Human nature is so susceptible to
externals, while good digestion is so dependent upon
interior conditions, that all the accessories of pleasant
surroundings neatness, cheeriness, and good
breeding should be brought into requisition
for the daily gathering of the family at mealtime.
The dining room should be one of the airiest, choicest
rooms in the house, with a pleasant outlook, and,
if possible, with east windows, that the morning sun
may gladden the breakfast hour with its cheering rays.
Let plants, flowers, birds, and pictures have a place
in its appointments, that the association with things
bright and beautiful may help to set the keynote of
our own lives in cheerful accord. A dark, gloomy,
ill-ventilated room brings depression of spirits, and
will make the most elaborate meal unsatisfactory;
while the plainest meal may seem almost a feast when
served amid attractive surroundings. Neatness
is an important essential; any home, however humble,
may possess cleanliness and order, and without these,
all charms of wealth and art are of little account.
A thorough airing each morning and
opening of the windows a few minutes after each meal
to remove the odor of food, are important items in
the care of the dining room. The furnishing may
be simple and inexpensive, beauty in a
home is not dependent upon expense, but
let it be substantial, tasteful, harmonious in color
and soft in tone, nothing gaudy or showy. Use
no heavy draperies, and have no excess of ornament
and bric-a-brac to catch dust and germs.
A hard-finished wood floor is far superior to a carpet
in point of healthfulness, and quite as economical
and easy to keep clean. The general furnishing
of the room, besides the dining table and chairs,
should include a sideboard, upon which may be arranged
the plate and glassware, with drawers for cutlery
and table linen; also a side-table for extra dishes
needed during the service of a meal.
An open fireplace, when it can be
afforded, aids in ventilation as well as increases
the cheerful aspect of the room.
A moveable china closet with glass
encasements for keeping the daintier china, glass,
or silver ware not in common use is often a desirable
article of furniture in small homes; or a shallow closet
may be built in the wall of the dining-room for this
purpose. A good size for such a closet is twelve
inches deep and three feet wide. Four shelves,
with one or more drawers below, in which may be kept
the best table napery, afford ample space in general.
The appearance of the whole may be made very pleasing
by using doors of glass, and filling in the back and
sides of the shelves with velvet paper in dark-brown,
dull-red, or any shade suitable for background, harmonizing
with the general furnishing of the room. The
shelves should be of the same material and have the
same finish as the woodwork of the room. The
upper side may be covered with felt if desired; and
such artistic taste may be displayed in the arrangement
of the china as to make the closet ornamental as well
TABLE-TALK. A sullen, silent
meal is a direct promoter of dyspepsia. “Laugh
and grow fat” is an ancient adage embodying good
hygienic doctrine. It has long been well understood
that food digests better when seasoned with agreeable
conversation, and it is important that unpleasant
topics should be avoided. Mealtime should not
be made the occasion to discuss troubles, trials,
and misfortunes, which rouse only gloomy thoughts,
impair digestion, and leave one at the close of the
meal worried and wearied rather than refreshed and
strengthened. Let vexatious questions be banished
from the family board. Fill the time with bright,
sparkling conversation, but do not talk business or
discuss neighborhood gossip. Do not let the food
upon the table furnish the theme of conversation;
neither praise nor apology are in good taste.
Parents who make their food thus an especial topic
of conversation are instilling into their children’s
minds a notion that eating is the best part of life,
whereas it is only a means to a higher end, and should
be so considered. Of all family gatherings the
meals should be the most genial and pleasant, and
with a little effort they may be made most profitable
to all. It is said of Dr. Franklin that he derived
his peculiarly practical turn of mind from his father’s
Let themes of conversation be of general
interest, in which all may take a part. If there
are children, a pleasant custom for the breakfast hour
is to have each in turn relate something new and instructive,
that he or she has read or learned in the interval
since the breakfast hour of the previous day.
This stimulates thought and conversational power, while
music, history, adventure, politics, and all the arts
and sciences offer ample scope for securing interesting
Another excellent plan is the selection
of a special topic for conversation for each meal
or for the meals of a day or a week, a previous announcement
of the topic being made, that all, even the youngest,
may have time to prepare something to say of it.
