3.5 oz). An individual 5-gram pat of butter contains about 36 calories.

How to buy the best butter

A crucial factor in butter etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.

Choose the best

Most butter in commerce is an industrial or semi-industrial product. Try different brands and identify the one that better suits your taste. Artisanal or semi-artisanal butter can be of higher quality, depending on the production methods and the animal’s diet.

Alternatives to butter

The most common substitutes for butter are animal fats, such as lard, or vegetable oils, such as olive oil.


  • Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women: