Continental Cuisine: A Lesson in European Dining Etiquette

PSOW Staff - Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Our esteemed president, Pamela Eyring, will be traveling to the Emerald Isle next month, where she will be presenting an interactive dining tutorial (You Planned the Meal and Now It’s Time to Eat) at the Protocol & Diplomacy International – Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA) Annual International Education Forum. From fork usage to toasts and advice for guests and hosts, Pamela’s visit to Ireland will include everything you ever needed to know about European (Continental) Dining Tips.

However, for those of us not lucky enough to make the trip to Dublin, we offer some tips on European style dining—including some specific Irish dining and toasting tips—that will make you feel absolutely continental.

The unfolding of the napkin: The history of the napkin dates back to ancient Greece when Spartans used lumps of dough to wipe their hands at the dinner table. Fortunately, we have evolved since that time, and at your next dinner party you will never have to guess when to pick up your own lump of…er…napkin. When you are seated at a dinner party, pause and look around at the other diners before picking up your napkin. Everyone in attendance should always take the host’s lead, as he or she will be the first to pick up a napkin. Then you and your dining companions can follow suit.

Elbows off, Hands On: You may move them forward and backward to convey food to the mouth and to manipulate the utensils but, elbows—along with your forearms—should never be placed on the table. In the Continental style, however, it is acceptable to rest the hands on the table from the wrists up.

Silverware: In the European/Continental style of dining, the English use the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. The French use just the fork in the right hand if the food is soft and can be cut with a fork.

Food is cut the same way in both the American and European/Continental styles. Hold the knife in your hand with your index finger on the handle, overlapping the blade no more than one inch. This is necessary because you need leverage for cutting. Hold the fork, prongs down, in your hand and cut only one piece at a time.

A fine cut of meat: When using a knife to cut meat, cut only one piece at a time. To secure the meat on the tines of the fork, put the blade underneath the piece of meat and twist your hand slightly. Left-handed persons may reverse the position. Bring the fork, tines down, to your mouth by twisting your wrist and raising your forearm slightly. The knife remains in your hand. A small amount of potatoes, rice, or vegetables may be placed on the tines of the fork with the meat.

If you are making a trip to Ireland, here are some specific dining tips that will make you eat—and drink—like a local.

Formal Meals: Dining etiquette in Ireland resembles that of the British. Formal meals often begin with soup or a starter dish. Meat dishes are usually served to each individual at the table, but vegetables are provided on one serving platter for the entire table, family style. You will most likely be offered second helpings of vegetables. At the end of each course, cutlery is left neatly on the plate, as opposed to beside the plate.

Business Dinners or Lunch: In Ireland, business lunches are preferred to dinners. Dinners tend to be more social, and spouses/partners are often included. Dining in restaurants is also a popular way of socializing with business associates.

A wee bit of small talk: If you’re invited to a business dinner, remember that the Irish will want to get to know you before doing business with you, and initial meetings may begin with a period of small talk. In addition, if you are invited to dinner by an Irish counterpart, conversation will probably be more personal than corporate. So relax, break some bread and enjoy the company of your new Irish colleagues. (And also, remember that restaurant food servers tend to be friendly, and chatting with them throughout a meal is common and appropriate.)

Pub crawl: If you are invited for drinks, remember that pubs are the center of Irish social life, and many even allow for socializing in the evening with children in tow. Remember that while the Irish attitude toward drinking is more tolerant than in some other countries, drunk driving is illegal here as in most parts of the world.

To Your Health: Toasting is common in Irish pubs and at dinner. The host usually initiates the first toast, and it is considered polite to propose a toast in return. A common Irish toast is sláinte, pronounced "SLAWN-cha"; roughly translated, "to your health." And if the party goes on a bit, remember that it’s considered good form to take turns buying a round of drinks for everyone in the party.

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