The benefits from such social intercourse around the
board can hardly be over-estimated; and if thus the
mealtime is prolonged, and too much appears to be
taken out of the busy day, be sure it will add to their
years in the end, by increasing health and happiness.
TABLE MANNERS. Good breeding
and true refinement are nowhere more apparent than
in manners at table. These do not relate alone
to the proper use of knife and fork, napkin and spoon,
but to habits of punctuality, neatness, quietness,
order, and that kind thoughtfulness and courteous
attention which spring from the heart “in
honor preferring one another.” The purpose
of eating should not be merely the appeasement of
hunger or the gratification of the palate, but the
acquiring of strength for labor or study, that we may
be better fitted for usefulness in the world.
Consequently, we should eat like responsible beings,
and not like the lower orders of animals.
Good table manners cannot be put on
for special occasions and laid aside like a garment.
Persons not wont to observe the rules of politeness
in the every-day life of their own households can
never deceive others into thinking them well bred
on “company” occasions. Ease and refinement
of manners are only acquired by habitual practice,
and parents should early accustom their children by
both precept and example to observe the requirements
of good behavior and politeness at table. Elaborate
details are not necessary. We subjoin a few of
the more simple rules governing table etiquette:
1. Eat slowly, never filling
the mouth very full and avoiding all appearance of
2. Masticate thoroughly, keeping
the lips closed. Eating and drinking should be
3. Never speak with the mouth
full, nor interrupt another when talking. Any
remark worthy of utterance will keep.
4. Do not express a choice for
any particular portion or dish, unless requested to
do so; and do not find fault with the food. If
by chance anything unpleasant is found in it, do not
call the attention of others to the fact by either
remark or manner.
5. Sit conveniently near the
table, but not crowded up close against it; and keep
the hands, when not in use to convey food to the mouth,
in the lap, beneath the table, never resting upon
the table, toying with knife, fork, or spoon.
6. Do not tilt back your chair,
or lean upon the table with the elbow, or drum with
7. It is contrary to good breeding
to shovel one’s food into the mouth with a knife.
Everything which can be eaten with a fork should be
taken with that utensil alone. If necessary,
use the knife for dividing the food, and afterward
the fork to convey it to the mouth. Use a spoon
for soups and juicy foods.
8. Bread should be broken, not
cut. In eating large fruits, like apples or pears,
divide with a knife, and take in small portions, holding
the knife by the handle rather than the blade.
9. Soup is eaten from the side
of the spoon, which is filled without noisily touching
10. Seeds or stones to be rejected
should be taken from the lips with a spoon, never
with the fingers. The mouth should not go to the
food, but the food to the mouth.
11. Do not crumble food about
your plate, nor in any avoidable way soil the table
12. Do not hang the napkin about
the neck like a bib, but unfold and lay across the
lap in such a manner that it will not slide to the
floor. Carefully wipe the mouth before speaking,
and as often at other times as may keep the lips perfectly
clean of food and drink. At the close of a meal,
if at home, fold the napkin neatly and place it in
the ring. If at a hotel or away from home, leave
the napkin unfolded by your plate.
13. Do not appear impatient to
be served, and ordinarily at the home meals wait until
all are served before commencing to eat. At a
public table where waiters are provided, it is proper
to begin eating as soon as the food is served.
This is admissible because the wants of other guests
are supposed to be similarly looked after.
14. Never reach across a neighbor’s
plate for anything. If something beyond him is
needed, ask to have it passed to you.
15. Do not tilt your plate or
scrape it for the last atom of food.
16. Drink very sparingly, if
at all, while eating, and then do not pour the liquid
down the throat like water turned from a pitcher.
17. Children should not be allowed
to use their fingers to aid themselves in eating.
If their hands are too small or too awkward to use
a fork, a piece of bread or cracker may be held in
the left hand to aid in pushing the food upon the
fork or spoon.
18. To help one’s self
to butter or any other food from a common dish with
one’s own knife or spoon is a gross breach of
19. Never use the handkerchief
unnecessarily at the table, and do not cough or sneeze
20. It is not considered proper
to pick the teeth at table. If this becomes absolutely
necessary, a napkin should be held before the mouth.
21. When a meal or course is
finished, lay the knife and fork side by side upon
22. Except at a hotel or boarding
house, it is not proper to leave the table before
the rest of the family or guests, without asking the
hostess to excuse you.
23. If a guest declines a dish,
he need give no reason. “No, I thank you,”
is quite sufficient. The host or hostess should
not insist upon guests’ partaking of particular
dishes, nor put anything upon their plates which they
THE TABLE. None will deny
that the appearance of the table affects one’s
enjoyment of the food upon it. A well-appointed
table with its cloth, though coarse in texture, perfectly
clean and neatly laid, its glass and china bright
and shining, and the silver showing by its glistening
surface evidence of frequent polishings, gives far
more comfort and enjoyment than one where little attention
is given to neatness, order, or taste. In many
families, effort is made to secure all these important
accessories when guests have been invited; but for
common use, anything is considered “good enough
for just one’s own folks.” This ought
not to be, and mothers who permit such a course, need
not be surprised if their children exhibit a lack of
self-respect and genuineness as well as awkwardness
and neglect of manners.
The table around which the family
meals are taken, ought to be at all times the model
of what it should be when surrounded by guests.
As a writer has well said, “There is no silent
educator in the household that has higher rank than
the table. Surrounded each day by the family
who are eager for refreshment of body and spirit, its
impressions sink deep; and its influences for good
or ill form no mean part of the warp and woof of our
lives. Its fresh damask, bright silver, glass,
and china, give beautiful lessons in neatness, order,
and taste; its damask soiled, rumpled, and torn, its
silver dingy, its glass cloudy, and china nicked,
annoy and vex us at first, and then instill their lessons
of carelessness and disorder. An attractive,
well-ordered table is an incentive to good manners,
and being a place where one is incited to linger,
it tends to control the bad habits of fast eating;
while, on the contrary, an uninviting, disorderly
table gives license to bad manners, and encourages
the haste which is proverbial among Americans.
The woman, then, who looks after her table in these
particulars, is not doing trivial work, for it rests
with her to give silently these good or bad lessons
in manners and morals to her household as they surround
the daily board.”
A well-appointed table requires very
little time and labor. No pretense or ostentation
is necessary; neatness and simplicity are far more
SETTING THE TABLE. Lay
a piece of double-faced canton flannel underneath
the tablecloth. Even coarse napery will present
a much better appearance with a sub-cover than if
spread directly upon the table. It will likewise
lessen noise in changing courses and the likelihood
of injury to the table from hot dishes. Spread
the tablecloth evenly, without wrinkles, and so that
the center fold shall be exactly in the middle, parallel
with the sides of the table. Mats, if used, should
be placed exactly straight and with regularity.
If meat is served, spread a large napkin with points
toward the center of the table at the carver’s
place, to protect the tablecloth. Place the plates
upon the table, right side up, at even distances from
each other and straight with the cloth and the edge
of the table. Lay the napkins directly in front
or at the right of each plate. Place the fork
at the left, the knife on the right with the edge
toward the plate, beyond this the soup spoon and two
teaspoons, and at the front of these set the glass,
cream glass, and individual butter plate if these
A center piece consisting of a vase
of freshly cut flowers, a pot of ferns, a jar of small
plants in bloom, a dish of well-polished red apples,
peaches, or other seasonable fruit, will add a touch
of beauty and attractiveness. If the serving
is to be done from the table by members of the family,
place large spoons near dishes to be served, also
the proper number and kind of separate dishes for the
purpose. If fruit is to be served, a finger bowl
should be placed for each person. If the service
is by course, the extra dishes, knives, forks, and
spoons needed, also the finger bowls, water service,
and cold foods in reserve for a renewed supply or
for other courses, should be made ready and arranged
upon the sideboard.
The soup ladle should be placed in
front of the lady of the house, who always serves
the soup; and if meat is served, the carving knife
and fork must, of course, be placed before the carver’s
place. The necessary dishes for each course should
be brought on with the food, those for the first course
being placed upon the table just a moment before dinner
The arrangement of all dishes and
foods upon the table should be uniform, regular, and
tasteful, so as to give an orderly appearance to the
whole. The “dishing up” and arranging
of the food are matters of no small importance, as
a dull appetite will often be sharpened at the sight
of a daintily arranged dish, while the keenest one
may have its edge dulled by the appearance of a shapeless
mass piled up with no regard to looks. Even the
simplest food is capable of looking its best, and
the greatest care should be taken to have all dishes
served neatly and tastefully.
The table should not be set for breakfast
the night before nor kept so from one meal to another,
unless carefully covered with a cloth thick enough
to prevent the dust from accumulating upon the dishes.
The plates and glasses should then be placed bottom-side
up and turned just before mealtime. No food of
any kind should ever be allowed to remain uncovered
upon the table from one meal to another. The cloth
for covering the table should be carefully shaken
each time before using, and always used the same side
up until washed.
Plates and individual meat dishes
should be warmed, especially in winter; but the greatest
care should be taken that no dish becomes hot, as
that not only makes it troublesome to handle, but is
ruinous to the dishes.
THE SERVICE OF MEALS. There
are few invariable rules for either table-setting
or service. We will offer a few suggestions upon
this point, though doubtless other ways are equally
good. A capital idea for the ordinary home meal,
when no servant is kept, especially if in the family
there are older children, is to make different members
of the family responsible for the proper service of
some dish or course. The fruit, which should
be the first course at breakfast, may be prepared
and placed upon fruit plates with the proper utensils
for eating napkins and finger bowls at
each place before the meal is announced. If apples
or bananas are served, a cracker should be placed
upon each plate to be eaten in connection with the
fruit. Oranges and grapes are, however, to be
preferred when obtainable; the former may be prepared
as directed on page 180. The hot foods may be
dished, and the dishes placed on a side table in a
bain marie, the hot water in which should be
as deep as the food within the dishes. The foods
will thus be in readiness, and will keep much better
than if placed upon the table at the beginning of
the meal. When the fruit is eaten, some member
of the family may remove the fruit plates, and bring
the hot grains, toasts, and other foods, placing them,
together with the necessary individual dishes, before
those who have their serving in charge. One member
may be selected to pass the bread, another to dish
the sauce, etc.; and thus each child, whether
boy or girl even those quite young may
contribute to the service, and none be overburdened,
while at the same time it will be a means of teaching
a due regard for the comfort and enjoyment of others.
If the meal is dinner, usually consisting
of three courses, after the soup has been eaten, it
may be the duty of some member of the family to remove
the soup plates and place the vegetables, grains, and
meats if any are to served, before those chosen to
serve them. At the close of this course, another
may remove the dishes and food, crumb the cloth, and
place the dessert, with the proper dishes for serving,
before the lady of the house or her oldest daughter,
one of whom usually serves it.
If a servant is employed, the following
is an excellent plan of service: The soup plates
or bowls should be placed hot upon the table, with
the tureen of soup before the lady of the house, and
the glasses filled before the dinner is announced.
Grace having been said, the servant
removes the cover of the soup tureen, and standing
at the left of the lady, takes up with her left hand
a soup plate, which she changes to the palm of her
right hand and holds at the edge of the soup tureen
until the lady has filled it, then carries it, still
holding it upon the palm of the hand, and places it
before the head of the table. In the same manner
all are served to soup. If bowls instead of plates
are used, a small silver or lacquered tray may be
used on which to carry the bowl. While the soup
is being eaten, the servant goes to the kitchen and
brings in the hot dishes and foods for the next course,
and places them upon the side table. When the
soup has been finished, beginning with the one who
sits at the head of the table, the servant places
before each person in turn a hot dinner plate, at
the same time removing his soup plate to the sideboard
or pantry. After changing all the plates, she
removes the soup tureen, and if meat is to be served,
places that before the carver with the individual
plates, which, when he has placed a portion thereon,
she serves to each in turn; then she takes the potato
and other vegetables upon her tray, and serves them,
going to the left of each person when passing them
a dish, but placing individual dishes at the right;
next she passes the bread, refills the glasses, taking
each one separately to the sideboard, and then serves
When every one has finished the course,
she begins the clearing of the table by first removing
all large dishes of food; after that the plates and
all soiled dishes, mats, and all table furniture except
the glasses, napkin rings, and center-pieces.
Lastly she removes all crumbs with a brush or napkin.
When done, she places in front of each person a plate
with a doily and finger bowl upon it, and then brings
the dessert and dessert dishes, placing them before
the lady of the house, and passes these for her as
in the other courses. If the dessert is pudding,
a spoon or fork should be placed on the plate at one
side of the finger bowl. If the dessert is fruit,
a fruit napkin may be used in place of the doily,
the real purpose of which is to prevent the bowl from
sliding about the plate in moving it. A fork
and silver knife, or knife and spoon as the fruit
may require, should be served with it.
GENERAL SUGGESTIONS FOR WAITERS. In
serving a dish from which people are expected to help
themselves, always go to the left side.
Soup, food in individual dishes, clean
plates, and finger bowls should be set down before
people at their right hand.
When removing soiled dishes after
a course, always exchange them for clean ones, remembering
that the only time when it is allowable to leave the
table without plates is when it is being cleared for
In serving grains either dish them
in small dishes before serving or pass clean saucers
at the same time for each to help himself, and in all
cases see that each person is served to cream, sugar,
and a teaspoon, with grains.
Pass the bread two or three times
during each meal, and keep careful watch that all
are well supplied.
Pour hot milk and all beverages on
the side table; fill only three fourths full, and
serve the same as anything else in individual dishes,
placing the glass at each person’s right hand.
Waiters should be noiseless and prompt,
and neatly attired in dress suitable to their occupation.
SUGGESTIONS CONCERNING DINNER PARTIES. Much
of the success of a dinner party depends upon the
guests selected; and the first point for consideration
by the lady who decides upon entertaining her friends
thus, should be the congeniality of those whom she
desires to invite, remembering that after the first
greetings the guests see very little of their hostess,
and consequently their enjoyment must largely depend
upon each other. It is customary to issue invitations
in the name of the host and hostess, from five to
ten days in advance of the occasion. Printed
or written invitations may be used. The following
is a proper form:
Mr. and Mrs. George Brown
request the pleasure
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clark’s company
December 5th, at four o’clock.
24 Maple Avenue.
If the dinner is given in especial
honor to some stranger, a second card is inclosed
on which is written:
Mrs. Harold Brooks of
Invitations to a dinner should be
promptly accepted or declined, and if accepted, the
engagement should on no account be lightly broken.
Unless one has a large establishment,
and is very sure of good service, the bill of fare
selected should not be an elaborate one, and the choice
of dishes should be confined to those which one is
used to preparing, and which in cost will not exceed
one’s means. It is the quality of the dinner
which pleases, and not the multiplicity of dishes.
Small dinners for not less than six or more than ten
guests are always the most pleasant, and for those
of moderate means or those unaccustomed to dinner-giving
are by far the most suitable.
The arrangement and adornment of the
table afford an opportunity for the display of much
artistic taste and skill. An expensive outlay
is by no means necessary, as highly pleasing effects
may be produced by the addition of a few choice, well-arranged
flowers or blossoming plants to a table already well
laid with spotless linen, bright silver, and clean
glass and china ware. A profusion of ornament
should be avoided, large pieces of plate, and high,
elaborate designs of flowers or fruit should not be
used, as they obstruct the intercourse of the guests.
A center piece of flowers, with a
small bouquet tied with ribbon for each guest, is
quite sufficient. Low dishes filled with violets
or pansies; a basket filled with oranges, mingled
with orange leaves and blossoms; bowls of ferns and
roses; a block of ice wreathed in ferns, with an outer
circle of water lilies; dishes of vari-colored
grapes resting amid the bright leaves of the foliage
plant, are some of many pleasing designs which may
be employed for the adornment of the dinner table.
