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Food Culture: Dining Etiquette

Table Etiquette

Napkins are placed on the lap when diners take their seats, and groups typically wait until every person is served before starting to eat. It is common to rest one or both hands in one’s lap between courses and bites of food, and it is considered rude to place one’s elbows on the table. Diners typically eat in the American style, holding the fork in the left hand while using the knife to cut single or multiple bite-size pieces with the right hand, then laying down the knife and moving the fork from the left hand to the right hand to bring food to one’s mouth. Many foods are eaten with either one or both hands. These foods often have bread components—such as sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza—but also include other firm foods—like chicken wings, crudités, and sliced fruit, many of which are dipped in sauces.

Social Dimension of Dining

People in the United States tend to value punctuality, and guests arrive before or at the appointed time for social gatherings and restaurant reservations. Meals are typically short, centered on the food rather than on conversation. It is generally appropriate to discuss business at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, though some meetings are geared more toward relationship-building than negotiation of finer details. Many households in the United States eat separately and do not gather together for sit-down meals on a regular basis. 

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