Category Archives: At My Table

Etiquette for all things food related.

Etiquette: The Card Game

First, an apology. It has been too long since my last post. A tragedy has befallen the House of EtiKate, and I’m afraid every other thing has been left neglected. I have had etiquette post topics in my mind throughout my absence, and I hope to be able to share it all with you in the weeks and months to come.

Since the start of the year, I have been going on more than my usual amount of weekend trips. On the Thursday before, I would already be thinking of an activity I’d like to do, or a place to visit. Then on the Saturday, I’d hop on the train and embark on my little adventure.

The City of Dreaming Spires

One of my favourite places to visit is the city of dreaming spires, Oxford. The city is easy enough to navigate on foot. The architecture, the history, the very atmosphere just commands an expression of greatness.  And in Oxford, one of my favourite haunts (of these there are many), is The Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest university museum. I don’t wish to offend fellow pilgrims, but I would describe it as a cross between The National Gallery and the British Museum. I like to while away the hours staring at the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I also love the corridor I like to call the “plate room”, where the fine porcelain are kept in large glass cases. Oh, the scandalous conversations those china plates must have overheard in their day!

The Ashmolean Museum

Previously, I wrote of the many books from which I take etiquette inspiration. I also mentioned several films that have added to my interest. I am happy to report, that this time, I have found a new fount of inspiration, and I discovered it in no other place than The Ashmolean gift shop!

This new inspiration, would you believe, is an etiquette card game. It’s called RSVP: Etiquette through the Ages. Think Trivial Pursuit where the sole category being etiquette and decorum. So, perhaps it’s more akin to Cards for Humanity?


The latest addition to my library, Etiquette the Card Game

The deck is composed of quiz cards with questions on one side and the answers are on the reverse. There are topics on dining, communication and even “petiquette”. The cards were written and designed in the US and published with the approval of The Library of Congress. I think that lends more credibility to the card game.

I have picked a random card from the deck, and it reads:

True or False:
When attending a dinner party, it is perfectly acceptable to use the salt and pepper provided on the table to season one’s food.

I will let you mull that over before I give the answer.

I now have these cards in my sitting room in place of a coffee table book. It entertains as well as educates, with its bite-sized etiquette facts. For instance, did you know that, according to the celebrated socialite Gloria Guinness, the best way to prepare for a houseguest is to “sleep in your guest room before any guest who might be too polite to tell you what is wrong”. This would allow you to identify things you may have overlooked, an extra blanket, for example.


Pick a card, any card.

I find these etiquette cards are a great conversation starter at house parties. They serve a similar purpose as the little jokes inside the Christmas crackers. I think my friends would be cautious when I invite them over for a “card game”. I just need to devise a scoring system for the game. On second thought, where etiquette is concerned, (do forgive me) everybody’s a winner!

In answer to the earlier question, it is acceptable to use the condiments and spices provided to season one’s food. The salt and pepper are there for a reason, so guests should feel free to season their food, discreetly, and only after you have tasted the food. And if someone asks for the salt, it is proper to send along the pepper as well, for the two travel together at the table.

Until we meet again,


Etiquette do’s and don’ts

I always start a new year with a list. I am one of those who still writes resolutions. I also make a list of places I’d like to visit and activities I’d like to accomplish in the next 12 months. I even do a little mid-year review to evaluate how the first half of the year had gone. You know, just for the fun of it!
Judging by all the Buzzfeed links on my Facebook newsfeed (’31 Home Decor Hacks That Are Borderline Genius’), I may have missed the trend of giving information in itemised lists.

I hesitated for quite a while before posting this do’s and don’ts piece. I didn’t want to limit the very complex world that is etiquette and decorum into a tidy list. My aim was to present a little “rules of thumb” of social conventions. I hope I have achieved it. So, do read on, these are my “you can’t go wrong with…” etiquette tips.

Etiquette Do’s

1. Do speak softly in confined spaces. It’s called our indoor voice.

Trust him, he’s The Doctor.

2. Do knock before entering a room. Always. Make it a habit. It’s rude not to.

3. Do chew with your mouth closed. The smacking sound is just off-putting.

Ettiquette and needlepoint, two of my loves.

