Teaching Matters: Eating Etiquette

Teaching Matters: Eating Etiquette

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

-James Beard (1903-1985), American author

Previously on the blog, we’ve addressed how to make positive first impressions in a variety of settings, from a handshake to a professional email.

But table manners also go a long way. Whether you’re grabbing a bite out with friends or visiting a new acquaintance for dinner, the way you eat speaks volumes. Routine dining habits in other countries may come across as impolite in the U.S., and many English language learners unfamiliar with American culture lack this awareness. Below are a list of Dos and Don’ts to make your students feel comfortable when eating with Americans in public. As an instructor, feel free to add your own and encourage your class to do so too!

General Dos

  • Try to have light conversation with everyone at the table
  • Do put your napkin in your lap. When you are finished with your dinner, place it loosely on the table, not on the plate and never on the chair.
  • Do raise your hand and say, “Excuse me, please!” when you need help in a restaurant.
  • Do assume each person will pay for their share of the bill when eating in a group unless someone clearly states they will pay. Likewise, many couples split the bill while dating. This tradition is called “going Dutch”.
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General Don’ts

  • Don’t eat too fast – take time to enjoy the food.
  • Don’t talk when your mouth is full of food.
  • Don’t chew with your mouth open.
  • Don’t place your elbows on the table and keep your left hand in your lap unless you are using it.
  • Don’t make loud eating noises such as slurping (e.g. soup) and burping.
  • Don’t blow your nose at the dinner table. Excuse yourself to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the dining room.
  • Don’t answer your phone during the meal.
  • Don’t floss, use a toothpick, and/or apply makeup at the table.
  • Don’t say that you’re going the restroom. Instead, use “Excuse me” or “I’ll be right back” before leaving the table.
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Manners matter. Addressing eating etiquette in the classroom helps ESL students create lasting impressions and compelling conversations with new American friends. For an additional exercise, pair students together and have them compare these do’s and don’ts with similar advice from their home country. How are they similar? How are they different? 

This blog post features content from the second edition of Compelling Conversations – Vietnam, released in November and available now on Amazon! Check out our featured sample chapter, Delicious Choices, here. For more sample chapters from this and our other titles, click here.


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About the Author

Eric H. Roth teaches international graduate students the pleasures and perils of academic writing and public speaking in English at the University of Southern California (USC). He also consults English language schools on communicative methods to effectively teach English. Roth co-authored Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics in 2006 to help English language learners increase their English fluency. Recommended by English Teaching Professional magazine, the advanced ESL textbook has been used in over 50 countries in English classrooms and conversation clubs. Easy English Times, an adult literacy newspaper, has published a monthly column, “Instant Conversation Activities,” based on the book since 2008. The first specific version for a particular country, Vietnam, was published in 2011. Compelling American Conversations came out in 2012, and Compelling Conversations – Japan arrived in 2015. Eric enjoys sharing reflections, resources, and teaching tips on this #ESL #EFL #ELT blog.

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