Top dining etiquette tips to help restore Britain’s table sophistication

Ambassador for’s Rules of Modern Dining campaign shares his advice
dining-insertBritain was once a nation personified by its superior etiquette standards. In recent years, certainly where the dinner table is concerned, our preoccupation with technology and slipping manners has caused those standards to drop.

Although we are still internationally revered for our 'royal' sophistication, there's a sense within Britain that the restaurant dining experience is not as sacred as it once was, with many voicing their irritations with modern dining habits.

In a recent survey from restaurant booking site, a staggering 79 per cent of diners claim that they find habits such as texting, taking calls and posting photos on social media whilst at the dinner table to be a ruination of the dining experience, with 46 per cent admitting they're too timid to complain.

1 in 4 Britons say that the most frustrating thing about mobile phone use in restaurants is how it interrupts the flow of a conversation and they've clearly had enough, particularly with 20 per cent saying they would eat out more if restaurants banned mobile phone use.

In terms of general manners, 46 per cent claim that they are offended when people snap their fingers to get a waiter's attention, with 46% also claiming they hate it when people eat with their mouths open.

We also seem to have a low tolerance for a noisy atmosphere, with 51 per cent of diners finding misbehaving children too much to bear and 49 per cent wanting to turn the volume down on particularly loud guests.

But while Britons clearly have a little time for common table faux pas, this survey reveals that many have a desire to return to past glories of proper dining etiquette, a set of values that, as a nation, Britons can once again be proud of.

With the goal of restoring this legacy, here are my top tips on how to guarantee you're behaving in an appropriate way, next time you go out to eat.

William Hanson's modern dining etiquette guide

1. Mobile phones
Whilst mobile phones are now crucial parts of our social and professional lives, the politest amongst us know when it is not right to use them and meals out are one of those times when it's time to take a break from our gadgets and gizmos. Focus on those that are dining with you – if you phone or text people then stay at home. It's part of the deal when you go out to dinner with people that you are there to talk to them, not your address book contacts, Facebook friends or Twitter followers. If you have to take a call then profusely apologise to your fellow diners and step away from the table to answer it – be brief and apologise again upon your return.

2. Posting on social media
Many people show enthusiasm when they are eating in a nice restaurant by checking-in to the restaurant on Facebook, foursquare and the like – although this perhaps shows that they aren't used to dining in such places, or maybe they are trying to make their friends and followers envious. If you choose do this then do it in a very British way by playing it down. Post that you are in a swanky restaurant with a comment such as 'Well, it'll do' or 'If I must'.

3. Snap happy
50 years ago, a group of diners would have bowed their heads and said grace before eating. Today, the new form of grace and food appreciation comes via taking a picture of whatever delicacy is in front of them. Whilst it is a great compliment to the chef that you wish to capture the beauty of the presentation of the food the moment it comes out, most would be happier if you got on and ate it before it went cold. If you take a photograph then quickly take one shot then put the phone away. You can post it on Instagram and have a quandary as to what filter shows off the truffle foam in the taxi home later.

4. Being late
We all lead busy lives and if you have arranged to meet friends for dinner at an allotted time then you must try your hardest to make sure you arrive at said time. If you are the hosts then it is wise to get there a few minutes before to check all is in order and you are happy with your table, ready to greet your guests. Guests that are running horrifically late need to call ahead (at worst text, but ideally telephone) and apologise so the hosts can alert the restaurant.

5. Table manners
Restaurants may no longer have table settings with more set pieces of cutlery than items on the menu but that doesn't mean to say that 'old fashioned' table manners are no longer relevant. Mouth closed, elbows in and off the table, and not leaning over the food too much all still count. Many have said that seeing a fellow diner with bad table manners can change their judgment about that person – in a bad way.

6. Public displays of affection
As a nation we may not be as starchy as we once were, but there is still a large proportion amongst us who bristle at the sight of two lovebirds attempting to recreate the Lady and the Tramp moment at a nearby table. Holding hands across the table (when food is not present) is fine, but snogging over the soup is best reserved for when you are behind closed doors.

7. Conversation
The rule for formal dining is that ladies will talk to the man on their left for the first course, the man on their right for the second, and alternate as the courses go by. Whilst this needn't be strictly adhered to now (and 9 time out of 10 the seating plan is not boy, girl, boy, girl) make sure you don't monopolise the conversation of one diner at the expense of whoever is on your other side – even if they are a bit dull!

8. Toothpicks
A small pot of toothpicks on the table does not mean it is acceptable to use them at the table, even shielded behind your napkin. Take a couple and retreat to the lavatory if you have something stuck.

9. Being rude to waiters
Whilst service in the UK can be hit and miss, there is never any excuse to be rude to a waiter – even if they are rude to you (raise them to your level, don't sink to theirs). It's common sense but treating them with respect and letting them perform their duties swiftly and easily will make it a much more enjoyable experience for you and your fellow diners. If you have a problem with the service, quietly leave the table and find the headwaiter and raise your concerns rationally.

10. Tipping
Restaurants are now adding on a tip to the bottom of bills for us – but if you aren't happy with the service you are perfectly within your rights to ask for that total (often 12.5%) to be reduced or removed – but be prepared to explain why. If you have been happy with the service then 10% is the norm for Britain, with waiters seeing all of that tip if you leave cash (with card tips they can sometimes get as little as 40% of what you decide to leave).

11. Free-range children
In France, children as young as 5 or 6 are often seen in restaurants at nine, ten o'clock at night sitting perfectly at the table, enjoying the experience. In Britain, many children struggle to stay still for longer than one course and tear around the restaurant getting in the way of waiters and annoying other diners. Keep your free-range children at your table and if you know they won't cope with the experience then don't bring them. Newsflash – not everyone thinks your children are as adorable as you do.

12. Arguing over who pays
It is a scene we will have all seen many times before, but when the bill comes we argue and bicker over who is paying. By all means offer, but if you are not the hosts and they wish to pay then let them – just make sure you take them out a month or two afterwards and then you can fund the evening. A big argument wastes time, often spoils a perfectly nice meal, and can be easily avoided with a bit of common sense and diplomacy.

13. Not looking your best
In a poorer economic climate, we may not be going out to eat as much as we once were. Dressing up and looking good for the occasion is now more important and can even help us enjoy it more. It also shows that we are respecting the chef, staff, our company and ourselves by looking neat, tidy and all in order. Ripped jeans, two-day old stubble, or faded lipstick are not signs that you wish to be out and about.