Etiquette expert reacts to new rules of dining out as table manners in decline

Mid adult woman using smart phone while her husband is frustrated at the restaurant.
Mobile phones at the dinner table are usually considered poor manners. (Getty Images)

Do elbows on the table at dinner bother you? What about loud chewing or people who don’t wait for everyone’s food to arrive before they start tucking into their own plate? These habits were once considered to make for terrible dining companions, but new research has found that more than half of Brits think table manners are a thing of the past.

A survey by restaurant group Prezzo has revealed that Britons are becoming much more casual when eating out, especially Gen Z diners. More than half of Gen Z (60%) believe that traditional table manners are no longer relevant.

Among this younger generation, over three-quarters (77%) don’t care if people put their elbows on the table, while 60% aren’t bothered by which way round people hold their knife and fork.

More than a third (38%) admitted that they use their phones at the table, too. The rest of the nation is also dismissing certain table manners, with 32% admitting that they never worry about their table manners in a restaurant.

However, despite the blasé approach to dining etiquette, more than half of Brits surveyed admitted that they have been recently unhappy with their fellow diners’ table manners.

Close-up on a woman eating salmon for dinner at a restaurant – food and drink concepts
Research shows that diners are much less bothered about the way people hold their knives and forks while eating out. (Getty Images)

While more people might feel less self-conscious about their own behaviour at the table, the survey reveals that many still want a potential romantic partner to show politeness. Half (49%) admitted they would not consider dating someone with poor table etiquette.

Some of the biggest turn-offs Brits have when dining out include chewing loudly (48%), picking food off other people’s plates without asking (37%), and using a mobile phone at the table (37%).

Why have table manners become more casual?

Noël Wolf, cultural expert at Babbel, tells Yahoo UK that how closely we adhere to formal dining etiquettes really depends on the situation that we’re in.

Having a meal at home with family is much more of a casual affair compared to a first date in a fancy restaurant, for example. She adds that people are more likely to opt for fast food, quick meals, or eating-on-the-go to keep up with our fast-paced lives - these food choices mean that we “prioritise efficiency over formal table manners”, which could contribute to the decline in traditional etiquette.

She also notes that table manners vary from culture to culture. As our society becomes more diverse, people are becoming more used to different customs when it comes to dining, Wolf says.

“For example, whilst Brits are happy to sprinkle a bit of extra salt on their dinner, in Egypt and Portugal this could be seen as a rude gesture, suggesting the chef inadequately seasoned your food.

“And whilst Brits tend to stick to their own meals and may frown on someone trying to sneak a bite from someone else’s dinner, places such as India or Thailand celebrate and enjoy eating food ‘family style’ where the whole group shares food together.

“The importance of table manners - and what the expectations are - is contextual and can vary depending on the dining setting, culture and company. The main thing is to be respectful and considerate of other diners.”

The new rules of dining

Although Prezzo’s research might suggest people are becoming less careful with their table manners, there are still rules to follow to ensure everyone has a pleasant experience while dining out. Some of these rules are more modern.

In particular, manners surrounding mobile phones have become increasingly important. “Despite the fact that many of us have openly admitted to using our mobile phone during a meal, it’s generally understood that their use at the table should be restricted,” Wolf says.

“Taking a quick snapshot of your food before digging in is usually harmless, though sometimes fellow diners might find this annoying.

“But engaging in phone calls or scrolling through TikTok should be avoided. Since our phones often tether us to constant online communication, dining experiences - especially when dining out - serve as opportunities to disconnect and enjoy quality time with companions.”

The boom in diverse restaurants in the UK is also an area in which new dining etiquettes may come into play. As Brits enjoy exploring different cuisines more than ever, it’s important to keep in mind the different etiquette that is associated with different utensils.

Close up of woman enjoying freshly served traditional Japanese seafood donburi with chopsticks in a restaurant
It's important to be aware of dining etiquette that varies from culture to culture. (Getty Images)

“For example, in East Asian countries like Korea, Japan, China and Vietnam, it is important never to leave chopsticks sticking out of a bowl of rice, as this is considered bad luck,” Wolf notes.

According to Prezzo, there are also still some traditional rules that should be followed. The research shows that the rudest things people can do while having a meal in a restaurant include talking with food in your mouth (54%), snapping your fingers at servers (51%) and being overly loud (50%).

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