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UK Dining Etiquette Survey 2007-03-01

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Statistics.

It’s not so long ago that the pinnacle of meal table mischief was flicking peas across the table — swiftly punished by a stern rebuke or exile to the bedroom without dinner.

But today’s parents have not only forgotten their manners — but are too busy licking their plates and watching the telly to pass them on, a survey has revealed.

  • Nearly three-quarters of adults today think nothing of shovelling food into their mouths with a fork held in their right hand, not bothering with a knife at all.
  • More than half admit to eating chicken drumsticks with their hands, while a third scoop up the last bits of food on their plates with their fingers. The same number speak with their mouths full.
  • Most of us are now happy to sit with our elbows on the table and a quarter confess to belching freely during a meal.
  • One in five of the population also regularly use their napkin to blow their nose.

The decline in standards has, unsurprisingly, come at a time when an increasing number of families have too little time or inclination to eat together at the dinner table, where good manners could be passed on.

Only a third of families now eat most of their meals together at the dinner table. The rest prefer to sit in front of the telly and one fifth say that every meal is consumed in front of the box.

The survey of 2 231 people by The Great British Chicken, a trade group which promotes the use of British poultry, also found a north/south divide with the worst manners in Scotland and the north east and the best in Wales and the south east.

And while just eight per cent of the population think the country has good table manners, less than two thirds say there needs to be an improvement.

Ms.Jean Broke-Smith, etiquette expert from ITV1’s ‘Ladette to Lady‘ programme — a modern take on ‘My Fair Lady’ involving a group of Britain’s most obnoxious young women — said the results revealed a nation which has forgotten basic good manners.

[Picture of Jean Broke-Smith]
‘It’s shocking that in the space of a few decades society has degenerated into caveman-standard eating habits,’ she said.

‘People need to think about the impression they are creating — bad table manners can make a person appear rude, lazy and lacking in respect and consideration for others.’

In 2005 Mr.David Hart, then General Secretary of ‘The National Association of Head Teachers‘, warned children were starting school lacking key social skills.

Irresponsible or overworked parents were leaving the job to teachers, leading to a drastic deterioration in children’s behaviour.

This was illustrated in 2006-05 when it emerged a primary school was employing a member of staff solely to teach pupils how to use a knife and fork.

Pupils aged four to 11 at Burrowmoor School in March, Cambridgeshire, were also going to be told how to socialise while sitting at the table.

Great British Chicken chairman Mr.Charles Bourns said the research suggested that while mealtime rules were evolving swiftly, some manners would never go out of fashion.

‘While our convenience nation no longer cares how a knife or fork is used, it’s still frowned upon and considered rude not to pay attention to the people you’re eating with,’ he said.

‘And although watching TV seems to be accepted as a socially inclusive activity, most Brits agree that picking up a mobile phone or BlackBerry(CORR) over dinner should be banned.’

The 15 most common bad table manners are:

  1. 73 per cent Holding fork in right hand/no knife;
  2. 67 per cent Elbows on table;
  3. 67 per cent Failing to remain at table while everyone is still eating;
  4. 64 per cent Eating straight out of packaging;
  5. 47 per cent Leaving table while others eating;
  6. 36 per cent Talking with mouth full;
  7. 34 per cent Using fingers to scoop up last bits of food;
  8. 27 per cent Pointing at someone with knife/fork;
  9. 25 per cent Burping at table;
  10. 24 per cent Licking plate clean;
  11. 20 per cent Blowing nose on napkin;
  12. 20 per cent Putting too much food in mouth;
  13. 19 per cent Forgetting to thank host for meal;
  14. 19 per cent Not knowing which cutlery to use in restaurant;
  15. 8 per cent Throwing food at someone across table.

The days when a family would sit down together each evening to enjoy a leisurely dinner are, it seems, numbered.

A study has found the average mealtime in British homes now lasts just 14 minutes and 27 seconds, half as long as 20 years ago, when we took a more leisurely 33 minutes.

Some of that is put down to the disappearance of eating together round the table, with no-one leaving their seat until the last person had finished and food eaten around a discussion of how the day went.