4. Do hold open the door for the person immediately behind you. And do say thank you if someone does the same for you.

5. Do let ladies go first. Except when going down the stairs.

Etiquette Don’ts

1. Don’t talk when your mouth is full. I’d have to agree with your mum on this one.

2. Don’t apply your lipstick at the dinner table. Under no circumstances is it acceptable. Besides, your lipstick will look more immaculate when applied in front of a mirror. I believe it’s better if we have a complete embargo on all public grooming.

 The Etiket of Etiquette: Applying Lipstick at the Dinner Table

Hardly the image of elegance. Photo from

3. Don’t answer a call at the dinner table, the theatre or the cinema. Please take it outside.

He is being rather rude to his date. Photo from

4. Don’t interrupt people when they are speaking. Let them finish what they have to say.

5. Don’t converse in lifts (elevators), especially with strangers present. It’s a 30 second journey in a metal box suspended in air. There’s no need to make it more uncomfortable than is necessary.

All the best for a wonderful new year,


How and who to tip

I woke up this Christmas Eve morning to the sound of clinking glasses. The milkman has come to deliver my holiday milk order. I forgot to leave out his Christmas card yet again. This is rapidly becoming a tradition in my house. Whereas last Christmas, I spent the holidays with my beloved’s family; we’ll be having Christmas in our house this year. That means I can give Stuart the Milkman his card, homemade chili jam and his tip the day after Boxing Day. Another fortuitous outcome of this oversight is I get to share my thoughts on tipping in this impromptu post. One gives a tip to show appreciation for a good service. It is acceptable, and in most cases expected, to tip our hairdressers and waiters. I was a waitress in a former life. So now, I never eat out unless I can afford to leave a good tip. I also always tip the bartender after I order my first cocktail. Happy bartenders make better drinks. With that said, one must not feel any obligations to leave a tip if you have received bad service. 

Photo from

How much to tip Deciding how much to tip can be tricky. When it’s been decided for you with a service charge, you can just leave it at that. Leaving a tip should appear considerate. Don’t just thoughtlessly leave £1 (or 1 or a crown) on the plate; the waitress is not a homeless person. Nor should you just empty the entire contents of your purse. Ten to fifteen percent of the bill is generally acceptable, any more and it might seem as though you are expecting oh shall we say, “other” favours.

Tipping on holiday In the United States, the restaurant serving staff supplement their wages with tips. This makes it  practically criminal not to leave a tip. If you do the same in Japan, your server will chase you down the street because you “forgot your money”. But as hotels and holiday resorts adapt more and more to Western customs, tipping is becoming the norm.

Photo from The Standard

Debretts advises to think of tipping in units. So for instance, for the porter who helped carry your luggage to your room, that’s one unit per case. For the doorman who got you a cab, that’s one unit. You are not expected to tip the doorman if he simply opens the door of an awaiting taxi for you. Now, I advocate deciding for yourself how much one unit is, within your own budget. For me, one unit is the price of a decent cup of coffee in that city. In Rome, that may be €2, in Manila it’s the price of a latte in Starbucks. Finally, I would like to mention that it is not customary to tip the proprietor of the business.

With that, I will leave you all with my warmest wishes for the festive period. Don’t forget to leave a little something for Father Christmas. Traditionally, it’s mince pies and a carrot for his reindeer. Although in our house, Father Christmas enjoys whisky. Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year! EtiKate

Cheers: toasting and clinking glasses

I was in Munich at the end of September. At the celebrated Hofbräuhaus beer hall, we were sat opposite a very affable father and son from Argentina. The father is a surgeon, in town for a conference. As luck would have it, I had done a little research on the biofuel industry of Argentina last year. I knew a little bit about their country, so I had an instant icebreaker.

Photo from

When our beers arrived, they offered their glasses for me to clink with the customary ‘Salud!’ (In deference to our location, we should have said ‘prost’.) Right before I touched my beer stein to theirs, I hastily said, ‘Oh, you have to look the other person in the eye or you’ll have seven years of bad sex!’ (Siete años de mal sexo.) Whether this was a silly superstition I picked up from my Spanish friends, well, I didn’t want to risk it. Seven years is a long time!

During a speech
Speeches are usually given after a meal.
Sometimes it is given between the main course and the dessert. When the speaker invites everyone to “raise their glasses,” in hounour of someone (or something), guests are expected to stand and do just that, raise their glasses. Do not touch your glass with your neighbours during a toast.

