With Thanksgiving fast approaching, as well as all of the other wonderful celebratory meals that tend to come with this time of year, I thought it best to go over some basic dining etiquette. Like many things, this does not seem to be related to Masonry on the surface, but the more you think about it, the more you realize you need these skills to survive in Freemasonry. From Lodge dinners to Grand Lodge Banquets, everyone needs to have a general idea of the basics. No one is asking you to be Emily Post, but it is important that you do try.
Let’s be honest. Masonry, in many ways, tends to be stuck in the early to mid 1900’s. As I’ve said before, this does not need to be a bad thing. It does mean, however, that often we find ourselves doing things that most everyday people do not do- wearing tuxes and attending formal dinners, for instance. This can be confusing, and overwhelming at first, especially for those of us who have never experienced something like this before. If you need help with your tux, check this out. If you are not so sure which fork is for your salad, keep reading.
Reading the Table
Most meals at most Masonic functions will be informal. Don’t let the name fool you though, this doesn’t mean jeans an a t-shirt. Informal is the style of dining, usually for a 3-4 course meal. A meal of this style usually includes soup or hors d’oeuvres, salad, entrée, and dessert. The tablewear setup usually looks something like this:
It isn’t really too different from home except for the extra silverware. You want to go outside in with your silverware, so the most outside fork is used for the first course, the inner for the next, etc. Usually at most Masonic meals, they do not serve alcohol with the meal, but instead at the cocktail hour before. You may bring your drink in with you if you are not quite done. The wine glass is typically used instead for iced tea.
A little bit more complex, this is the formal table setting:
Again, you want to work outside in, and after your entree, you move to the utensils above your plate. You may see a table setting similar to this at say, the formal meal at your Grand Lodge.
You may also see some combination of the two settings. As someone involved with Masonry, there will come a time where you find yourself at a formal meal. It is important to take the time now to familiarize yourself with the settings now, so that panic does not set in when you get there. I’m not saying memorize the entire thing, but it would be a good idea to have a general idea of what is where.
Basic Table Manners
Remember what mom used to tell you at the dinner table as far as manners are concerned? The same applies here. Hate to get a little old school on you, but really, proper manners at dinner can get you far- who knows when you will be sitting with the Grand Master of your state, or the national secretary for Scottish Rite? You want to be able to impress, or at least, not disgust the person across the table from you. Much like the Kindergarten Creed, you already know most of this stuff.
- Chew with your mouth closed. From Emily Post to Pintrest, this is absolutely top of everyone’s list. Please follow through. No one wants to see that.
- Bring your food to your face, and not the other way around. Even if you did grow up with seven brothers, a nice dinner is not the time to be leaning over your plate, shoveling food into your face.
- Silence and put away your cell phone. I’m guilty of it too. Not browsing the internet while eating can be boring, but the idea of a formal dinner is for you to meet and converse with those around you, so remove all distractions.
- Say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ often. Even if you don’t think you need to. Mom wasn’t kidding when she said these words were magic.
- Remember your napkin. Seriously, I am always suprised at the number of grown men that forget this magical bit of fabric exists. It keeps your clothes from getting dirty, as well as your face.
If you are a young or new Mason, these are very simple ideals to follow. You would be amazed at how easily proper table manners can help garner respect and foundation, one of the often untalked about pillars of a sucessful Mason.
Want to learn more?
There’s a ton of dining guidelines, from how to signal that you’re finished, to when to take a drink of water. Even George Washington had a list of general etiquette. Youtube is a wonderful resource for much of this. However, nothing is as good as the queen of etiquette herself: