“Keep Your Fork; We’re Having Pie” and Other Social No-No’s

by Elaine Cannon

Associate Editor

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    Have you ever sat staring at a frightening array of silverware and wondered which fork to use when? Have you fingered the bill following a restaurant meal and performed mental gymnastics with the problem of tipping? Being surrounded by friends and strangers, does panic seize your soul when introductions are expected?

    Familiarizing yourself with the rules of etiquette keeps you from getting caught in embarrassing traps. Etiquette is the name for social semaphores—those guides that keep social traffic moving smoothly. Life is more pleasant, feelings less ruffled, situations less trying when people abide by the standards of behavior suggested out of experience and based upon the Golden Rule.

    Eating out, introductions, and the ins and outs of buildings and coats become simplified when you think about treating others as you’d like to be treated, instead of just memorizing rules of etiquette.

    Table Tips

    1. Silverware is placed on either side of the plate according to the order in which it is expected to be used. Start from the outside and work in as the courses of the dinner progress. When in doubt, watch your hostess to see if she uses a spoon or a fork.

    2. Girls, always remember when you are entertaining to set your own table according to what you’ll be serving for which course. If you are serving salad first, the salad fork goes outside the larger dinner fork. If dessert is pie, another fork goes next to the plate, or a clean fork is brought in with the dessert. Never, never, never say, “Keep your fork; we’re having pie.”

    3. The knife and fork are placed parallel across the plate when you have finished eating. This is a signal known to waiters and hostesses the world over that you are finished, whether there is food left on the plate or not. And for removal of dishes, silverware needs to be safely balanced.

    4. A spoon should never be left in a parfait or sundae dish, soup bowl, or cereal saucer. Place it on the plate underneath when you aren’t eating and when you have finished.

    5. Use your napkin frequently and without great flourish. After all, you are not flagging the nearest bull or staking a claim on the moon.

    6. Bread is broken, a bite-size piece at a time, then buttered. It is ill-mannered to place a whole slice on the table and butter it. It soils the cloth and is too large to handle.

    7. Goblets and glasses are set to the right of the plate near the knife tip. Avoid calamity by grasping the goblet firmly but lightly around the cup, lifting it carefully so as not to knock the stem or the base against the plate edge or the knife. Be sure to place it carefully back in its original place near the knife when you finish sipping (as differentiated from gulping) your drink. They say there is no sense in crying over spilled milk, but there is little reason for spilling it in the first place if you’ve kept it out of the way.

    8. Small bites of food, cut as you intend to eat them and not all at once, should be chewed with the mouth closed. People across the table find it disturbing to watch someone chew with his mouth open, make chaos of his plate, or grab his utensils awkwardly, childlike.

    9. In fine eating places, waiters expect a woman to be a lady and to talk only to those she knows. Since she does not know the waiter, custom suggests that a lady give her order to her gentleman escort, and he places the order with the waiter. Often a thoughtful host will suggest an item or two from the menu for her consideration.

    10. The same care should be used during informal eating. Finger foods such as chicken legs, corn on the cob, sandwiches, tacos, and pizza are eaten with one hand only. The napkin must be used frequently and finger licking is unforgivable.

    Telephone Tactics

    1. When calling on the phone, always give your full name, unless you are absolutely positive the person you are calling only knows one person with your first name. This is being thoughtful of your unseen telephone partner and avoids embarrassing moments of mistaken identity and confusing conversation.

    2. Answering the phone should be considered an important behavioral skill at anyone’s home or office. Your best voice, your friendliest tone, your most helpful attitude should be used. Use phrases like, “I’m sorry, Mother isn’t home; may I take a message? “Could I have Dad return your call in a few minutes? He is unable to come to the phone at the moment.” “Thank you so much for calling.” “It’s great that you can go with me Friday; I’ll call later about the time.” And very importantly, “Are you too busy to talk with me right now?”