At a drinks reception, it is a good idea to leave a little bit of your drink, just in case there is a welcome speech. You can always finish it right before you enter the dining room. If you find you have polished off your champagne too early, don’t call attention to yourself, just raise your glass with the rest of them.

President Obama giving a toast at a state dinner at Buckingham Palace. Photo from The Telegraph

Cheers, to your good health!
In the very olden days, when individuals still drank and talked unreservedly with strangers in pubs, people clinked glasses with each other to signify trust. This is because some of the other person’s ale will spill into your glass and vice versa (somehow it’s always ale in the days of yore). This acts as a deterrent to the sinister, if someone had slipped poison into your drink, there is a chance that some of the poison might be mixed into their drink too. Was it irony or mockery that the words “to your good health” precedes the touching of glasses?

Later on, perhaps because people developed greater (dis)trust of drinking companions, the middle and upper classes eschewed the practice. Indeed, in the early part of the 20th century, clinking glasses was an indication of a working class upbringing.

To clink or not to clink glasses?
Undoubtedly, clinking glasses gives a gathering a friendlier atmosphere. It also gets people talking. If people offer their glasses to you, do not hesitate and touch your drink to theirs. It is considered rude not to do so.

Although I must admit, it can get awkward when there are more than four people at the table. It causes confusion, crossing of arms and spillage. Whatever you do, just make sure you look the other person in the eye and smile.

Cheers, to all that we love,

A royal toast! Photo from

Happy blog birthday!

Dear Readers

Today marks the 1st anniversary of The Etiquette Butterfly. We are grateful to all our readers and followers, especially those who have left kind messages and feedback.

When we started a year ago, we could not have conceived such a wonderful reception to our little etiquette website. Thank you to Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling for commissioning exclusive articles. We would also like to thank Communication Daily, Adrienne Henry Millinery and Hand Luggage Only for featuring several of our posts.

Finally and most importantly, thank you to friends, family and all our readers for being part of The Etiquette Butterfly community.

With love from,


The proper way to eat fish when served whole

One of the most popular posts in this blog is the piece on how to eat messy food. This current  post focuses on fish and was inspired by Robert Galbraith’s (J. K. Rowling) latest crime fiction novel, The Silkworm. One of the characters, Jerry Waldegrave ordered Dover sole, which the chef served whole. He immediately regretted ordering the fish, as he could not manage to get past the bone.

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

It is easy enough to eat fish when it is served in delicious morsels such as these:

People find it daunting to have fish when it is served whole like Nigella’s Red Mullet or a classic French Sole Meunière. It is great to serve whole fish at dinner parties; it is abundant, the very opposite of meagre. For this reason, it is one of the dishes commonly served during Chinese New Year.

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

The fish knife
You may be provided with a fish knife, depending on how formal the setting. Fish knives are specially shaped with a dull edge and a notched point. It is so designed to easily lift the bone and separate the meat.
Incidentally, I was informed that one can tell if a family is nouveau riche if their silverware contains a fish knife. This is because a fish knife is one of the newer inventions, and so would not be found in an heirloom silverware set. In any case, I am here to explain the proper way to eat fish served whole, with or without a fish knife.

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Eating fish
Eat the top fillet was you normally would, starting from the head and working down. Only a small mouthful of a piece must be taken at a time. Fish must never be flipped. To get to the underside, the bone should be lifted up and  the meat eased out. Unless you are in your own home, leave the head and tail intact. Rebel at your own discretion.

Bon appétit,

Tea etiquette or “eteaket”

I love the whole ritual of tea drinking.

Photo credit: Tuscany diet

Photo credit: Tuscany diet

In my house, ‘How do you take it?’ and ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ is often said. As a child, I drank invisible tea poured from tiny plastic teapots with Panda and Barbie.
Years later, when I add milk to very strong jasmine tea, my horrified great uncle would ask in his Hokkien dialect, ‘What are you doing to the tea?’ Lately, lovers’ quarrels would be diffused (infused?) with a mug of tea, always punctuated with a ‘Let’s never fight again.’

In honour of afternoon tea and cream tea season, as promised, here is the first of many posts on Tea etiquette or “eteaket”. Let us start with what I like to call “different ways to have tea”.