The research also found three out of four diners no longer chewed their food, which helps speed up mealtimes but may also be a major factor in the nation’s obesity epidemic.

Some people eat their food so quickly they cannot even remember what it tasted like moments after finishing the last mouthful, the study revealed.

Nutritionists are convinced it is not just what we eat, but also how we eat that is adding to the country’s weight problem.

Experts recommend taking more time and to chew more while concentrating on our food, rather than being distracted by the TV or computer.

The poll of 1 300 adults for trade body Great British Chicken examined the nation’s eating habits with disturbing results.

It found eight in ten (79 per cent) ate in front of the TV regularly and one in five admitted eating while using a computer.

Meals are also regularly consumed while reading, texting or even talking on the phone, and only 16 per cent said they commonly ate a meal while doing nothing else.

Almost half (46 per cent) admitted they sometimes ate a meal then realised they had no idea what it had tasted like. Ms.Jane Clarke, a nutritionist, said:

‘The brain can really only acknowledge one activity at a time. So if you eat in front of the TV, the likelihood is that you won’t notice, nor appreciate, your food — which makes it more likely you’ll overeat.’

Just one adult in ten took longer than half an hour over their food, and nearly seven in ten finished their meal in under 15 minutes. Ms.Clarke added:

‘We need to take longer over meals. Eating slowly gives your brain a chance to receive signals of fullness. It also warns your stomach to get ready for food, making digestion easier.’

The survey found 15 per cent admitted they chewed each mouthful no more than twice before swallowing.

Only 24 per cent chewed five times or more, which is what experts recommend to aid digestion and help satisfy appetites. Ms Clarke said:

‘I recommend that we chew six to eight times per mouthful, although some experts suggest up to 20 times.

‘Chewing is important, as there are little stretch receptors in the jaw which acknowledge how many times you chew and send signals to the brain.

‘So the more times you chew, the more signals the brain receives, and the more full you feel.’

Those polled were asked to classify themselves as underweight, average or overweight to see if there were noticeable differences in their table habits.

Those who considered themselves overweight were most likely to eat food in front of the TV — 86 per cent compared to 74 per cent of those who did not think they are overweight.

And they were also likely to eat the fastest, with up to one in ten overweight adults finishing a meal in five minutes or less, compared to seven per cent of the others.

The young were the biggest TV dinner fans — 88 per cent of under-21s ate in front of the box.



1. naisaguara - 2008-08-03

It’s amazing

2. Grandma - 2008-09-06

At a recent family meal I reminded my son (who is now a fellow at a Cambridge College) that I had taught him as a child to put his knife and fork together on his plate at a meal rather than leave knife and fork slung carelessly on the plate as he had just done. His response was, ‘Oh mother, how very middle class!’ Although I know he was probably being ironic as he didn’t take kindly to being pulled up in front of his own small children, it nevertheless led to a family discussion about table manners.

Perhaps I am becoming as old-fashioned as my mother and her mother before her, but as a grandmother now myself, I can see what they were getting at when they taught me good manners at the table.

3. Dave - 2008-09-07

Etiquette and manners is not (and has never been) about exclusion, being elitist, being a snob or anything like that; it’s common sense — but only when the context is consideration of other people.

Everyone for themselves is the norm today, and so it is hardly surprising that manners have almost disappeared; we are inconsiderate.

Grandma, I was taught that if your knife and fork were not neatly placed together on the plate, then the waiter (and host) would assume that you were still eating/ not finished. Putting them together was not merely a signal, but it made the task of removing the plate and cutlery easier (and less risky).

If someone has spent time preparing a meal, the least you can do is to give the meal some attention (rather than watching TV, for example), but it’s nice to thank the person for their trouble.

I personally do not have a problem with American manners — Our cousins cut up their food and then switch to using the fork with the right hand and leaving the knife aside. To me, that is a personal choice as it bears not on other people. This is the same with covering the end of the knife and fork handles; I just don’t care.

Elbows on table is fine when it is a one-on-one meal with the two people sitting opposite each other. Elbows on table in other situations can appear rude — a bit like turning your back on someone.

Manners has always been about making guests comfortable, it’s nice to be nice, and consideration is what makes the rules!

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