Social Etiquette and Good Manners/Utensils


QUESTION: Hello Nancy,

I work in a casual Canadian restaurant, and I have noticed that people tend to use cutlery in a very odd fashion, but I'm not sure if it's right or wrong.

When eating pasta, people will cut the entire bowl of pasta before eating, by using their utensils in a criss-cross manner to cut through the entire bowl (taking their fork in their left hand and their knife in their right hand, crossing their hands, and pulling away to slice). I was taught that no matter what you're cutting, you just need to hold the knife and fork perpendicular, NOT to actually criss cross the hands. Am I incorrect?

Also, baseball caps and hooded shirts...are they appropriate in casual restaurants?



ANSWER: Dear Cristofer:

Thank you for your question.

I am in complete agreement with you.  Pasta should never be cut with knife and fork. Long pasta (spaghetti, linguini) should be eaten with fork only, and the fork is held in the diner's predominant hand. Steps to get long pasta from plate to mouth are: 1) fork is held vertical to the plate; 2) fork snags 3-4 strands of pasta; 3) fork is twirled (while in vertical position) until those few strands of pasta are wrapped into a neat bundle on the end of the fork; 4) fork brings neat bite to mouth; 5) entire small bite goes into mouth.

Some Italian restaurants provide diners with a large spoon to use when eating long pasta. Right-handed diners hold this spoon in the left hand (reverse for left-handed diners) and the fork carrying the 3-4 strands of pasta is twirled while the tines are in the spoon. Other types of pasta (lasagna, penne, manicotti) are eaten with the fork in the diner's predominant hand. The side of the fork is used to cut this type of pasta.

There are two basic styles for using western utensils, the American style and the European (or Continental) style. When using the European style, the fork is in the diner's left hand and the knife in the right hand.  The fork is fairly stationary while anchoring the food that needs to be cut, and the knife moves in a cutting (not sawing) motion. The fork remains in the left hand and brings to the mouth the piece that has just been cut (tines downward). You are completely correct to point out that diners should never cut more than one or two pieces at one time and that the crisscross, sawing motion is not the mark of a graceful diner.

Diners should remove hats and hoods when they enter a restaurant. Those who don't are advertising their bad manners and their lack of respect for their fellow diners and for the dining establishment. That said, many people don't realize that they are doing so because they haven't been taught some of these basic courtesies and they are surrounded by so many bad examples.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your response. It was very thorough and it was very educational for me. But it brings me to ask another question. You mentioned cutting certain kinds of pasta with the side of the fork. When is it appropriate cut with the side of the fork, and when is it necessary to switch to using a knife? Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Any food that cuts easily may be eaten with fork only, by using the side of the fork to cut. This is a personal preference. For example, many diners use this fork-only method to eat salad, which is acceptable, while others choose to use fork and knife.  

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

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Nancy Mitchell


Social etiquette; Business etiquette; Entertaining etiquette; Wedding etiquette; Protocol, domestic (US) and international; Flag etiquette; Dining etiquette; Restaurant etiquette; Spa etiquette; Travel etiquette


Nancy R. Mitchell is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol consultant and trainer with more than 30 years of experience in the field. She owns the firm The Etiquette Advocate and is an owner and founding partner of the firm Protocol Partners-Washington Center for Protocol. Currently, she is an adjunct faculty member at The George Washington University, where she developed and teaches protocol courses in the School of Business and the Career Center, and at Stratford University, Falls Church, VA. She serves also as protocol and special events consultant to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library and cultural center. For 23 years, Mitchell was director of special events and protocol at the Library of Congress where she and her staff were responsible for planning and managing over 400 events each year. She coordinated the institution’s major special events, visits of heads of state and other distinguished visitors, galas, conferences and meetings. As the Library’s chief protocol advisor, Mitchell served as liaison to the White House, U.S Department of State, the Congress, the Supreme Court and other government agencies, embassies, academia and corporations.

Protocol and Diplomacy - International Protocol Association

Mitchell is quoted on matters of etiquette and protocol by CNN, ABC Nightline, Martha Stewart Living Radio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Washington Business Journal, the Associated Press and Washingtonian magazine, has been featured on ABC Good Morning America, Fox News and National Public Radio, and is an etiquette columnist for, etiquette consultant to Alexandria Woman and to Engaged! magazine, and technical editor of Wedding Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley, 2010).

B.S., University of Utah, 1969

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