The amount of space occupied with decorations must
depend upon the style of service employed. If
no calculation need be made for placing the different
dishes composing the dinner, a strip of colored plush
or satin bordered with ivy, smilax, or some trailing
vine, is quite frequently used for the decoration
of a long table.
A very pleasing custom consists in
selecting some especial color for the decorations
with which the table napery, dishes, and even the food
to be served shall accord; as, for example, a “pink”
dinner, with roses as the chief flower, strawberries,
pink lemonade, and other pink attractions; or a “yellow”
luncheon, served on napery etched with yellow, with
vases of goldenrod for center pieces, and dainty bouquets
of the same tied with yellow ribbon at each plate,
while yellow tapers in golden candlesticks cast a
mellow light over all, during the serving of a bill
of fare which might include peaches and cream, oranges,
pumpkin pie, and other yellow comestibles.
The menu cards afford much opportunity
for adding attractiveness to a company dinner.
If one possesses artistic skill, a floral decoration
or a tiny sketch, with an appropriate quotation, the
guest’s name, and date of the dinner, make of
the cards very pleasing souvenirs. A proper quotation
put after each dish is much in vogue as a means of
promoting conversation. The quotations are best
selected from one author.
There are no absolute rules for the
service of company dinners, much depending upon social
conditions and established customs. Two modes
are in general use, placing the dishes
upon the table to be dished by the host and hostess,
and placing all food upon the side table to be dished
and served by a waiter. When the latter method
is used, it is quite customary to place the plates
of soup upon the table before dinner is announced.
As many knives, forks, and spoons as will be needed
for the courses may be placed beside each plate, or
they may be brought in with the course, as preferred.
Clean plates are necessary for every course.
The manner of serving is essentially like that already
Care should be taken to have the dining
room at an agreeable temperature, neither too warm
nor too cold.
At large dinner parties, each gentleman,
as he enters, receives a card upon which is written
the name of the lady he is to take in to dinner, to
whom the hostess at once presents him. When dinner
is announced, the host leads the way with the oldest
or most distinguished lady or the one to whom the
dinner is given, while the hostess follows last, with
the most honored gentleman. The host places the
lady whom he escorts on his right. If the number
is small, the host indicates the places the guests
should occupy as they enter the room; if the party
is large, the menu card at each plate bears the name
of the guest for whom it is designed. The lady
escorted by the host should be the first one served.
Soup is always taken and tasted, whether
liked or not; after the first course, it is proper
to accept or refuse a dish, as preferred.
No well-bred hostess ever apologizes
for the food upon her table or urges anything upon
her guests when once declined. No orders should
be given to servants during the meal; everything that
will contribute to the proper serving of the dinner
should be arranged beforehand, and all necessary instructions
At the close of the dinner, the hostess
gives the sign for retiring.
A meal what
is it? Just enough of food
To renovate and well
refresh the frame,
So that with spirits
lightened, and with strength renewed,
We turn with willingness
to work again.
Do not bring disagreeable
things to the table in your conversation
any more than you would in
your dishes. Sel.
Courtesy in the mistress of
the house consists in feeding
conversation; never in usurping
it. Mme. Swetchine
Good humor and good health
follow a good meal; and by a good meal we
mean anything, however simple,
well dressed in its way. Smiles.
Unquiet meals make ill digestion. Shakespeare.
Eat slowly and do not season
your food with care. Sel.
To rise from the table able to
eat a little more is a proverbially good rule
for every one. There is nothing more idiotic than
forcing down a few mouthfuls, because they happen
to remain on one’s plate after hunger is
satisfied, and because they may be “wasted”
if left. It is the most serious waste to
overtax the stomach with even half an ounce more
than it can take care of. Sel.
I pray you, O excellent wife! cumber
not yourself and me to get a curiously rich dinner
for this man and woman who have just alighted at
our gate.... These things, if they are desirous
of them, they can get for a few shillings at any
village inn; but rather let that stranger see,
if he will, in your looks, accents, and behavior, your
heart and earnestness, your thought and will, that
which he cannot buy at any price in any city,
and which he may travel miles and dine sparely
and sleep hardly to behold. Emerson.