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There's a range of good behaviors that I classify as "table manners." These range from pretty basic (don't throw food) to general politeness (use your fork and spoon, napkin on lap) to moderately obscure and/or localized etiquette (start with the salad fork, which is on the left).

For general purposes, we only focus on the first couple categories at home. However, there are going to eventually be situations where I'd like them to know how to be on their "best behavior" -- and indeed, they'll likely feel embarrassed and uncomfortable if they don't know what is expected. My mother always phrased it as we should be "ready to be invited to dinner at the White House"... but I have in mind more events like wedding receptions, eating out with work colleagues, or going on dates to fancy restaurants.

What are some ideas for incorporating the extra-polite aspects of table manners into their education at home? I don't want to make every meal into a high-pressure fancy occasion (for one thing, I don't think I have enough forks), and I also want to keep it fairly light and fun. I remember my little brother getting yelled at by our grandfather once for dropping his napkin: this didn't teach us how to deal with napkins, just that Grandpa was somebody to be afraid of.

I don't expect this to involve kids under 7, unless somebody has a brilliant suggestion for how a toddler can learn the difference between soup and dessert spoons. I do want to start before they're teenagers, though.

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    I use myself as an example. "This thing I'm doing now (eg licking the lid of the yoghurt pot), it's ok because I'm at home with you, but I wouldn't do it if we were out at a restaurant or at somebody else's house. That would be rude." Key advantage of this approach: you get to lick the lid of the yoghurt pot (etc). – A E Nov 22 '14 at 9:01
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This reminds me of such a fun to-do kids' activity at our house. :)

About every other month, we would have a "restaurant" lunch at home. I named the restaurant "Susie-Q's", printed up menus on my printer (with ridiculously low prices) that the kids could read (or have help reading). They could choose anything and everything they wanted from it. I play-acted this overly-familiar waitress/owner who would let the kids get away with anything, including my whisking away with apologies anything they decided they didn't like (yes, there were new foods, too), etc.

I gave them each some money. Everything was served elegantly on nice table cloths, nesting bowls - I'd gotten some nice ones at estate sales, along with lots of extra silverplate (cheap, but it does shine up nice!) - butter knives, teacups with saucers, wine and water glasses, etc. I made a big deal of their wonderful manners, how good looking they were, what good choices they made, how brave their choice to try roasted beets with goat cheese as a side dish, etc. (to me they would have complained, but not to "her" <3<3<3<3!) It was so over the top, it was really fun. They got to behave exactly as if they were out at a restaurant all by themselves without coaching. And of course, "Susie-Q" would gush over the "tip" they left her, and would imply she'd serve them for free, they were just that wonderful. My kids loved it.

It was a lot of work to prepare different dishes including desserts and drinks, but it was totally worth it. They always wanted to please this lady "Susie-Q" with their fine manners and conversation. I think it really helped them at nice restaurants.

I knew how much they liked it when my youngest looked at me one harried lunchtime and asked, "Mom, can you please be Susie-Q today?" [:-O] ;-) "Why. honey, you know I'm not Suzie-Q. She's much nicer than I am. But maybe you can go to her place soon."

It was fun for all of us (my husband would often help). They still all talk about it (and they're all grown up and married)!

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    Love it! Being taught isn't fun, but learning while having fun is just great! – Sylas Seabrook Nov 18 '14 at 6:09
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    Brilliant :D I think I'm going to some estate sales and antique malls this weekend! – Acire Nov 18 '14 at 12:17
  • Much better than how I was taught to keep my elbows off the table -- time outs from the table. (This wasn't at home. It was a particular staff member during school meals). – user11394 Nov 19 '14 at 16:50

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