Afternoon tea at Bettys in York, dare I say it, my spiritual home. Photo:

Afternoon tea at Bettys in York, my, dare I say it, spiritual home. Photo:

1. Afternoon tea– The most decadent way to have tea. This is the tea one has in a London hotel or Bettys in York or if you are Mary Berry, in your magnificent garden. It is always served with scones, crustless sandwiches and the most delectable cakes. If you are thinking of having afternoon tea alone, well, perish the thought. This is a treat to be shared with the people you love the most.

Do not call it “high tea”
During the Edwardian Era, the name “high tea” referred to an evening snack which the staff ate, because it consisted of a substantial meal of meat followed by cake, and was eaten on a high wooden table. Our friends from the other side of the Atlantic misinterpreted it as a name for glamour and richness.

Downton Abbey staff having high tea. Credit:

Downton Abbey staff having high tea. Credit:

Champagne afternoon tea– as above but with a glass or two of bubbly. I prefer pink champagne for a touch of An Affair to Remember.

Afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel in London

Afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel in London

Gentleman’s afternoon tea– for the most discerning of gents. It’s afternoon tea with meat pies served with whiskey, and a cigar for afters. My friend Laurie, connoisseur of all fine things in life, recommends the Gents Afternoon Tea at the rooftop of the Sanctum Soho Hotel.

2. Cream tea– a less sophisticated afternoon tea, but no less special. It’s always taken with scones and clotted cream. (Jam or treacle is served as well, see variations below.) It is sometimes called ‘Devonshire cream tea’ or ‘Cornish cream tea’ in some Commonwealth countries. I tend to have cream tea when I have house guests, at country estates or a tea room.

Cream tea perfection Photo from

Cream tea perfection. Photo from

No alternatives
If clotted cream is not available, do not be tempted to use whipped cream or God forbid, squirty cream.
Avoid further disappointment and bake yourself some madeleines or cupcakes to go with your tea. I am grateful that good quality long-life clotted cream is now available. We can now have cream teas at a moment’s notice.

Devon cream tea
– the freshly baked scone is sliced in half, covered in clotted cream then topped with jam.

Thunder and lightning– as with the Devon Cream Tea but with treacle or golden syrup instead of jam.

Cornish cream tea– Jam is spread first, then topped with the clotted cream (see photo below). To help you remember which is which, think, “Cornish Cream Top”, if the cream is on top of the jam, it’s Cornish.

Cornish cream tea- cream on top. Photo:

Cornish cream tea- cream on top. Photo:

3. Teapot tea– A self-respecting household keeps a tea set of bone china, as extravagant as you dare, for times of pure luxury. (Compare an inexpensive tea set with a Wedgwood, both are beautiful). I myself have inherited mother’s kitsch floral tea set.

Beautiful daisy print tea set

Beautiful daisy print tea set

Beautiful Josiah Wedgwood tea set.

Beautiful Josiah Wedgwood tea set.







There are moments for tea in mugs and there are other moments when you can want a proper tea in dainty cups.
This is the tea set that comes out when one wants to feel indulged or when a favourite aunt comes for a visit. Loose leaf tea and a strainer is called for on this occasion. Have a some all-butter shortbread or petit fours with your tea. The joy of these days is, that they are rare.

Eteaket, the tea etiquette

Eteaket, the tea etiquette

4. Cup of tea– There is always something deeply satisfying about hugging a mug of tea in your hands. This is the type of tea with which you start your days and your weekends. One of life’s great pleasures is when, on a lazy Saturday morning, you reach over to the other side of the bed, only to find your boy (or girl) is not there. Because this means he is in the kitchen, making you a cup of tea.
This is the tea you serve to console a friend or to unwind after a long day. For a special treat, have a biscuit with your cup of tea or do the TimTam slam.

Hug Mug Photo credit

Hug mug Photo from

Which goes first, the milk or the tea?
In the olden days of yore, bone china teacups were delicate and made very thinly. Thus, milk was traditionally poured first so as to not “shock” the cup and cause cracks. Nowadays, bone china is much thicker and can withstand the 90 °C or so of recently boiled water. To answer this age-old debate, pour the tea first, followed by the milk. This way, you can adjust to how strong you take your tea.

Pour the tea, then the milk. Photo from

Pour the tea, then the milk. Photo from

I do hope you found this tea etiquette post useful and fun. Do leave a reply below, your comments and questions are most welcome.

Enjoy your tea,
EtiKate (Yorkshire, milky, no sugar)