Mind Your Manners: Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, has put out a new etiquette manual. From what I see at restaurant dinner tables, I'd say Miss Manners' Basic Training: Eating (Crown Publishers, $15) is long overdue. Anyone who needs proof that civilization is crumbling can gather more than enough evidence after just a few nights of dining out.
In her section about restaurant dining, Miss Manners firmly insists that there are only two things you're permitted to do when you're dining in public: talk and eat. She'll get no argument from me. After all, I've had to sit through restaurant meals watching my fellow diners dance the Funky Chicken. Believe me, it's hard on the digestion to eat while surrounded by folks acting like deranged poultry.
Miss Manners' correspondents seem to be an educated lot, though almost entirely bereft of common sense. I guess that's why they need etiquette advice. Take this reader who shared her experience with Miss Manners and sought her counsel:
Dear Miss Manners--Something peculiar occurs when a gentleman who occasionally takes me out to dinner orders fish or a small bird. He blows the bones into his closed fist, shakes them like dice, then throws them onto the bread plate.
Is there anything I could say to him without hurting his feelings to amend the bone behavior?
Miss Manners replies: How about "Tell me my future"? Miss Manners doesn't want to alarm you, but what you have there is not a gentleman, but an ancient soothsayer. Gentlemen do not cast bits of their dinner around like dice.
Another anxious diner asked Miss Manners if it's proper to turn over wine glasses and coffee cups to keep servers from pouring wine and coffee.
Miss Manners suggested that one hardly need stop there. "How about turning over the plate if one is not hungry? Or the butter dish if one is worried about cholesterol? Or the entire table, if one is finished and doesn't want to be offered dessert?" I must say, it creates an interesting mental picture.
Why shouldn't you take calls on your cell phone, work your teeth over with a toothpick, watch television, blow your nose in your napkin, clank your fork on a glass to get the waiter's attention, comb your hair, talk too loud, disappear for 30 minutes to go outside for a smoke, stick your fork in someone else's plate (with or without permission), bring along an infant, sing along with the piped-in Julio Iglesias, catch up on your paperwork, discuss the number of fat grams in the fettuccine Alfredo and calories in the chocolate cake, point to a dish that you're not fond of and make gagging noises, or take out your laptop and go online?
Because, gentle readers (as Miss Manners would say), such behavior is rude and disrespectful. It makes the people around you disgusted or ill-at-ease. With few exceptions (a working lunch, a client dinner), eating out is primarily a social occasion, a time to interact with those sharing your table. If you can't behave civilly, do everyone else a favor and stay home.
Suggestions? Write me at email@example.com or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,
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