The Correct Way to Eat Bread at the Dining Table


If bread is at all served at a formal dinner, it will be placed onto the bread plate. Fastidious hosts and hostesses will oftentimes provide butter that has been molded into some decorative form, usually a flower or a stylized droplet. If the butter is presented individually wrapped in foil paper, however, a gentleman should use his fingers, aided by the tip of his butter knife if necessary, to open the foil wrapping, then use his butter knife to place the butter onto his bread plate. The foil wrapper should then be folded into a small square and placed onto the table, as inconspicuously as possible, to the upper left side of the bread plate. The foil wrapping should not be left in the plate.

The general rule is that an entire slice of bread should not be buttered all at once. And certainly, any of those miniature, baguette-type buns should not be halved, whether with butter knife or hand, and buttered! Instead, the portion of bread to be consumed should be broken off (or pinched off, depending on the texture of the bread) with the fingers, braced in the plate with the fingers, and buttered with the butter knife. Thereafter, the bread should be conveyed to the mouth, held in the fingers. However, in cases where hot breads such as muffins or cornbread are served, they may be buttered all at once since they are most enjoyable when the butter has melted into them. Once buttered,  the portion of the bread to be consumed may be broken off with the fingers and conveyed to the mouth, held by the fingers, or a portion may be cut off with the butter knife and conveyed to the mouth by the fingers.

In American-style eating, a portion of bread, held in the fingers of the left hand, may be used as a “bracer”: The fork, held in the right hand, is used to move difficult-to-gather food items, such as grains of rice or peas, towards the portion of bread so as to be able to stabilize them against the bread to be collected onto the upwards-facing tines of the fork.  In American-style eating, bread may also correctly be used as a “pusher” and as an “absorber.”  As a “pusher,” a portion of bread is held in the fingers of the left hand and used to “push” small food particles, such as grains of rice, onto the fork, which is held in the right hand. The bread used to “push” is then conveyed to the mouth with the fingers of the left hand and eaten. (And, of course, what has been “pushed” onto the fork is conveyed to the mouth via the fork, held in the right hand. Whether the “pusher-bread” or the forkful is consumed first is a matter of personal choice). When bread is used as an “absorber,” it is held in the fingers of the left hand to absorb sauces and gravy, for example, the moistened portion of bread conveyed to the mouth with the fork, not with the fingers.

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