Table Manners: How to Behave in the Modern World and Why Bother

Image of Table Manners: How to Behave in the Modern World and Why Bother
Release Date: 
October 17, 2016
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by: 

There is a reason that world renowned chefs like Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain are singing the praises of Table Manners: How to Behave in the Modern World and Why Bother—because the book is absolutely delightful from beginning to end. Learning about etiquette and table manners has never before been this much fun.

Jeremiah Tower, the book’s author, is a James Beard award-winning author who writes about social etiquette with wit and humor. He understands the changing world we live in, writing straightforwardly about how to deal with technology at the dinner table, and is not in any way stuffy when he addresses using your grandmother’s silver for fun and as an homage to the past. Tower’s take on etiquette is that it has developed to make everyone’s time together as enjoyable and effortless as possible, but should never be too confining. We have rules so we can relax with one another, not to stress us out.

Tower has many words of wisdom that can be summed up briefly with the idea that whatever dinner you are attending is not about you, so do your best to be a good guest. RSVP. Show up on time. Follow your host’s lead. And most important, unless eating something that might literally kill you, if you don’t care for an item being served, suck it up, buttercup, politely move your food around, and wait for the next course.

What are some of Tower’s pearls of wisdom? Here are eight gems from the book.

  • “when any behavior makes other people uncomfortable, it’s the behavior that needs to change, not the people.”
  • “I have found that when people approve of your table manners they think you know how to do everything else properly as well.”
  • “If you dig in for a taste of someone’s food without asking first, then that person had better be in love with you.”
  • “A lamb chop, no matter how petite, is not an hors d’oeuvre.”
  • “As for timing, the British custom of saying, ‘seven-thirty for eight’ is very clear. It means ‘Please don’t arrive before seven-thirty,’ and that guests can properly arrive up to a couple of minutes before eight, when the drinking stops and dinner is served.”
  • Names should be written on both the front and back side of place cards so the guest knows where to sit and those opposite him or her know the guest’s name even if they have not been introduced.
  • “Assume: Anyone not invited is not invited.” This includes kids, houseguests, and pets.
  • “The most important thing to know about manners is that they’re not about you. The more you think about those around you and the less you think about yourself, the more likely you are to behave well.”

Jeremiah Tower’s book Table Manners is an absolute treasure. Gift it to all your friends who enjoy throwing or going to dinner parties, your college-age kids, and any friends or family who have a tendency to hold up meals taking photos of every plate of food that is served. Start a campaign in your circle of influence to bring manners back to dinner, because getting together with friends and family for a wonderful meal and conversation can be one of the best experiences we can share, if we mind our manners.