Dinner Etiquette for Families

I need to douse EVERYTHING my mom makes with Tapatío sauce. Is that rude? —Picante Perry

I bet she thinks you’re defective (but in a cute way) for being so sauce-obsessed, a nice stalemate to be in. She shakes her head. You hit the sauce. Everybody carries on.

How many times is too many times to reuse a cloth napkin? —Rerun Randy

Three. The first two uses are fine; the third is taking it too far. I don’t care if you can’t see any ranch dressing smudges—bacteria abound!

Am I allowed to start eating without everyone at the table? Some people choose to hit the bathroom just as the dinner bell rings. Dinner is getting cold. Where IS everyone? I’m not waiting… —Famished Fara

Usually the first person with a plate full of food sitting down to eat…didn’t cook it. Ever notice that? And the person who did cook definitely saw you burning the roof of your mouth on the enchiladas before anyone else had a chance. Wait the four minutes! The food isn’t going to get that cold.

Illustrations by Cari Vander Yacht

I get that whoever didn’t cook is on dish duty, but is there an argument for leniency for someone who has been laboring away at online school all day, compared to another family member who has been, let’s say, playing video games? Or must both the workaholic and the gamer unite for dish duty? —Educated Eugene

You wish! Give your weary blue-light-ruined eyeballs a break and scrub some pans with your sib. This is your chance to ask them about their life, vent about your parents, and you might get some pretty good gossip out of it. Who knows who they’re gaming with? Could be a loooove interest.

Can a family eat in front of the TV to drown out the sound of each other’s chewing, which is very, very loud? —Audible Aurea

Yes, always. This is why Jeopardy! exists.

But seriously, how do I tell a family member that they are eating too loudly? —Again, it’s Aurea

What is a loud chewer gonna do? It’s their BODY. You need to work on coping mechanisms instead because life is full of loud chewers, jaw clickers, and people who hiss-exhale “ss-ahhh” after the first sip of water. Take a deep breath, make stimulating conversation, or, you know, crank the Jeopardy!

Coming from a family of nine opinionated siblings, is it ever acceptable to talk over someone who is holding court at length? —Second-in-line Sue

In my experience the person already talking will just start talking louder and soon it’s THUNDERING MADNESS. But as I think we both know, that’s the only way in big families. Plus, it’s kinda fun, and it drowns out the cacophony of chew noises too.

Illustrations by Cari Vander Yacht

Who gets the last chicken cutlet? —Metabolizing Mateo

In order of availability:

  • MOM

  • The middle child

  • The scrawny one

  • The outnumbered stepsibling

  • Mom’s special friend, Carl, who’ll buy us all root beer after

  • The dog

Illustrations By Cari Vander Yacht

When I met my boyfriend’s parents for the first time over dinner, I reached for the bread across the table and his dad called me out on it. I didn’t want to interrupt conversation! What should I have done? —Reachy Ramona

You’re not “supposed to” reach far across the table like a pauper, according to ancient rich people who were probably worried about their puffy sleeves catching fire. In this case it was ruder for Mr. So-and-So to publicly shame you. Look, you didn’t hurt anybody! Unless you whacked someone in the nose with your elbow mid-reach, which you conveniently didn’t mention here. You did a perfectly harmless thing. Next time ask when there’s a moment of pause. Protect both sleeves and septums.

Illustrations by Cari Vander Yacht

Can you yell at your kid if he pulls out his iPhone at the table to check TikTok? —Peeved Papa

Uh-oh, are you talking about a TEEN? Good luck with that. Whether it’s taking out a phone to check to see how many guys get killed in John Wick III (94!), tomorrow’s weather, or share that video of baby Leah asking for “mo’ hot dog, mo’ hot dog”—who isn’t guilty of the phone check? And me of all three this week alone. If it bothers you so much, why not institute a no-phone-at-the-table policy where everyone drops their device in a serving platter? Done. Solved it.

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