With the festive season upon us and Singapore being a multi-culturally cohesive country, you may be invited to the homes of hosts coming from different races and religion. We have put together some basic dining etiquette for you to feel at ease!
1. Offer Help
When you’ve been invited, it is always polite to ask your host if there is anything you could help them with such as picking up desserts or turning up 30 minutes earlier to help set the table. Make the first move to offer your services to help in whatever way you can.
2. Always Bring a Gift.
It might not be requested by your host but by bringing a gift, it shows your appreciation towards them. Wines and champagnes or a box of chocolates are always welcomed but do bear in mind that Muslims do not take alcohol, and you might need to check if any food items you bring are halal certified. Alternatively, you can bring non-food items like scented candles.
Your host has probably put in a lot of effort to make the meal happen, from home decorations to food preparation. Compliment on the food or anything that pleases you, or just simply offer a toast or word of thanks to the host for his / her efforts. This can help the host feel less overwhelmed with everything knowing that people are enjoying themselves.
4. Don’t Use Your Phone!
This is a general rule of thumb I am sure we all know. Using our phones might seem like an easy way to escape an awkward situation but it could give the message to your host that you are not enjoying yourself or that you are being rude.
When its time to eat…
5. Partaking in the meal.
Do not dig in till your host has served everyone or has invited everyone to partake. Some hosts may say a welcome speech or a prayer before the meal, just be quiet during this time.
6. Choice of Cutlery
If you are unsure how to use certain cutlery like chopsticks or simply using your hands, you can always request for your preferred choice of cutlery, your hosts would want you to feel comfortable too.
7. Use of Chopsticks
Do remember that if you are using chopsticks, do not use them to point at another individual or stick them into your bowl of rice (represents offering to the deceased). Instead, place them on the chopsticks’ rest or by the side of your bowl.
8. Using Your Hands
In a Muslim household, using their hands to eat has become second-nature to their culture. As such, most of them would eat with their right hand, as the left hand is considered “unclean” and seen as rude and disrespectful when one passes food. You can always ask for cutlery if you are uncomfortable to do so, but do remember to always wash your hands before and after each meal.
9. Communal Dining
Most Chinese, Indian and Malay homes enjoy communal dining, where everyone will take a portion from the communal dishes, Always remember to use the communal serving utensils and avoid using your own cutlery to take food. During the meal, don’t be shy to ask for a dish across the table to be passed to you. Avoid reaching out for the dish yourself and pass it along when you have taken your portion.
10. Dining Conversation
Keep the conversation light and make small talk with your host and the guests. Avoid discussing about politics, religions or sensitive issues such as salaries, or how much did the host pay for his / her home.
11. After the meal
When the meal is over, offer your services to help clean up. If the host refuses your help, find another way to make yourself helpful. Your small acts will not go unseen and will definitely put you on the list for next year’s celebration meal.
If you would like to know more about Asian and Western Dining Etiquette when dining out or at your friends’ home, Palate Sensations offers the following classes: