Good manners are hard to find these days. Gone are the times when couples used to enjoy a quiet, romantic dinner and families surrounded the table while sharing stories from their work or school day – with no interruptions.
Now, we are in the digital age. Our smartphones and other technological paraphernalia have taken center stage. We are lost in a textual world. You’re probably guilty of looking at your phone while dining and not paying attention to your friends or family members. Admittedly, I am guilty as well.
I met with two women who feel they can change your dining habits from downright disgraceful into practices that Queen Elizabeth would have at her table, dining with Prince William and Duchess Kate.
Dr. Martha Gabriel (or Dr. Etiquette), an educator to gifted students at Fort Bragg, immersed herself in a weeklong intensive program at the Washington School of Protocol and Etiquette in Portsmouth, Maine nearly 10 years ago. She has been the epitome of manners in practice ever since. While attending, she learned how to properly set a lovely table (her dining room table is exquisite), give the perfect handshake and write the most gracious thank you note among other lessons. She also conducts etiquette camps when given the opportunity and in the past has taught table manners to the Cumberland County Schools Academy of Scholars. Though Dr. Gabriel views herself as possessing excellent etiquette skills, she’d never put someone else down whose dining habits were not up-to-par. “Now that’s just BAD manners!” she exclaimed.
Over at Highland Country Club, a “manner maven” is in residence. From her flaxen hair and smooth polite way of speaking, right down to her perfectly put together ensemble, Betsy Abbott may just be Emily Post reincarnated - southern style. Mrs. Abbott is the leader of the National League of Junior Cotillions - Cumberland County Chapter. Every year beginning in September she conducts a series of etiquette classes designed for 6th, 7th and 8th graders concluding in the spring with a grand formal dinner and ball. Even though the Cotillion is for children, mothers are known to put in special requests. “Can I send my husband?” is the most common order. “It never fails, someone asks every year,” Abbott joked.
Joking aside, our experts agree with my previous notion that cell phones are the biggest dining disturbance in today’s world. “The biggest violation I see is people putting their cell phone on the table. They are texting when they are supposed to be enjoying the company of others or pulling up Facebook and showing them a silly status,” said Abbott disapprovingly. Still, Dr. Gabriel understands the grey area when it comes to cell phones. Not everything is black and white. “If you are expecting an important call, have it on vibrate in your pocket or purse,” she suggested.
Most fine dining restaurants have new policies that include only using cell phones outside. Though you probably won’t see this in practice at your neighborhood fast-food joint, you just might at somewhere like Haymount’s Hilltop House. “Everything has to do with the tone of the restaurant,” noted Abbott. She added, “Obviously I can’t go to dinner and enjoy myself because I’m so busy noticing things…doing what I do I just can’t help it!”
When you’re out and about in our city’s restaurant scene and you notice diners not putting their napkin in their laps, being discourteous to servers, gabbing on their cell phones or smacking on gum- don't reprimand them. The best thing to do is to keep practicing your own good manners.
TIPS FOR DINING SUCCESS
• • Always show respect to who you are with. Focus on them, not your phone.
• • Avoid electronics at all costs.
• • Remember, liquids on the right, bread on the left
• • Always place your napkin in your seat if you leave the table. If you're absolutely done with your meal, your napkin can then go on the table.
• • Always show courtesy to servers. Ask "May I?" instead of "Can I?"
• • Ask people to pass instead of reaching across the table. Always pass to the right.
• • Never, ever chew gum at the table.