Etiquette and Table Manners: At Home, in Restaurants and in the News

photos: left: The Hotel Grand Pacific‘s The Pacific Restaurant, decorated for the Chinese New Year. right upper: children colouring a reusable placemat by modern-twist. Right lower: Pan Seared Pacific Weathervane Scallops with Savoury Meringue, Preserved Kumquat, Pomegranate Syrup and Lung Ching Foam – the appetizer on the Pacific’s Chinese New Year menu. All images by Rebecca Baugniet


There are so many social skills to be acquired around the dinner table. One of the things that can make learning them a challenge for small children is the fact that they seem to change from household to household. Table manners are not universal, and while the basics of respect and appreciation are expected throughout the world, they are not necessarily expressed the same way in all cultures. While I have been fighting the good fight on the home front, I’ve noticed the topic of restaurant etiquette and table manners popping up in the news as well. These items often demonstrate that it’s not always the kids who are causing all the ruckus around the table!

Last summer, a heated debate arose around one wine bar’s attempt at a no-baby policy. Following a request for an extra chair to be placed at the table to sit a baby’s car seat on, the customer was informed that the establishment was not set up to accommodate babies. The media got hold of the story, and at last report, the offended customer was following up with a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. (Read the full story here). I asked local restaurateur Linda Szasz (Stage Small Plates Wine Bar) if this problem has ever come up at Stage. Her response articulates the common sense that may have been lacking in the Ottawa debate:

“People occasionally do bring babies into Stage and for the most part, there haven’t been any issues.” She adds that  “there seems to be a window between newborn and toddlerhood that works – the baby mostly sleeps peacefully in the corner, and nurses once or twice during mom’s dinner. A chronically crying baby is another story, and not good for anyone – the parents don’t relax, and neither does anyone else, including me! Most adults come to a wine bar for an adult experience, get babysitters and enjoy a night out. This is not an option for a new nursing baby. Although we would never adopt a no- baby policy for this reason, we don’t encourage children with high chairs, menu items, colouring etc., as our concept is adult oriented.”

Another interesting article was recently published on different cultural uses of cutlery. Click here for an enlightening read. Also on the subject of cutlery, an episode in last year’s Food Revolution series saw Jamie Oliver almost in tears when he discovered that the school he was attempting to reform did not provide children with any utensils in their cafeteria. Where do EAT readers weigh in on these debates? Click here to tell us what you think, and we’ll publish our favourite answers in our next Tapas newsletter.

Younger children can’t always be relied upon to provide pleasant conversation while waiting for their food to arrive, so it’s always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve.

So what can we do as parents? The rules do change from house to house, but by modeling respect and appreciation for good food and those who have prepared it for us, as well as an awareness surrounding cultural differences, we are probably on the right track. When dining out, know your kids and their limits, and teach consideration for the other people you’re sharing the dining room with. Younger children can’t always be relied upon to provide pleasant conversation while waiting for their food to arrive, so it’s always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve. On a cross-country road trip, I stocked up on markers and ‘Doodle’ placemat pads, by Deborah Zemke.

Modern Twist is a San Francisco-based company that brings art to the dinner table with a number of eco-friendly (BPA, latex and chemical free) home accessories, including design-friendly reusable colouring placemats, with patterns available that appeal to a wide range of ages (some are so beautiful, you may find yourself asking your children if you can have turn with the markers). Two of my kids recently spent a good half hour working harmoniously on one together. These are good ways to keep the peace until the meal is served, at home or away.

If you are looking for some help with your teenager’s table etiquette and you live in the Vancouver area, the Pacific Institute of Culinary Art is holding family classes to help “Create A Conscientious Young Diner”. The course recommends that you “lead your teen by example over a  four-course dinner while polishing your own dining and networking savviness.” The next class will be held on February 9th.

And if you’re interested in a fun way to celebrate the Chinese New Year and expose your budding gourmet to new flavours, then head to the Hotel Grand Pacific and try out the Chinese New Year Menu at the Pacific Restaurant, offered now until February 10th ($38.88 per person). Executive Chef Rick Choy’s three courses embody the concept of yin and yang with beautifully balanced flavours and texture (silky pan seared scallops with tangy kumquat preserve and a gentle dusting of crispy savoury meringue). Don’t miss the option to pair local wines or teas from Silk Road. A Lion Dance will be part of the festivities at 8pm on Friday, Feb 4th. Click here to view the menu, and if you order the halibut, be sure to leave a little of the fish behind on your plate. It’s auspicious (and good etiquette)!

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