Read CHAPTER VIII - A CODE OF TABLE MANNERS of The Complete Bachelor Manners for Men , free online book, by Walter Germain, on

Many of the cautions contained in this chapter will seem elementary in their nature. But one expects in a book of this kind to see the old familiar “don’ts,” and their absence would perhaps deter from the usefulness of The Complete Bachelor. I would, however, suggest a careful study of that clever brochure, entitled Don’t, which would refresh the memory on many points not within the scope of this work. It is really quite surprising to see how few men have perfect table manners. The American is unfortunately too often in a hurry. He bolts his food. He is a victim of the “quick-lunch” system. Again, a bachelor eating a solitary meal at a club or a restaurant is apt from sheer loneliness to try and dispose of it as rapidly as possible. Drill yourself into eating leisurely. Persons of refinement take only small morsels at a time. One can not be too dainty at table. To attempt to talk while your mouth is full is another vulgarity upon which it is needless to dwell. The French have made us the reproach that we frequently drink while our mouths are in this condition. I fear there is some foundation for this accusation. Wipe your mouth carefully before putting a glass to your lips. Grease stains around the edge of a goblet or wineglass are silent but telltale witnesses of careless habits.

The napkin is an embarrassing article to many men. Its place is on the lap and not tucked into the shirt bosom or festooned around the neck. When one arises from the table, the napkin is thrown carelessly on it, unfolded. The days of napkin rings are over.

Nervous and bashful persons fidget, they do not sit squarely or firmly at table, their chairs are crooked, they play or gesticulate with their knives and forks, or they beat dismal tattoos with them against their plates. These same timid minds find vent for inspiration in the crumbs of the bread, of which they involuntarily make little figures or small round balls. The economist, another person on the list, plasters his food, taking a bit of potato, a little tomato, and a good-sized square of meat as a foundation, and spreading these tidbits one on the other, prepares of them a delectable poultice which he swallows at a mouthful. I pass over the man who leaves traces of each meal on his shirt or his clothes. Such a being, I have no doubt, would convey food to his mouth with his knife, would blow on his soup, tea, or coffee with the idea of cooling it, or would pour the two latter cheering fluids into a saucer and drink them therefrom.

The caution to keep one’s hands above the cloth and one’s elbows out of reach of others, also falls under the head of kindergarten classification. The ridiculous idea prevailing that one must not eat until others are served has passed away with many old-time fallacies. One commences to eat as soon as served. You need not proceed very actively, but you can take up your fork or spoon, as the case may be, and make at least a feint at it.

Toasts have also fallen into “desuetude” at private dinners. Sometimes you will find an old-fashioned host who will, on touching his glass with his lips, bow to his guests, and they may wait for this signal to sip their wine, but the custom is utterly obsolete in large cities and at formal dinners.

When you have finished the course, lay your knife and fork side by side on your plate, the prongs of the fork upward. Do not cross them. No whistlike signals are needed to-day to signify that you have had sufficient to eat.

Dinners are generally served a la Russe that is, from the sideboard, and the dishes are passed around by the servants on silver trays. Very large plats, such as roasts and fish, are sometimes carried without the trays. On all occasions of ceremony the men servants are gloved.

Carving at table is but little seen except at very informal dinners and in the country, where sometimes the master of the house shows off this old-fashioned accomplishment, especially if he has a dining room in colonial style and wishes to have everything in keeping.

The question of second helpings is therefore not one of moment. The servants pass the viands twice or more around. If a host or hostess serves at table, he or she will ask the guests whether they would like a second helping. It is never demanded. Except when absolutely necessary the handkerchief should be kept out of sight. It can be used in case there should be some sudden irritation of the skin, but to blow one’s nose at table is disgusting.

The American bachelor takes usually a very light first meal. It consists of tea, coffee, or cocoa, toast, eggs, oatmeal, and fruit. There are yet a few men who go in for the old-fashioned hearty breakfast with beefsteak, buckwheat cakes, and trimmings, but in cities the lighter meal is preferable. All this is, of course, more a matter of environment and hygiene than etiquette. I have compiled a list of certain viands, which society does require should be eaten at a special meal and in only one manner. With this catalogue I will close this chapter.


Eggs. It is much better form to have egg cups than egg glasses for boiled eggs. Cut the top of the egg off with a dexterous blow of a sharp knife and eat it in the shell with a small egg spoon.

Sugar. Lump sugar if served is always taken with the sugar tongs.

Butter. Butter is only served at breakfast or luncheon. It is passed around in a silver dish, with a little silver pick with which to spear it. Butter plates i. e., the small round silver or china affairs have given place to bread and butter plates, which are of china and are somewhat larger than an ordinary saucer. The butter plate of a few years ago was never seen outside of America, and is now destined to vanish from our tables. It is needless to add that butter is never served at dinner.

Radishes. Radishes appear at luncheon. Put them on your bread and butter plate and eat them with a little salt.

Cantaloupes are served cut in half and filled with ice. They are eaten as a first course, a fork being better to eat them with than a spoon. Salt is the condiment to use with them, but sugar is allowable. In southern climates they are sometimes served at dinner as a separate course between the fish and roast. This is a Creole custom.

Grape fruit is served as a first course (vide chapter Diner-Out) at a late breakfast or luncheon. It is eaten with a spoon.


The menu of to-day is simple. It consists of oysters or clams, according to season, soup, fish, entree, roast and vegetables, game and salad, ices and dessert. Sorbets or frozen punches are not served, except at public banquets and hotel table-d’hotes.

