Continental vs. American Dining Style

Table Etiquette: Two Different Styles of Eating

Posted by Liz Taylor Aug 23, 2013

I recently taught a dining etiquette class where an attendee wanted to discuss the difference between American and Continental style eating. I am an advocate for eating whatever way you feel most comfortable, but it is impressive to mirror your tablemates. If everyone is eating Continental style or you plan on travelling abroad, you’ll want to master the Continental style of eating.  

The American Style of Eating
American style eating is done by holding the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand. After the knife is used to cut the food while the food is held by the fork, the knife is placed near the top of the plate, blade facing in. The fork is then switched to the right hand and used to pick up the piece of food, tines facing up.

The Continental Style of Eating
In the early nineteenth century, Europeans ate just as we do now, but around 1850, the upper class stopped shifting their forks back and forth, and the Continental (or European) style of eating became fashionable. A French etiquette book of the time remarks: "If you wish to eat in the latest mode favored by fashionable people, you will not change your fork to your right hand after you have cut your meat, but raise it to your mouth in your left hand."

The Continental style is thought to be a more graceful way of eating, but it does take practice. The fork stays in the left hand, with the tines pointed down, and the knife is held by the right hand. The food is then speared by the fork and brought to the mouth with the tines facing down.

Bon appetit!

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