Allspice Chronicles

Entertain like a Queen, Think Lean and Live Green! A personal collection of recipes,anecdotes,and good old fashioned advice…

The Art of Table Conversation: The Five Week Manners Makeover, Step Two

by Danica Waters / image credits at bottom of page

Now that we have a week of practicing basic table manners under our belts, it’s time to add Step 2 to the etiquette arsenal.  One of the most frequently overlooked aspects of having great etiquette is the art of making conversation.

Table conversation is magic.  This is the place where children get to know adults as real people rather than basic authority figures.  This is where the family stories are told, where children learn about themselves, and about life.  Of equal or greater importance, this is your opportunity to get to know them.  The ability to maintain a healthy table conversation, rather than responding in uncomfortable monosyllables or completely monopolizing the entire conversation, is a skill that will serve them for the rest of their lives.


Here’s a quick review of the most basic rules of conversation etiquette:


1.  Don’t talk with your mouth full.

In the event someone asks you a question while you’re mid-mouthful, simply smile and indicate silently that you’ll need a minute to finish chewing.


2.  Don’t speak too loudly, or too softly, either. 

Practice good table speaking volume, and talk about whether any of your guests have hearing problems, so everyone can be aware and act accordingly.


3.  Speak to people on both sides of you, and directly across the table.

Talk to your children about how they’d feel if the people they were sitting next to at the table never acknowledged or spoke to them.  Manners are about making everyone feel comfortable and welcome.   To that point, take some time to consider who your children will feel most comfortable around.  Some people simply make kids want to shrink, or they encourage impish misbehavior at the table.  This is where seating arrangements can come in very handy.  Have your kids help make the place cards!


4.  Practice the art of small talk.

A great way to make enjoyable conversation is to know in advance about the interests, talents, or experiences of your guests.  Let your kids know that Uncle Bob once went on a jungle safari “back in the day”, or that ancient Aunt Gertie won a Blue Ribbon at the State Fair for her knitted saddle warmer.   It will give them a conversation-starting advantage.

Also, if small talk is a challenge, try picking up a conversation game like Table Topics at the local bookstore.  It’s a great way to get folks talking, laughing, and sharing at the dinner table.


5.  Choose appropriate topics to speak about.

You don’t want to embarrass anyone by divulging personal family issues or speaking about things that are not appropriate for table conversation.  Discuss in advance what topics would be best kept off-limits at your event.



Not. Even. One. Single. Teeny. Tiny. One.  Not from you, not from me. I don’t care if you heard that a loud, voluptuous burp is considered a “two-thumbs-up” to chefs in Arabic countries.  It’s not true, and we’re not there.


TIP:  Make up an emergency code word for etiquette emergencies. 

In the world of good manners, there’s a lot to remember, and even with lots of practice, kids sometimes get ahead of themselves.  That’s why it’s a good idea to develop a code word or phrase or signal system you can use with your children in the event they get a bit too excited or forget their manners at the table.  With practice and teamwork, a simple phrase like “My, I am looking forward to that PIE” and some direct, meaningful eye contact can easily and effectively curb behavior without the public embarrassment of a point-blank reprimand.  This method makes kids feel “partnered in” rather than feeling belittled, and it works beautifully most of the time.


Given that etiquette accidents do happen, be sure to discuss with your kids ahead of time how to react to others’ faux pas.  As hysterical as it might happen to be, if someone else at the table accidentally slips up, no laughing.


Not even if

dear, sweet, ancient Aunt Gertie

lets out a post-champagne


Not one peep.

image #1 – crowd at dinner table courtesy of

image #2 – burping cartoon image courtesy of


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Posted in Allspice Chronicles and Danica Waters and Etiquette Emergencies and Five Week Manners Makeover and Holidays and Table Manners by danica on October 25th, 2011 at 2:08 pm.

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