Manner #10: Can I Eat Already?
We have discussed 9 table manners so far and we have yet to have a bite of dinner. Well, tonight is the night. It’s time to finally eat!
Attention Getter: I told my kids this scarring story from my childhood: My family was new in town and my sister and I were invited to our neighbor’s birthday party. We were just little tikes- barely in school. (Now I was already a little on edge because we didn’t know anyone and our neighbor seemed rich and we seemed poor in my young mind. Plus I was mortified by the tacky wrapping job on the plastic purse we had gotten Lisa for her present.) The next memory I have is being served a piece of cake and then–taking a bite.
Now this is where the trauma set in: Suddenly an older girl at the party scolded us, “UMMmm-BRRrrr! (I didn’t know what that meant then and I still don’t know now, but it wasn’t good.) You ate before the birthday girl!” There were stares and crusty looks from the other guests and an awkward silence. My sister and I had no idea what the big deal was; we just wanted to disappear. We both remember it as the most embarrassing and humiliating moment of our lives up to that point. This is where I told the kids that tonight we were going to talk about when it is okay to take a bite.
Why: I didn’t want my kids to be embarrassed like I was. Knowing what to do and when to eat can bring confidence in potentially awkward situations: birthday parties, dates, business dinners, in-laws, friend’s house, etc. Also, waiting to eat until the appropriate time delays gratification (there it is again!) and signals that people are more important than food and that dinner is more about relationships and community than eating. As we discussed this, my son blurted out, “I know! We are learning patience!”
Manner: This manner has some different levels and it can also vary according to the situation. Since there are some conflicting ideas out there, use your best judgment and take baby steps if you need to.
Family Dinner: At family dinner the bare minimum is to wait until after the prayer is said to begin eating. (This would be considered a victory at my house.) The next level is to at least wait until all the food has been passed all the way around the table before you start eating. This insures that no one gets forgotten and you don’t become the food dam. And if you want to take it to the highest level, it is custom to wait for mom to take the first bite (again this means that mom needs to be seated at the table.)
Guest’s Home: If you are the guest in someone else’s home, watch for the hostess to take the first bite, then you are good to go. (This would have been nice to know 30+ years ago!)
Restaurant: At a sit down restaurant wait until everyone is served before you begin eating. The exception is if someone’s plate is significantly delayed, and the waiter will let you know if that has happened. I have heard people say if it is hot you can go ahead and eat, but I did not read that exception anywhere. Since we aren’t sure, the safest and most polite thing to do is wait for everyone to be served. If it is a large group, you just need to wait for those people around you to be served before you eat. Note this rule applies to every course served.
If you are the one holding up the show because you haven’t been served your plate, invite others to go ahead and eat without you. This puts everyone at ease and all will be grateful.
Practice: To practice this manner at home, we decided that whoever set the table got to pick who was going to be the hostess (they always picked themselves) for the night and they also picked who was the “guest”. They wrote “hostess” on a post-it note to designate their role and we had to follow their lead. They loved getting to eat first and have the control. This gave the family practice serving the guest first and waiting for the hostess to eat. I considered this activity a success (despite the fact that tears were shed three different times over the week) because I heard my son whisper to his cousins last night at our extended family dinner, “Hey guys, we can’t eat until grandma eats.”
Mom Tip: Eat early enough when the kids aren’t starving so they can control their hunger and their manners. Or if dinner must be delayed, put out some healthy pre-dinner munchies like veggies and dip or fresh fruit. If they “have to eat” at least they are filling up on something healthy and they won’t be ravished by the time they get to the table. This will give them the strength to wait to eat.