Dining etiquette rules you’ve probably broken

Jo Romero

We all know that we shouldn't talk with our mouth full or rest our elbows on the table. But have you ever ordered a cappuccino after lunch? Or sipped on a glass of red wine while eating fish? Check out these dining etiquette rules we've probably all broken.

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Ordering a cappuccino after noon
You might think nothing of ordering this frothy, milky, cocoa-dusted coffee after lunch, but for some people, it just shouldn't be done. Particularly in Italy, it's thought that drinking such a milky drink after lunch will slow down your digestion system.

"You simply shouldn't have that amount of milk in your stomach after lunch in the same way you really shouldn't drink orange juice in the evening," Dylan Jones, editor of GQ magazine wrote in The Independent in 2010.

Cappuccinos are generally thought of as a breakfast drink. But let's face it: if you fancy one at two in the afternoon, no one's really going to stop you.

Eating from the wrong side of a spoon
"A spoon is held in the right hand, resting on the fingers and secured with the thumb and index finger," say Debretts, a leading authority on etiquette.

"Food should be eaten off the side of the spoon; it should never be used at a right angle to the mouth."

And no licking the spoon to get the last of that chocolate mousse, either. This rule is probably not one to worry about too much at home, but if you're ever invited to the palace for tea, don't say I didn't warn you.

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Salt and pepper travel together
Common dining etiquette states that if you ask for the salt, you should also be passed the pepper. It might be for the best; at least it keeps them together at the table so everyone knows where they are, and also prevents that annoying situation when someone asks first for the salt and then five seconds later for the pepper. But how many of us even know about this, let alone do this when we eat?

Spreading jam on your scone before the cream
The proper way to assemble a cream tea is hotly debated in Devon and Cornwall. In Cornwall, the jam is spread first, and then topped with clotted cream. In Devon, the cream goes on first followed by the jam.

Whichever way you do it, tradition is tradition: when in Rome, do as the Romans do; and when in Devon or Cornwall, make sure you spread the jam and cream on your scone in the right order.

Sprinkling cheese over seafood and fish
In an Italian restaurant, when ordering a seafood pasta dish, you might notice that you're not offered any Parmesan for sprinkling. This isn't personal — it's just that many people — not just Italians - believe that fish and seafood shouldn't be eaten with cheese.

But then, anchovies are draped onto mozzarella-laden pizzas and seafood lasagnes are filled with prawns and scallops yet topped with cheese.

The problem seems to come from the fact that a thick, cheesy sauce can mask the delicate flavours and textures of a fresh, perfectly cooked fillet of fish. But then again, anyone who has eaten a good, cheesy fish pie or Parmesan-topped seafood gratin could argue differently.

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Drinking red wine with fish or seafood
There's a bit more to this one than just plain etiquette. In 2009, scientists in Japan discovered that sipping on certain varieties of red wine while eating seafood or fish can give the meal a stronger, 'fishy' flavour.

It's all down to iron levels, which are higher in red wines than in whites.

However, don't abandon reds and switch to white wines completely — some varieties, particularly light-bodied reds or rosé wines, can work well with fish.

Try a glass of red with a tuna steak or grilled salmon, or cook seafood — such as squid or cuttlefish - in red wine.

But at the end of the day, it's all down to personal taste: if you fancy a glass of Chianti with your prawn linguine, it's up to you. Isn't it?

Come on, admit it. Have you committed any of these food faux pas? And does it really matter?