In order to touch on all of the important points pertaining to table manners, let's go through a typical meal that you might be served in a person's home. After introductions have been made, you will probably be invited to sit down in the living room for refreshments or hors d'oeuvres with the host and other guests while the hostess attends to final preparations for the meal.
When the hostess announces that dinner is served, the gentlemen rise and follow the ladies into the dining room. If the hostess has assigned you to a dinner partner in advance, go to your dinner partner and offer to escort her/him to the table. Note that a female cadet is a lady and deserves all courtesies rendered by a gentleman.
- If place cards are used, finding your dinner partner's place and your own will be a simple matter of walking around the table until you find them. If place cards are not used, wait for your hostess to tell you where she wants you and your dinner partner to sit.
Place cards or not, your dinner partner is to your right for gentlemen. Your dinner partner is specially deserving of your attention, however a guest will also want to display a friendly, courteous attitude toward others at the table.
- A gentleman does not sit until all the ladies are seated. He helps with the seating by holding the chair, first for his dinner partner, then for other ladies near him if, by chance, the ladies outnumber the men. He does this by pulling out the lady's chair from the table far enough for her to move easily in front of it.
Then, as the lady starts to sit down, he gently pushes the chair under her until she is seated. When all the ladies are seated, he may then take his own seat, always going around the left side of the chair to get in.
- Pick up your napkin and partially unfold it in your lap. Do this inconspicuously. Never unfold a dinner napkin completely, and never unfold it above the level of the table.
- The polite dinner guest will touch nothing on the table, not even the napkin, until after grace has been said or until it is obvious that there will be no blessing. It is an excellent idea to have in mind a simple blessing of your own. In some homes, the guest is invited to say grace.
- At a large dinner, you may find a vast array of utensils at your place. See Figure 1 and 2. If you are in doubt about the correct utensil to use, to avoid embarrassment the best procedure is to watch the hostess and follow her lead. A generally safe rule is to start from the outside and work toward the plate.
- When eating soup, the motion of the soupspoon should be away from you in filling the spoon. If it's necessary to tip your soup bowl, tip it away from you also. Never leave your soupspoon in the bowl; it belongs on the plate when not in use.
- If you are momentarily through using your knife and fork, place them together across the top of your plate, parallel to the edge of the table. When you are through with the meal, place them together, but across the center of your plate at a slight angle. Never allow the handles to slip down into the plate.
- Bread, rolls and large biscuits are always broken, not cut, into small pieces before being buttered, a piece at a time, and eaten. Buttering and eating a whole slice of bread is not the thing to do.
- Bread, rolls, biscuits, salted nuts; fresh fruit, olives, celery, radishes, raw carrots, cookies and small cakes may be eaten with the fingers. All these items belong on your plate and not on the tablecloth.
- Naturally, your posture at the table should be erect. Do not lean on the table with forearms or prop both elbows on the table. Between courses, one elbow, not both, may be leaned upon.
- If there are not servants helping serve the meal, it is very polite to offer to help the hostess in some way such as clearing the table or bringing in the dessert. She may refuse your offer, but she will be grateful for your thought regardless.
- At the completion of the meal the hostess will rise. This is the signal for all to rise. Guests may then go to the living room where coffee may be served.
- No guest should leave before the guest of honor, if there is one, unless the guest of honor is also a houseguest of the hostess. It is proper to leave a luncheon approximately fifteen to twenty minutes after the completion of the meal. This time may be extended slightly after dinners but rarely beyond a half-hour.
Cadets are always expected to leave social occasions in sufficient time to return to barracks by the required time. Should this necessitate their leaving before the guest of honor or immediately following dinner, the cadets are expected to explain this to the hostess and depart immediately.
When cadets make this departure, they should say goodbye to the guest of honor and to the senior officers present whom they may have met. Their last good-byes should be to their host, then to their hostess. All good-byes should be brief and cordial.
A thank you note to the hostess is required of you after accepting a meal either in a home or as a guest in a public restaurant or club. Your note should be sent promptly - within three days after the occasion.