Dinner Etiquette: Keep the Conversation Light

Phyllis Inspiration 14 Comments

It’s very uncomfortable being at dinner when, out-of-nowhere, a topic not suitable for discussion at the table is introduced. What do you do? Well the old Southern rule of table topics is this: “No religion, no sex, and no politics.” (Today we could certainly add more to that list.) And my favorite rule is“Listen carefully, I don’t repeat gossip!”

Dinner should be light and enjoyable and the talk around the table should be entertaining and conversational. Oftentimes we find ourselves in awkward situations. What one finds amusing is not always amusing to others; or worse, a topic of great controversy is introduced. How do we stop that train wreck?

We have all been there when a question or comment is made that totally stops conversation and then ultimately puts a damper on an evening. A minister’s wife gave me the best advice once, as she was always being put in the middle of situations. She said when a person makes a statement hoping for a response she always responds, “Well…”

For example: I think the choir was really bad today. “Well…” Her hair color is really awful don’t you think? “Well…” I will be glad when she retires. “Well…”

You are neither agreeing nor disagreeing with a comment and it usually gives you the opportunity to change the subject to something more pleasant.

Table talk should be a family time for sharing positives, successes, and triumphs in our lives. It should never be a place for an argument, budget concerns, or scolding of a child’s grades or school issues. Those discussions should always take place in private.

What do you do when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation? First, change the subject if you can by telling a funny story or sharing something humorous. Second, ask a question to someone at the table about themselves that will totally lead talk in a different direction. Third, sometimes being quiet and not commenting is the best course of action. Silence will many times squelch a conversation quickly. You can only have a conversation when two are talking. One just doesn’t work!

I love lighthearted table time when funny stories of our days are shared or when our grandchildren share things from their perspective. Always give children your undivided attention. They need to know that they are just as important as anyone at the table and that their comments are welcome.

I want people who come to my home to remember the fun times around the table. Laugh and enjoy these times. I can remember meals at my grandmother’s house when all the girl cousins would share stories of school, current loves, and bad hair days. Everything ended in laughter and those are the memories that I cherish.

What are your thoughts on dinner etiquette?

Comments 14

  1. I am a retired teacher. Every year we ended our school year with our manner’s luncheon to celebrate our successful school year. Now that I’m retired they have named the luncheon the Sue Dodd Manner’s Luncheon. I am honored.

    One of the many things that we discussed during the school year was that at the dinner table you would always have pleasant conversation. We would even practice what was a pleasant topic that would be fun to talk about and would include everyone. When we all were aware of what was meant by pleasant conversation those awkward topics did not come up. These were 5th graders,but it is never too early to teach kindness and respect.

  2. A sure sign at our table that the wrong subject came up were the words “how about those Red Sox”. It was the subject changer every time, I guess it still is!

  3. Conversation at the dinner table is almost a lost art. Let’s do everything we can to promote and nurture gentle, loving communication while sharing food and the precious gift of time together. It is amazing to see friends and family physically relax when sharing a fond memory complete with a giggle or two or more. Priceless!

  4. A dinner conversation about light topics such as bad hair days? Never, never at my table! The unfortunate woman who says, “Well,” needs to become interesting. I expect lively debate about social justice, politics, and economic trends. I want my friends to discuss ideas that change me, and the world in general, making it more just. Speak about what stirs your soul. If philosophy of mathematics education is your focus in life then I want you to convince me about that every single day. Talk about religion if you must, but you had better have really good data. Talk about food if you have questions concerning production techniques. Discuss your volunteering. Discuss music and drama. Always, always, speak as if you were directing the future of humanity. Step up. Speak up. No doormats.

  5. I agree with everything you said Phyllis-no politics, no religion, no sex, no money issues, no scolding, and definitely no gossip. Our moments together over a meal with family or friends should be relaxing and enjoyable.
    Unfortunately, as you said, as our world evolves there are many more to add to the list. I think really listening to our children and grandchildren is so important. Fortunately I have not faced this in my own home. I think I would try to redirect the conversation to something very positive.

    Your table setting is so beautiful. I am going to borrow your idea with pictures instead of placecards. Let us all bring our best self to the table.

  6. The most rudest thing anyone can do is bring up money at a dinner table…. I have been at tables where money is the topic of conversation as far as who owns this and who is investing in what and so on and so forth… There may be people at the table who unfortunately not doing so well financially and that would make them feel uncomfortable… I have known many people who are quite wealthy and they never speak about what they have in terms of their financial status, now that’s class! Keep the conversation light and friendly and who really cares about the rest! Enjoy the moment and not what one’s status is! Mixed company can sometimes be very dangerous, so beware!

  7. I agree with the “Well . . . ” response, or just a gentle smile and a tilt of the head from the hostess. Actually, at my childhood table with family guests, the grownups did discuss politics and religion, and almost always ended up with family genealogy in animated, but rather lighthearted conversation. Any further “debate” continued among the men, over whiskey and cigars in our library. Today, I truly miss listening to those adult conversations wherein people talked about things that really mattered instead of engaging in trivial chitchat.

  8. Over the years of entertaining I usually enthusaticaly smile and get up
    from the table and say, “More coffee, or maybe wine or dessert, or how
    about seconds anyone?” Looks like everyone enjoyed their meal!” I say
    this in an upbeat voice and it always makes for a continued shift in
    conversation….I believe the hostess has a responsibility to take charge
    when she/he feels the conversation is being derailed. Its has always worked
    for me. Bon appeite my friends! Carmel

  9. I find that for some reason, no matter how many times ask my husband not to, he always at some point starts or responds to political discourse. Some members of our immediate and extended families actually enjoy this and have said that they look forward to it, but there are the others who become quiet and do not participate. Tapping my husband’s leg under the table hasn’t worked even after he announces this gentle reminder to everyone involved.I do not like this one bit and usually try to change the topic to no avail. There is also much laughter etc.and I don’t think anyone’s ever left with hurt feelings but I’d rather keep things light and joyful. What can I do??

  10. Yes!!! My Mom always said….never! Never! Discuss Religion, Politics or Money! Those issues are an individual’s opinion or business and there are so many other interesting topics to talk about and stories to tell.

  11. Perhaps a comment stating that “we certainly have so many other important things in common as friends, so let’s not waste our time together discussing our few differences”……then introduce another subject. I think that this kind of comment let’s the other party know where you stand about a subject (so it doesn’t need to ever come up again) and, at the same time, illustrates your respect of your friendship. Then, move the conversation along quickly!

  12. had to share this! I’ve had two instances where someone dampened the entire evening with their inane comments. I love the “well” response but it wouldn’t have worked in either instance. One was politics and not just politics but “oh, you’re a xxx!!!” and the other was “well, that coming from someone with xxx in their garage” (referring to price of a vehicle).. I was stunned by the lack of manner and by the fact that this friend actually said both things. Any suggestions on how to handle that in the future??? Help, still drowning….

  13. This is such a needed post, Phyllis. As hostesses, we’ve all been in that situation, trying to put out a conversational fire before it ruins everyone’s delightful meal. I usually employ the ” well” tactic you describe, and charge full steam ahead into another lovely subject engaging one or more of the guests at the table in the topic.
    Thank you for bringing this to the forefront. Hoping none of us need to ” change the subject” too often during a party or dinner!

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