How to Teach Dining Etiquette to High School Students

by Andrew Smith

Taking your family out for a nice dinner or simply having one at your own home can be a very soothing way to enjoy a meal as well as the company of one another. There may be members of your family, such as your kids, who are unfamiliar with how they should properly act at a dinner table. Perhaps dinnertime at your house is more like feeding time at the zoo. With some time and a little bit of work, you can show just how a true gentleman and lady should act at the dinner table. Here is how to teach dining etiquette to high school students.

Begin by watching movie clips of both the right and wrong way to act at the dinner table with the high school students. These clips should be particularly funny as the point is to grab their attention right away. You could, for example, choose to watch a few minutes of the dinner scene from "Wedding Crashers." There is both appropriate and (very) inappropriate dinner behavior in that particular scene. Before you get into the specifics of proper dining etiquette, finish these movie clips and then ask the students what they believe was done both correctly and incorrectly. Get them into the discussion early so they don't lose interest as time goes along.

Demonstrate to the high school students how to set the table. You don't need to quiz them on this information as it will be more to show them what goes where. After all, you wouldn't want the students to use a soup spoon during dessert. Make sure they know which utensils to use for certain dishes.

Make sure that the gentlemen pull the chair out for the ladies. This is something that is often overlooked when it comes to dining etiquette. It is not simply a respectful or “nice” thing for a guy to do, though. Pulling the chair out is truly proper dinner etiquette. This is especially important for high school students who will soon be going out to dinner before prom.

Remind the high school students to place their napkins in their laps. It's highly unlikely that they'll tuck the napkins in their shirt collar (unless they've been watching too much Three Stooges) but many high schoolers will simply leave their napkin on the table after they've used it to wipe their hands or face. Emphasize to them that doing so is rude, gross and just shouldn't be done at the dinner table.

Explain to the the high schoolers how they should eat at the dinner table. High schoolers have large appetites and thus scarf down meals in a hurry. This is fine when having a cheeseburger and fries but should never be done at the dinner table. The proper eating etiquette is what would be considered a “medium” bite and properly chewing the food before swallowing. Eating isn't a race, at least not when at the dinner table.

Emphasize the importance of good posture at the dinner table. Dining etiquette isn't just about knowing which fork to use when and remembering to chew with your mouth closed. Because of their growing bodies, many male teenagers slouch in their chairs in order to recline their legs. Emphasize the importance of sitting up straight while at the dinner table. Remind them that their elbows should never rest on the table.

Go over the appropriate conversation topics as well as which type of speaking tone should be used while dining. High school students can get loud in a hurry. It's important that you remind them to talk in a soft-spoken and clear manner while at the table. It's also good to remind them that it is not proper etiquette to discuss the latest school rumor or "who's dating who" while having a meal.

Place your students in groups of three and have them rate one another during practice "dates." Dining etiquette during a date should be similar to that at a large dinner table. When doing this, one student should sit back and take notes while the other two practice their etiquette. By watching one another, your students can learn from each other's mistakes. When everybody has finished, bring the entire class back together to discuss who was the best (and worst) at the dinner table. Offer a gift certificate at a nice local restaurant to the student rated best by his or her class as a reward of sorts for having good dining etiquette. This way, the student can use his new-found dining etiquette on a date with a girlfriend/boyfriend.

Set up a practice meal to go over these things with the high school students. Many people, high school students especially, learn more by actually doing. Telling the students how to behave at the table may not be good enough instruction. Instead, sit with them at a practice meal and notice anything that they could improve upon. Point out specific times during the practice meal when students are doing things both incorrectly and correctly. This will better prepare them for when the real event comes.

Explain to the students one final time why proper dining etiquette is so important. In the near future, these high school students will be placed in formal dinner situations such as Prom, receptions for college events and weddings of their peers. These same students could be faced with a formal dinner with potential bosses in the next few years. It's then that they'll appreciate learning these skills.

Tip

  • Use humor as a method to both teach the high school students and to keep their attention. For example, when a student does something wrong during one of the trial runs, point it out in a joking matter. You could simply say something along the lines of "everybody notice how John is sitting. This is absolutely the wrong way to be at the dinner table." Say so in a sarcastic tone which lets the student know that he is doing something incorrectly without hurting his feelings. Unlike younger children who will find something like this funny, your high school students will want to avoid being singled out in any way by a teacher.

Warnings

  • If you do use the dinner scene from "Wedding Crashers," you'll probably want to stop it at a point before it becomes too inappropriate for high school students.
  • Avoid talking to the high school students as you would if you were teaching these skills to children. Be stern and to the point with your students. Don't ask the guys to pull out the chair for the ladies. Tell them to do so. Speaking to them in this manner will keep their respect which will ensure that they're listening to you throughout the lesson.

About the Author

Andrew Smith has been a freelance writer since 2006, specializing in sports and technology. His work has appeared on various online sites. Smith has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Pennsylvania State University.

Photo Credits

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