Oysters or clams are placed on the table in plates for the purpose before dinner is announced. They are imbedded in ice and arranged around a half-sliced lemon, which is in the middle of the plate. Oysters or clams are eaten with a fork only. Gourmets say that they should not even be cut with it, and should be swallowed whole. I would not advise any one to try this with large oysters. The oyster fork is the first in the number of the implements placed beside your plate. Condiments, such as pepper and salt, will be passed you. Sauterne is served with oysters.

Oyster cocktails have been in vogue in place of oysters. These are a mixture of the bivalve with Tabasco sauce and vinegar, and they are said to be excellent appetizers. They are eaten with a small fork from cocktail glasses. Bachelors frequently serve them in place of oysters.

Soup. At large and formal dinners a clear soup is in vogue. Your soup spoon will be on the knife side of your plate. Soup is eaten from the side and not from the end of the spoon. The motion of the hand guiding the spoon is toward and not from you. Take soup in small spoonfuls, and use your napkin in wiping your mouth and mustache after each, especially if the soup is thick or a puree. This will avoid the dripping of that liquid from your upper lip. Never after this operation throw your napkin back into your lap with the greasy side toward your clothes, but use the inside of it for this purpose.

Fish is eaten with a silver fish fork. Chasing morsels of fish around your plate with bits of bread is obsolete. Silver fish knives have been put in use, but they are not generally the vogue.

Cucumbers are served with fish on the same plate. Little plates or saucers for cucumbers, vegetables, or salads are bad form.

Sherry is served with fish.

Celery, olives, and salted almonds are placed on the table in small dishes. Sometimes the guests are asked to help themselves, but at formal dinners they are passed around after the fish. Celery is eaten with the fingers and dipped in a little salt placed on the tablecloth or on the edge of your plate. It is also served as an entree raw, the stalks stuffed with Parmesan cheese. It should then be eaten with a fork.

Entrees require a fork only. Among these are patties, rissoles, croquettes, and sweetbreads.

Mushrooms are eaten with a fork, and served as a separate course in lieu of an entree.

Terrapin is served sometimes in little silver saucepans either as an entree or as fish, and again in a chafing dish, and sometimes with salad. It is more of a supper than a dinner plat, and should be eaten with a fork.

Asparagus is eaten, except in the intimate privacy of your own family circle, with a fork. Cut the points off with the end of the prongs. The stalk or white part is not eaten. It is allowable to eat it with your fingers, as I have said, in private. It is served after the roast as a special course. One can not drink champagne with asparagus except at the risk of a severe headache.

Artichokes are served as a separate course after the roast. They should be placed in the center of your plate and the inside tips of the leaves alone eaten. The leaves are removed with the fingers and dipped in salt, sauce vinaigrette, or melted butter. The center of the artichoke is called the heart. The hairy part is removed with the fork, and the heart itself, which is deliciously tender, is conveyed to the mouth with the fork.

Champagne is served in small tumblers or claret glasses. The champagne stem glasses are out of fashion. The dry may be served from the fish to the close of dinner, but the old rule was to give it with the roast, claret with the entree, and Burgundy with the game.

Salad is eaten with a fork only. In cutting game or poultry, the bone of either wing or leg should not be touched with the fingers, but the meat cut close off. It is better to sever the wing at the joint.

Savories, a species of salt fish and cheese sandwich, is served in England hot, about the end of dinner. They should be eaten with a fork. Undressed salad is sometimes served with them, or radishes, butter, and cheese. This is the only occasion when one sees butter on a dinner table, and this at informal dinners. The salad undressed can be eaten with the fingers. At bachelor dinners and at luncheons cheese is served with salad. The French soft cheeses are the favorites.

Pastry, ices, and desserts are eaten with a fork.

Fruit, such as peaches, pears, and apples, are served frequently already pared. When this is the case, finger bowls are dispensed with, but as yet this is not a general rule. Usually at dessert there is placed before you a finger glass and doily and a dessert plate, with the dessert knife and fork on either side. Remove the glass and doily; put it in front of your plate a little to the right. Fruit must be pared or peeled with a silver knife.

Strawberries are now served with the stems on, and sugar and cream are passed around and are taken on your dessert plate.

Pineapples are eaten with a fork. A cracker is used for nuts, and silver picks are brought in with the dessert.

Corn on the cob is a favorite at small informal dinners as a separate course. In polite society you must remove the grains of the corn with your fork or your knife and fork, and never eat it off the cob holding the end with your fingers. By holding one end with your napkin, you can plow down the furrow of the grains with your fork, and you will find that they will fall off easily. Corn is always served, when given in this style, on a white napkin. You help yourself to the ear with your fingers.

Macaroni and spaghetti should only be eaten with a fork. In New Orleans boiled shrimps are often served at small dinners. The skins and heads are on, and you remove these with your fingers. After this course finger bowls with orange leaves are passed around, and the perfume of the water will remove the odor of fish from your fingers.

Black coffee is served after dinner. Milk or cream does not accompany it, except in the country, where sometimes a little silver pitcher of cream is placed on the tray. Coffee is drunk from small cups. Coffee and milk are never served during dinner, nor again is iced milk. These are barbarisms. Chartreuse, kuemmel, curacoa, and cognac are the liqueurs usually served after dinner.

Claret, in many French families, especially those of the middle class, is placed on the table in decanters. You are expected to help yourself. There are also carafons or decanters of water to mix with the wine. The claret decanters are called carafes. Claret is drunk at the twelve o’clock dejeuner as well as at dinner.

Tea is passed around in old-fashioned English houses about an hour after dinner. In some places buttered muffins accompany it, but this extra refreshment is only seen now in very old-fashioned houses.

Scotch whisky and hot water or mineral waters are served in country houses before bedtime.