Sunday, 13 May 2018

Etiquette Expert William Hanson reveals his top tips for dining at home

Since Madhouse Daddy died in March, I've sat down every single evening for a family dinner with the kids. It never used to happen, because he would get in late from work and not want to eat straight away until he'd chilled out for a while, so the kids would eat early and the grown-ups later. Talking to my friends and colleagues, this is something that happens in a lot of families, and it's a real shame. Unlike lunchtimes, which - if we actually manage to get home for lunch - end up being a rushed affair with everyone thinking about their work/school day ahead, the evening meals are a chance to catch up with (and often laugh about) the day's events, take the time to talk things through and actually spend some quality time together. I've decided to make things a bit more special on a daily basis too - using the posh dinner service that we got as a wedding present and that spends its life in the cupboard waiting for a special occasion, turning off the TV and letting the kids pick some background music, ...

With perfect timing, an email landed in my inbox from Young's, who have teamed up with Etiquette Expert William Hansen, to reveal his top tips to make your dining experience extra special. Dinners and nights out can be expensive, so instead use these tips to recreate the restaurant experience at home. You can wow friends or family by pairing these with some simple and delicious Gastro recipes, all included in the full etiquette guide available on the Young's website. Here are the top tips to get you started.

Set the table
Once the table and dining area is clear it’ll be ready for cutlery, plates and napkins. Forks sit on the left; knives and spoons on the right. The glass goes just above the blade of the knife, on the right-hand side. The napkin should then be placed to the very left-hand side of the setting. Having all the dining equipment laid before you will mean you are ready to eat once dinner is served.

Use the nice china
Make a meal of your meal! Get the nice china out and use it to hold your mid-week fare. There’s no point it just sitting in the cupboard. Quality china and porcelain should be seen and enjoyed – not hidden away!

Find a centrepiece
You needn’t polish up your best candelabra for this one, a simple unscented candlestick alone can give that no man’s land in the centre of the dining table a certain je ne sais quoi! For daytime meals, you could use a small, low floral arrangement, bowl or platter of fruit.

Dress for dinner
The dinner jacket may be a step too far for a Tuesday night (I certainly won’t stop you) but at least change out of your work clothes and put on something decent. You won’t eat properly in pyjamas or loungewear. Keep it simple, chic and above all, fresh!

If music be the food of love...
Use music to give the room some aural atmosphere. Some streaming services even have dinner time playlists, to save you the time and effort of putting together your own mealtime mixtape.

The big turn off
Switch those phones and tablets off! You don’t need a screen to eat your delicious dinner and you should be focussing on eating as well as chatting to your dining companions. Even if you are alone, use meal times to detox and switch off from the techno world.

Perfect plate presentation
Don’t just chuck the food onto the plate and hope for the best. If you’ve cooked a good meal, spend an extra 30 seconds to lay it out on the plate to make it look as visually tasty as possible - we eat with our eyes first! The high-end restaurant rule that you can follow at home is to place the meat or fish in the bottom section of the plate and then have the vegetables laid out above.

Salt and pepper
Taste is so subjective and you or your fellow diners may wish to heighten the flavours of the meal by adding a touch of salt or pepper, or another condiment. Remember to move the salt and pepper mills or shakers to the table - the salt one gets placed just in front of the pepper. When adding salt to your plate, correct etiquette is to just pour a little pile on the edge of the plate, using your knife to add a few granules of salt at a time to each mouthful. (Pepper can just get sprinkled everywhere!) But do try your food first to check the seasoning before adding anything.

Getting saucy
Don’t stop there… perhaps for some dishes some table sauces may go well, such as tartare with fish. Please avoid plonking the jar or bottle on the table. Decant the sauce into a small dish or ramekin instead.

Elbows in
Sit up straight and put your shoulders back! We don’t want your meal to be spilled down your fresh clothes. Using good table manners will give the respect the food and its chef deserve - as well as help you to eat it properly.

Don’t worry about what wine snobs say about pairing food with wine. Pair your dinner with whatever wine you want, despite what the puritans may say. There are some excellent lighter reds that go with fish, contrary to that old ‘white wine with fish’ rule. And it needn’t be wine that you enjoy with your meal - a swish carafe of cordial or juice can add something even further to your meal.

Elegant entertaining

Nothing forces one into making an effort than knowing that friends and family are going to join you for a meal. Use the opportunity to catch up with your neighbours and friends, as well as build friendships by giving them some tasty dishes.

My own personal advice, though, is not to overthink it and just pick and choose the tips that best suit you. As I was eating with the kids, I went for a family-friendly dish and recreated the Fish Finger Pie from the Family Favourites section of the Young's section. (I've bought all the ingredients for the Prawn, Mango & Avocado Salad too.) While it certainly has less visual appeal than the Gourmet range, the kids loved it and eating it off our best china, with (plastic) champagne flutes, funky (paper) serviettes and a nice scented candle in the middle of the table still made it seem extra special.

To find out more, and for more great recipe and serving suggestions, please visit

Disclosure : We received some vouchers to try out the range.


  1. We rarely eat together as a family. My DH often comes home, when we've all eaten, including me, as I don't like to eat late. But all those tips make a lot of sense. Meals together help children learn table manners.

  2. Great tips. We eat together quite a lot but not always at the table. It makes it more special to have a sit down dinner. We should use our good china more as well

    1. This was the main revelation - we've probably used those plates twenty times in the last 18 years, which is a real waste !

  3. An interesting post. Unfortunately, two beautiful wine glasses we got for our wedding are no longer, because they were used and broken. Nevermind. Still believe that they were there to be used and not just looked at.

    1. Aww that's a shame - definitely better than never getting them out of the cupboard though :)

  4. Lovely idea. As for many of us :- Life can be so busy, fast paced, full of noise and interruptions.

    We need rest and relaxation to recharge and recuperate. A comfortable, yet relaxing atmosphere is conducive to healthy digestion. Seems we really need to prioritize some quality dining experiences at home.

    Maybe taking turns, sharing tasks in preparing for evening meal, may make that time and experience more healthy and enjoyable.

    Rachel Craig

    1. Love the idea of sharing tasks and taking turns - I've already made up a loose rota of who sets the table and who fills the water filter jug :)

  5. Such a nice idea and a lovely change from tray on the knee!

  6. Goos tips. We try to eat together as much as possible although it doesn't always work


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