The Value of Good Table Manners

Source: A Text-Book of Cooking by Carlotta C. Greer (1915)
Source: A Text-Book of Cooking (1915)

Are table manners less important now than a hundred years ago? Sometimes I think so; other times I’m not sure.

Here’s what a hundred-year-old book had to say about table manners in a chapter titled Dining Room Courtesy:

The Value of Good Table Manners

No matter how cultivated in mind and spirit one may be, if there is an absence of refinement of manners, the higher qualities are likely to be overlooked. The basis of all good manner is tact, i.e., a kindly consideration of others.

Graceful and easy table manners and a knowledge of how to serve and be served add to the comfort as well as to the pleasure of one’s associates in the dining room.

Most of the rules of table conduct have been adopted because they lend ease and grace or because they are sensible; others have been established by custom and long usage.

Source: A Text-Book of Cooking by Carlotta A Greer (1915)

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47 thoughts on “The Value of Good Table Manners

  1. I remember learning these things in the Brownies. My mom has a tablecloth with needlepoint that my paternal grandmother made when she was pregnant with my Dad. It is 82 years old! With treasured heirlooms like this, I would want someone to keep their teaspoon in the saucer! ❀
    Diana xo

    1. Wow, what incredible memories that tablecloth must evoke. It’s amazing that you mother still an 82-year-old tablecloth with such an incredible history. I can almost picture a young woman working on her needlepoint while waiting for the baby to be born.

  2. I think good table manners are disappearing, but I think they’re just as important as ever. If we know how to “mind our manners,” we can fit into any situation without embarassment or discomfort. We may not set a formal table for Saturday lunch, but knowing how to do it is the point.

    We’re certainly being treated to “an absence of refinement of manners” in our political candidates just now. Coarseness isn’t especially appealing, at the table, or anywhere else. I think it’s interesting that she pointed to tact and kindness as the basis of good manners: not a set of rules, important as those are.

  3. A kindly consideration of others is as important today as it ever was. It’s not really about the way you hold your knife and fork; it’s consideration, backed by common sense.

    1. I agree – People with good manners have the skills needed to be comfortable in a wide range of social situations, and are good at putting others at ease.

  4. I think you’ve really honed in on the key point – the important role of tact and kindness. Courtesy and respect can instill a sense of self-confidence that makes people feel at ease in a variety of social situations.

    1. I agree– I also think that not everyone had good table manners back then, but my sense is that more people at least aspired to have them.

      1. Unfortunately, you are so right. The level and quality of aspirations deteriorated dramatically since then. Just to look at the “role models” from reality TV and such is enough to see how much… Sad.

  5. At least (back then) everybody ate at the table. These days it is in front of TV, in the car, walking down the street, or snatched between one busy moment and the next. If we could all return to the table, we could all be better off.

  6. I think the original writer and many of the comments have hit the nail on the head. Thinking of the comfort of others is the essence of good manners. The detail of how to hold the soup spoon may not be quite as crucial.

  7. This brings back some memories! My mother taught us good table manners at dinner but my playful father was forever teasing her and doing the “wrong” thing, like showing up for dinner without a shirt on, or chasing his peas around the plate with a knife until one fell on the floor, leaving my sister and me laughing so much we could not catch our breaths. πŸ™‚

  8. I think good table manners have definitely declined, and that’s a shame. Because, as the article said, they are about being considerate and gracious to the others at the table. And that never goes out of style!

  9. I could, honestly, write for an hour on this, arguing both sides! But, in my heart, I think manners (table and other) are essential to a functioning society. It has to do with self-control, valuing others, and setting ourselves above our baser instincts. What makes manners “good” changes with time but the need for that self-control and consideration of others will never change.

  10. Well today we have smartwatches with ppl getting their texts and email on them. So I think manners and what they mean are very different today. In a world and in my job that is so connected with technology you can’t offended when someone quickly replies on their smartwatch or smartphone. Life is just different. πŸ™‚

    1. It is just different, but so much easier when we can quickly respond. Your comment makes me think about all the time we spent in English classes when I was a kid learning how to properly format a letter. πŸ™‚

  11. “The basis of all good manner is a kindly consideration of others.” I do not think this is old-fashioned in any way. People still like to be treated with kindness.

  12. I like the way they describe why table manners are so important -out of consideration for others. Plain and simple. Wonder what they’d have said about cell phones at the table😟

    1. hmm. . . I think they’d be appalled. Your comment made me think about how much technology has changed the world and how we interact with one another.

  13. Totally agree with all of the above! Especially: cell phones at table (during a meal) are an abomination. Have read where some hostesses at home are now asking everyone to put their device in a common basket until after the meal and conversation. I sometimes feel when everyone is looking at their phones that they are not interested in their company! If you ask, they say they need to keep up. I think we all need to slow down.

    1. I really like the idea of asking people to put their device in a basket during the meal. It would help create conditions conducive to good conversation.

  14. Manners may or may not be out in left field. BUT the truth is before you are hired in many positions there is the out to lunch or dinner invitation. If you pass the table manners test and all the other requirements preceding it, you are in!!

    1. I’ve heard that students in MBA programs sometimes have dinners where they practice social etiquette to prepare for any meals that might be part of interview process.

  15. I think just being polite is the best rule, but I find it interesting how table manners differ between countries. For example, which way to lay the fork and knife across the plate to show you’re finished can sometimes be controversial.

    1. It is interesting how much variation there is to the “rules” from one county to another. There have also been lots of changes over time. I want to think that being considerate and polite is more important than following specific arcane rules.

  16. I believe its called ‘sweating the small stuff’. As a child I remember marvelling at the obsessive need for dining niceties – especially the apparently vital necessity to scoop the soup in the direction of a far horizon. Why, oh Lord? Why?

    1. I had soup for dinner tonight, and I think that I moved the spoon in the opposite direction from what is “correct.” . . . Sigh . . . I agree that it is not worth sweating the small stuff.

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