If the fact that your bread plate is on the left is something you have known most part of your life, it may be surprising to some that people still make mistakes. But rather than judge, it is much better to educate. As such, a simple lesson on bread etiquette may just be the order for the day.
At a recent conference, attended by presidents and CEOs of a specific industry, a friend told me a story. She was seated at a table with the president of a well-known company. Pleased to be in the company of such an esteemed group, she was all set to enjoy the dinner.
She took a roll from the bread basket and placed it on the bread plate on the left-hand side of her table setting. The man next to her said, “Excuse me, but that’s my plate.” By now she was speechless and dumbfounded.
Then she realized that if she didn’t correct this man, he would only make the same mistake. So, she went on to explain that bread plates are to the left while glasses are to the right. His answer was an airtight “No, the bread is to the right.” Exasperated by now, she took the bread and ate it from her dinner show plate.
That is still not the end of the story. The man next to her then helped himself to a dinner roll and began to use the butter knife to slice the bread in half, spread butter, and make it into a sandwich. I use this joke a lot when I am giving lectures, and I always get a laugh out of the audience.
But when it happens in public—and this story happened just last weekend—it is enough to leave the entire table in embarrassing awkwardness. This time, my friend chose to remain silent.
Bread is placed on the bread and butter plate, on the left hand side of your setting. The butter knife is used with the right hand. Bread is broken using the thumb and forefingers in small bite-sized pieces. The knife is used only to spread the butter on the bread. Never use the butter knife to slice the bread, nor should you slice the bread in half and make yourself a sandwich. Resist any temptation to dunk the bread in the soup.
Rules of etiquette are norms so that people can be comfortable with each other. Breaches in etiquette make people around you uncomfortable, and may lead them to have a negative opinion about you. I’m not saying that judging others is right; I’m simply stating what is inherent in human nature.
When we forget our manners, people tend to form opinions. Wouldn’t you prefer that they get to know you first, rather than form an opinion just because you neglected to brush up on basic table etiquette? And this is just the bread.