Ingredients to a mannerly meal in any setting

New columnist Mark Longacre dishes out dining etiquette advice for any environment.

New columnist Mark Longacre dishes out dining etiquette advice for any environment.

As you enter the jungle known as the Student Center, you’re herded into a sea of famished students, only to stand in a never-ending line. You make your way to the register to make your purchase, swiping $7.20 worth of food. Plasticware in hand, you sit with a friend and hope to enjoy your already-cold meal just to look over and see the girl at the next table chomping obnoxiously on her sushi.
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My mother always told me, “Eat as though you were eating with the president, because you never know when you will.”

She has always been an advocate for proper manners, and her advice regarding eating etiquette has always resonated with me. Even in my high-school cafeteria days, my friends and I ate well. Our napkins in our laps, we chewed with our mouths closed, and we wouldn’t even think to speak while devouring our gourmet wraps. Hello, Stepford.

Even when eating inside the Student Center food court, etiquette shouldn’t be thrown out the window.

First, don’t eat with your mouth open. No one wants to see or hear your food, and the noises that come from people’s mouths are gross. Next, always have a napkin or two handy. Cafeteria food is greasy, so you should be prepared to take care of the mess. If you’re like me, grab 20 napkins for added confidence. I am a huge fan of the Student Center’s Charleston Market, and I frequently use my hands to eat the satisfying fried food it serves. Even though I’m eating with my hands, I always have a napkin in my lap.

As you chow down on that deliciously greasy platter, take it slow. The portions are huge, especially with two amazing sides like mashed potatoes and stuffing, so there is no reason to gorge. Whether you enjoy the company of a friend or you’re the loner who likes to eat in solidarity, slow down, Tiger.

Now that the groundwork has been laid for the cafeteria-dining experience, you’re ready to conquer the more eloquent dining etiquette.

At college, it’s natural to meet people and possibly find a deeper interest in a certain someone. After run-ins at parties and painfully awkward text messages, romances develop and can eventually lead to that official first date. If your special someone has a taste for high-class dining at restaurants like Parc, at 227 S. 18th St., etiquette is key.

You’ll likely be served several courses, such as steak tartare and lamb, and with each course comes a set of different utensils. But don’t freak out when you see more knives on your plate than in an armory.

A proper setting begins with the napkin on the left, with the salad fork, dinner fork and dessert fork on top, from left to right. The bread plate and knife will be above the three forks, and the dinner knife, teaspoon and soupspoon go on the right. Above the spoons, you’ll find your wine glass and water glass. Don’t expect any Franzia, and if the restaurant is a BYOB, leave the Natty Ice at home.

This may all seem overwhelming at first, but when in doubt, start with the outside silverware, and work your way in. Don’t forget to leave used utensils on the plate when the server clears your setting, and keep your napkin in your lap at all times.

If nothing else, remember this: Never spit anything out. You will swallow that escargot, and you will like it.

Once you conquer the first date, feel free to be a little more relaxed and simplify the setting. Cook for your love interest. Take advantage of residence halls with kitchens, or if you get lucky, find someone with one in his or her  apartment. Kitchens are usually close to a couch, bed or table if need be. Just sayin’.

Be sure to keep dinner classy but casual, and if you’re unsure what dining etiquette to use, assume formal.

You may not need seven forks, three knives and four spoons, but be sure to set up something elegant. The added effort will pay off, and your class will definitely show.

Mark Longacre can be reached at

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