Formal clothes, restrained politeness and the correct use of knives and forks seem to have been replaced with some less admirable habits such as dressing down, licking your fingers and prioritising checking your mobile phone over conversing with those around you. Melissa Blease takes a tongue-in-cheek look at how things have changed…

A recent survey conducted by VoucherCodes.co.uk estimated that UK citizens over the age of 18 eat out at least twice a week, spending an average of £44 per head for the pleasure. But a quarter of respondents over the age of 50 recalled that, even as recently as the 1980s, going to a restaurant was an experience reserved to mark special occasions only… and dressing and behaving “properly” for that occasion was assumed to be a fundamental code of practice acknowledged by all.

Indeed, for past generations, eating out bought a veritable minefield of Rules That Must Be Obeyed to the table, often unspoken, often too complicated to decipher unless you’d spent ‘a season’ taking etiquette classes and often – yuk! – laden with mysterious signals and symbolisms denoting class, education or income. Such social mores were restrictive enough to turn anything more than a solo dinner at home into an excruciatingly agonising experience that could, at best, give you a 24-bout of indigestion… and at worst, have the potential to pour cold water on the prospect of a potential paramour, or demote your status at work.

“Unless you’re delicately picking your way through a seafood platter or stuffing your face at a fast food outlet, cutlery is the way forward when transporting food from mouth to plate”

But while leaving certain boorish, outdated pretensions ranging from not being ‘allowed’ to drink beer with food to the necessity to know how and when to use grape scissors back in the dark ages where they belong, too many habits that were once viewed as general ‘table manners’ (but can just as easily be referred to as being sensitive to those around us) seem to have been lost in the mists of time. It seems a little odd that now dining out is a casual pastime accessible to all (and the trend for dinner parties and takeaways at home continues to rise too), we seem to have forgotten how to eat.

When discussing the topic of modern manners (or in this case, the lack of manners entirely), all too many people begin a whispered observation on the subject with “perhaps I’m getting old…” or “call me old-fashioned…” But why should anybody feel it necessary to make excuses for noticing that impolite, inconsiderate or immature behaviour has apparently become socially acceptable?

But before we put the spotlight on the worst public displays of disaffection, it’s only polite to issue the following warning: reading this feature over dinner is most definitely not recommended (and anyway, reading at the table is a very rude thing to do).

CLOTHES WOES

Many people – usually young men, and often at a Saturday or Sunday lunch sitting – think it’s quite okay to sit at a restaurant table wearing a football or rugby kit fresh (although those clothes aren’t going to be that fresh, are they?) from the pitch, or gaping shorts and grubby flip flops, or vests that expose acres of thick underarm/back pelt. In the literal sense of the expression, such sartorial inelegance is enough to put anybody off their food. And do they really need to keep their caps on throughout their dinner? Only if they’re suffering an acute case of dandruff, in which case… don’t, don’t, don’t keep scratching your scalp at the table.

“The worst habits include loudly slurping, gurgling and/or chomping. There’s also talking with mouths full and picking teeth with fingernails­­­”

FINGER-LICKIN’ FELONIES

Unless you’re delicately picking your way through a seafood platter (usually presented with a lemon-infused finger bowl) or perhaps eating hungrily at a fast food outlet that expects us all to eat like babies, many people believe that cutlery is the way forward when transporting food from mouth to plate – a plate that, by the way, should remain in place on the table throughout your meal, not lifted up and held aloft in mid-air while eating. There are, of course, exemptions to this diktat including bar snacks, canapés, party buffets, pizza, picnics, sandwiches and certain types of sushi. But eating a steak with your hands? No, most definitely not. VILE

VOCABULARY

“Bring me a burger!”, “I’ll have a side order of chips”, “Get me the fish and chips.” Why have we rewritten the rather pleasant customer/waiting staff making-your-order exchange that begins with “Please may I have….” followed by your choice from the menu?

Talking of the menu… yes, we often encounter lengthy descriptions that let us know exactly what to expect on the plate. But you are not obliged to read the whole list back to your waiter (especially not in a sneery, ‘ironic’ tone) when ordering; a simple “the chicken/fish/beef, please” will suffice.

Also in this category: please don’t call your waiter “love,” “darling,” or “mate” when trying to catch their eye – using over-familiar terms is derogatory, not friendly, and only serves to replace the former (horrible) habit of snapping fingers for attention. And please… keep your voice down. You may have lots of lively opinions on lots of fascinating subjects, but we’re in a restaurant, not the House of Commons.

TECHNOLOGICAL TURMOILS

Imagine beautifully laid tables scattered with phones, iPads, chargers and E-cigarettes. Softly lit dining rooms turned into mini-pools of glowing lights and flashes from people sending texts, or Skype-ing, or booking train tickets, or posting social media updates, or sharing YouTube videos, or taking endless pictures of soup that they’re probably never going to look at again, or talking loudly into their phones when everybody else around them is talking to each other. Aaaaargh!

It’s easy to think, these days, that this kind of carry-on is normal behaviour. But think again – it isn’t! In the eyes of some more traditional folk, it’s weird, and wrong, and massively distracting for fellow diners who are happy to be doing just that: dining, in the company of real, actual people, in the here and now.

HORRIBLE HABITS: THE WORST OFFENDERS

The worst habits include loudly slurping, gurgling and/or chomping. There’s also talking with mouths full and picking teeth with fingernails. Then there’s belching, blowing noses into napkins and leaving the napkins on the table, running fingers through the gravy and then licking those fingers salaciously. More examples are frantically blowing on hot food (calm down, and wait for it to cool down), casually helping yourself to food from somebody else’s plate, reaching across other people’s plates of food to grab the salt, constantly refilling wine glasses from a shared bottle just because you’re drinking faster than the folk you’re supposedly sharing it with.

If you think any of these heinous eating out habits aren’t obnoxious, disgusting or downright abhorrent, please, I beg you: Don’t. Eat. Out. Ever. Again.­­­