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Louise Elerding: Dinner party foods ... fingers or forks?

You’ve Got Manners

Posted: July 22, 2009 10:36 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2009 4:30 a.m.

If you’ve been at a dinner party and did not know what utensil to use, or how to eat a particular food, then you know that awkward feeling of lacking confidence and feeling uncomfortable.

Hopefully there is someone at the table that you can take your lead from –that is usually the saving grace.

However, it’s nice to know the rules ahead of time – and then relax during the actual meal.  

Read on, and next time you are dining, you can be the person others look to for direction.

Here are some foods in question – items that are often difficult to handle, or that bring up the question of ‘ fingers or fork?’.

A good tip to remember is this: whenever in doubt – use a utensil, rather than your fingers.

Avocados:  If you’re given a half-avocado still in its skin, use your teaspoon.  If there are slices on your plate, time for the fork.

Artichokes: Each guest may have their own artichoke at their place setting, or one could be an appetizer, set out for everyone to share. Either way, begin by pulling 1 leaf off, dipping the  ‘base’ of it in the sauce, the pulling it gently between your teeth – leaving ¾ of that leaf to discard in a near-by plate or bowl. Your goal is to reach the ‘heart’. When all of the leaves are removed – there is the treat. Remove the fuzzy part with a knife, then cut the ‘heart’ into bite-size pieces with your fork. You may dip these small pieces into the sauce also.

Bacon:  Only in very casual settings will you pick up the bacon with your fingers. Most often you will use your fork.

Cake: Cake is eaten with a fork. If ice cream is served with it, you can use a spoon or a fork, and if cake is cut in small pieces, consider it finger-food.   

Caviar: This is placed on a cracker, bread or toast – using a knife.  Then add condiments, and eat – using your hands.
Chicken, quail, etc: Use a knife and fork, unless you are eating picnic style, and then fingers are fine. When in doubt, you can always ask the hostess which she prefers.

Corn on the cob: Like bread – butter only a small section, then eat it. Butter the next section, eat that, etc. Hold the cob with both hands.

Escargot: If they are served in the shell, use your very small seafood fork to lift the snail out of its shell.  If a ‘shell-holder’ is not provided you may need to use your fingers to steady the shell.

Grapefruit: If the half-grapefruit is served in its rind, it likely has been scored. If not, using your knife- make small dividing cuts, creating sections. Then use your spoon to pull out each section. No squeezing the fruit to gather juice at the end.    

Lemon wedges: The biggest challenge is to avoid squirting your neighbor with lemon juice. Squeeze the lemon with one hand, while shielding it with the other. You could use your fork to hold the wedge, then squeeze and shield with your other hand.  

Olives and cherries: If they are pitted, you may eat them whole. If the pits are in, place the fruit in your mouth, eat, and then use your spoon to take the pits out of your mouth, and quietly place them on the edge of your dish or salad plate.

Peaches: Cut the peach in sections with a knife, then eat these pieces with your fork.    

Pasta: This is always a dining-tester! Be ready. You only need to use your fork. Never cut your spaghetti with a knife. Instead, pull apart a few strands of the pasta, and spin them –twirl them around the tines of your fork. Then lift the fork to your mouth.

Pickles, radishes, celery: If there is a ‘pickle or condiment fork’ in the serving dish, use it. If not, that is the que that you can use your fingers. Place these items on your plate before taking them into your mouth.

Pineapple and watermelon: If this fruit is served in small pieces, use your spoon. If served in slices, use a fork.  For watermelon seeds, use your spoon to carry them out of your mouth, and onto the side of your plate.

Potatoes: Mashed potatoes will be eaten with a fork. A baked potato will also be eaten with a fork ( the inside), but if you wish to eat the skin, cut into small pieces with a knife, then lift the potato skin to your mouth with the fork. French fries can be cut into bite-size pieces with your fork or knife – and eaten with your fork.

Shrimp:  As an appetizer, they may be served with the tails still on. If so, use your fingers, dip them into the sauce, and eat them within one or two bites ( with no double-dipping back into the sauce dish). If you are seated at a dining table, and the shrimp are on your plate, use your knife and fork to cut, and the fork to eat them.

Strawberries: If their stems are attached, you are welcome to use your fingers. If there are no stems, then use your fork. If they are very large, use your fork to cut them in half.

Tangerines and oranges: These citrus fruits can be peeled and eaten with hands. If they are served on a plate in slices, use a fork.

As you take your seat at the dining table from now on, enjoy feeling at ease and confident about which utensils to use. Likely people will be looking in your direction to see what you’ll be enjoy being the resident dining expert.  

Louise Elerding, is a Manners, Etiquette, and Personal Appearance Coach, and the author of You’ve Got Manners! — an illustrated series of children’s books.

For information on Table Manners classes in the SCValley, and to submit questions for the “Ask Louise’ column, call 1-800-326-8953 or email Web site:



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