etiquette at the start of a meal: when to start eating

Start Of A Meal Etiquette: 4 Basics For Starting To Eat

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The etiquette for starting to eat can vary depending on cultural norms and the formality of the occasion.

Here are some general rules to ensure that you’re displaying good manners and etiquette at the start of a meal.

1. Coordinate Your Order With the Other Guests

Try to order the same amount and type of courses as the other guests, to ensure that all the guests are eating at the same time. For example, avoid ordering appetizers or desserts if the other guests are not having them.

2. Wait for Everyone

Wait for everyone to be served

It’s considered polite to wait until everyone at the table has been served their food before you begin eating. 

If you’re unsure whether to start, a good cue is to look around and see if everyone is seated and has their meal in front of them.

Wait for the host or hostess to start

In a formal setting, it’s customary to wait for the host or hostess to take the first bite before you begin eating.

If you have been served already

If you receive your food but some guests are still waiting for theirs, it’s polite to wait until they are served too.

When the course is cold food, it’s impolite to start eating without waiting. If the course is hot food, guests who already have received their food may be invited to start anyway, without waiting for the others. In such cases, you can start eating but it’s more polite to wait.

3. Follow Cultural Norms

Wish enjoyment of the meal

Learn the local etiquette, or follow the leader: observe what the host and the other guests do, and copy them.

Some cultures use a starting formula to signal the start of the meal. For example, Italians say “buon appetito” (literally “good appetite”), French “bon appetit”, Americans “enjoy your food” or simply “enjoy.”

It’s usually polite to answer with a “thank you” and reciprocate.

Saying grace

If it’s customary for you or your group to say grace before a meal, wait until everyone is ready before beginning.

4. Use Tableware Appropriately

Napkin placement

Place your napkin on your lap once you’re seated. If it’s a formal setting, wait until the host or hostess unfolds their napkin before you do the same.

Utensil usage

Start with the outermost utensils and work your way in as the meal progresses. Use the appropriate utensils for each course.


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