Invited to Eat Dinner? Manners for Children
Table Manners in Your Host's Home
I enjoy the company of children—polite children. No one likes a rude person whether she is young or old. One of the real tests of a child's etiquette is her behavior when eating at someone else's house. Vastly different from eating at a restaurant, being company in someone's home requires a different level of courtesy and manners.
Teach your children how to behave when they have been invited to eat a meal with friends.
Rule #1: Say What You Like and Don't Say What You Don't Like
This is a cardinal rule for being a guest. Speak freely about the foods you love, but don't breathe a word about the foods you don't like.
Children often have no filter on their words. If they take a bite of something new that is distasteful to them, they are likely to blurt out, "Yuck! I don't like it!" Retrain them to hold that thought in as they politely swallow down the food. It is human nature to take tasty foods for granted. But it will make your hosts very happy for a child to clearly express that a certain dish is delicious.
Encourage your child to say one positive thing about at least one dish the host made.
- "May I have more rice casserole? It's really good."
- "Wow, Mrs. Smith, this homemade bread is fantastic."
- "I've never had this kind of relish before, but I really like it."
Remind your child as you are traveling to the host's house that you expect him to say one positive thing about at least one food he is given. He is not to make any negative remarks. Later praise him for following your directions. However, the glowing smile from your host will probably be praise enough.
Rule #2: Take Small Portions at First
Teach your children that when they are the company in someone's home, they should not waste food. It is rude to your host and many people find it morally wrong. Even if you allow your child to throw away food at home, stress the importance of conserving food in someone else's home. It is a huge insult to the cook who bought the ingredients and lovingly prepared the food for you to pick at it and then throw it away (or leave it on your plate).
Instead, have your child take very small portions, even if it is a food he loves. Everyone's recipes are different. And there may be some ingredient that you are not aware of. If he eats his portion and loves it, he has a perfect opportunity to follow rule #1 as he politely asks for more. This is very polite and makes your host extremely pleased.
Explain it in terms a child can understand.
"What if you built a huge marble racetrack and invited me over to look at it and play with it. How would you feel if I took a big chunk of it and threw it in the trash?
Imagine you spent all day on a drawing. You really like how it turned out and invited me over to see it. But when I saw it, I said, 'Yuck. I don't like it.' Then I tore off a part of it and threw it on the ground before I walked away."
Then make the parallel to the foods the child will be offered. The host has worked hard on the meal just as you would work hard on a marble track or a drawing. It is hurtful to the cook to despise and waste their food. You can go further to explain that it is morally wrong to waste food when so many people in the world do not have enough to eat.
Set the Scene for Good Etiquette at the Table
The Height of Rudeness
What is most offensive to you as a host?
Rule #3: Remember, This is Not a Restaurant
Eating at someone's home is not the same as eating at a restaurant where you pay for the meal. Although it is okay to ask for lemon in your water at a restaurant, it is not okay to ask for that when you are a guest in someone's home. To ask for something your host has not offered makes the host feel inadequate.
Part of being a gracious guest is to gratefully accept what is offered to you. Teach your children the difference between being a customer in a restaurant and being a guest in someone's house.
Have children run their requests through you first by whispering quietly. There may be something on the table that the child can't see. But if ketchup is not served, it is rude to ask for it unless your host specifically says, "Is there anything else you need?" Then, and only then, is it okay to mention a condiment or food that your host has not put on the table.
Hosts often put children in a bad situation when they ask an open-ended question like, "What would you like to drink?" In that case, a child risks asking for something a host does not have or would have to make. A very polite answer would be to ask for water. Another polite response is to counter with, "What drinks do you have prepared?"
The Basics of Table Manners
- Say please and thank you.
- Ask for things rather than reaching.
- Don't slurp or eat with your mouth open. Eat quietly.
- Put your napkin in your lap.
- After you use it, put your knife on the edge of the plate instead of on the table.
Rule #4: Ask if You Can Help Clean Up
Help your child know how to deal with the end of the meal. You can teach your child the polite request to be excused from the table when he is done eating. Before leaving the table, it is polite to make an offer to help with clean up. Teach your child to use one of these questions:
- Mrs. Smith, would you like me to take my plate to the sink?
- Mrs. Smith, thank you for the meal. How can I help you clear the table?
It is best to ask rather than assume your host wants you to take the plate to the kitchen. More than likely, the host will not require any help, and you have shown yourself to be a very polite child! If the host does ask for help, it will be minimal. And your child has the satisfaction of repaying the host's trouble with a small act of kindness.
On your way home, debrief the meal experience. Praise polite behaviors, specifically mentioning what the child did and the host's positive reaction. Emphasize the host's pleasant feelings over the child's reputation. The point of manners is to be kind to others not to be perceived as a wonderful person.
If there were any fiascos, discuss how they could have been handled better. But do not berate your child unless he strictly disobeyed your directions. There is a myriad of situations that can arise when eating at someone's home, and a child has little experience for knowing how to deal with them. Every meal at a friend's home is another opportunity to practice etiquette and grow in kindness towards others.