    3. Never ask a girl, “Are you busy Friday night?” She isn’t likely to tell you. Instead, describe what you have in mind for a certain occasion (who’s going where, etc.) and ask her if she would like to go with you. Now she can make a choice based on knowledge rather than hemming and hawing about indecision.

    4. The phone is an important instrument of our society. It is not a toy. Anyone using it as such is childish.

    Dating Data

    1. In dating situations, boys call girls. Boys pay the bills. Girls wait—for the invitation and while the boys pay … usually! Today’s high cost of dating and informal life style permits more pay-your-own-way dating than other generations have known. It is on a prearranged basis between very good friends, however.

    2. A boy assists a girl with her coat, car doors, down dark theater aisles, and over stormy paths. He protects, helps, and delights. A girl gives him every opportunity to treat her like a lady, and in return she is appreciative, thankful, grateful—and flexible to his plans. He neither expects nor demands (she neither succumbs nor initiates) a display of affection as payment for an evening together.

    3. As in any social togetherness, each has the responsibility for making things pleasant, stimulating, and memorable. Though planning and behavior might be casual, they should never be careless.

    4. Especially on a first date, it is thoughtful for a girl to be ready and waiting so that she can meet the boy at the door and introduce him to her family. As they leave, the boy says, “I am happy to have met you” to her parents and adds (filling in the proper time, of course!), “I’ll have her home about 11:30. Is that all right?”

    5. In finding a seat in a theater or a table in a cafe, the girl follows the usher or maitre d’. If there is no one to show the way, the boy leads out and the girl follows, answering his question of where she’d like to sit. He then helps her sit down. If she leaves the table for a moment, he stands, out of respect.

    6. When a girl approaches a door, she checks the location of the knob and steps out of the way so the boy can open the door without blacking her eye. He holds the door so she may go through first, unless it is an unusually wide or heavy plate glass door that is difficult to hold with one hand; then it seems sensible that a boy push the door and go through first to hold it so she can safely pass.


    The matter of introductions is one of the best examples of gospel principles in action in the social world. Instead of memorizing rules, memorize feelings:

    1. Honor your father and mother. Say their names first and then the names of all those who are being introduced.

    2. Honor the girl you are taking out. Say her name first and then the names of those you want her to meet.

    3. Honor the special guest, the General Authority, the mission president, the bishop, the boss, an important person in your life. Say his name first and then others.

    4. It is nice to add an item of interest about those who are being introduced. It gives them something to talk about.

    5. When you are being introduced, listen to the name and reply, “How do you do, So-and-so,” or “Hello, So-and-so,” or give a sincere expression of how happy you are to meet him—if you are!

    6. Smile! Look people directly in the eye. A firm handshake and not an arm pump or a wet sponge is best. A woman may offer her hand to a man, especially in her own home or in a church setting. Boys and men always shake hands with each other. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.

    Social skills aren’t something one is born with. They must be learned anew by each generation and modified only as need and changing times dictate. Treating each other graciously, eating with care, and behaving with good taste in public are marks of a refined person in any generation and certainly should be part of the life-style of a Latter-day Saint.

    An Idea on How to Practice What Is Preached

    An interesting way to practice what is preached about etiquette was discovered by the youth of the Murray Third Ward in Utah. An evening’s lesson on social awareness was given to Laurels and Explorers. A week later a full-scale formal dinner was hosted by MIA leaders and the bishopric. In a lovely home a long table was covered with fine linen, and crystal, silverware, and complete china settings were laid. Guests came in their party best. Boys had called the girls on the telephone properly for the date. Boys attended to the girls’ needs and even gave their “orders” to the waiters (members of the bishopric!). At the end of the evening each was warmly appreciative, seeking the hosts out to express thanks. (An extra touch of niceness is a note of thanks the following day.)

    It was such a successful event that now everyone is wondering what they can learn next that they can put into practice with as much fun.

    Illustrated by Peggy Hawkins, Phyllis Luch

    Photos by Don Blair