While researching this subject, I found plenty of advice that will never be relevant to the majority of the western world's population unless we all start dining in Michelin-starred restaurants on a regular basis, such as the answer here to: Should a child stand or sit while the adults are being seated at the dining table? (Their answer: When at a dining table, a child should stand behind his/her chair until all the adults have been seated.) This is utter nonsense for today, unless in upper class society, but there are simple rules that are useful to us all.
Whether it's dinner at a friend's house, a booking at a restaurant or the family evening meal, be there when you should be.
Try to wait for everyone to have been served before starting your meal.
What To Use
If the array of cutlery, plates and glasses on the table looks confusing, don't worry. The best restaurants would never make you feel uncomfortable for being unsure and should guide you while serving. The general rule is "outside in" so the smaller knife and fork on the outside are for your starter and the larger cutlery nearer to your plate are for your main meal. On a busy table setting, the other rule is "eat to your left, drink to your right". The small plate on your left is for your bread and the glass to your right is for your drink.
Even if you don't like what has been presented, remember this has been prepared for you so you need to at least try it. Obviously this applies more to home meals or dinner parties as in a restaurant you can, of course, raise an issue, discreetly, if you have a problem.
Wherever you are, loud slurping and burping is not on; nor is speaking with your mouth full as it's highly unpleasant to see the half-chewed contents of your mouth.
Don't leave the table before everyone has finished. No-one wants to be the last one left sitting at a dinner table on their own - whether it's at home or in a restaurant. This is a tough one to get kids to follow but it's worth it as it means those who have finished can talk together and relax without dashing off to their next task. Dinner parties are supposed to be a social occasion so the conversation is just as important as the food.
Say Thank You
Always make a point of thanking the host at the end of a meal. Given the choice, you may have wanted a different meal but don't be cruel.
This site has some interesting tips that most of us won't be aware of such as in Asia you use the small end of a chopstick as your eating utensil (yes, you knew that), and the large end to serve others. I would never have thought about how to serve others with the same utensils.
I like the part about Europeans being somewhat stricter about dinner table etiquette than Americans and about holding the knife and fork throughout your meal. A neighbour was so surprised to see Americans eating with just a fork, and using the side as their cutting implement, back in the 1950s and never forgot it.
You may have noticed Muslims only use their right hand for eating and this is because the left hand is for dirty and impure things, including bathroom use, and the right hand is for eating, drinking and shaking hands. This is followed by those who are left-handed too.
Making mealtime less of a chore and more enjoyable for all has got to be a good thing so let's get back to using our manners more and enjoying the time together.