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How to Eat Difficult Food in a Formal Meal

Tonette believes that one has only to learn a few basics to enjoy the fullness of fine dining.


When you're invited to a fine dinner function, you know very well that you have to bring with you basic eating manners. Learning how to eat difficult food in a formal meal will allow you to enjoy the pleasures of fine dining.

Nothing can make you confident than being equipped with what to do. There are no strict rules, you will only learn how to enjoy some food that is not easy to eat so as to be comfortable with your meal.

Let's begin!

Clams and Oysters


Customarily, oysters are served on their shell with plenty of sauce, vinaigrette, and garnishings.

Special oyster forks are usually provided, but it is correct to use a dessert or cocktail fork to spear the oyster and dip it into the sauce. The oyster is always eaten whole.

If there's no oyster fork on the table, it signals that the oyster has already been loosened and are soft to move. Use a knife should you need to release it more from the shell.

Connoisseurs say oysters should be pressed against the roof of the mouth to extract the juice and then swallow without chewing. This is fine as they are the masters of taste.

But if you want to enjoy oysters, break them with your teeth in the usual way without masticating it. In an informal setting, it is okay to pick up the shell with your fingers and suck the oyster right off the shell.

The same thing with clams, hold the shell with the left hand and lift the clam out using your oyster fork.



Typically, lobster is served with cracked points, and the tail split in half or twisted free from the body. The flippers are broken off to make it simple to remove the tail meat in one swift move.

But when served whole, crack the shell with a nutcracker then use a cocktail fork (that’s the tiny little thing with three tines) to remove the meat. Eat the tail meat by pulling out one piece at a time.

If you pull out a large piece, cut it with a fork. Pull off the small claws and suck out the meat (there's not much meat in them, but what's there is sweet!) as if you were drawing liquid through a straw.

Place all empty shell pieces onto a separate waste bowl or plate. Crab, shrimp, and lobster cocktails are always eaten with a cocktail fork.

Shrimps and Prawn


Shrimps are served on a plate small enough to be eaten with a knife and fork. You can also use an oyster or seafood fork. For bigger slices, spear the meat with your fork and cut it on the plate on which it is served.

For a course that comes with lemon, make sure to cup the citrus with your hand or spoon when squeezing over the shrimp. You don't want to squirt juice to other guests.

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If the sauce is served in a common bowl, spoon enough amount onto your plate where you can dip your shrimp into. Only dip your shrimp in the sauce if the bowl is yours alone.

For boiled unpeeled shrimps - pick one and loosen the shell by inserting a thumb­nail under its top-end. Work smoothly by gently detaching the shell from the meat. It is expected that an extra plate is provided for the discarded shells.

If they are large with tails, they may be eaten with your fingers. But if they are small and without tails, use your fork and not your fingers.

When served as a cocktail appetizer, eat with your fingers. If it comes with sauce, hold a shrimp by the tail and dip - but never double dip.



Caviar is actually a kind of hors 'd oeuvres but carries a unique story. While it can be served as a typical appetizer, traditional sit-downs may present it the rare original way.

Purists like serving caviar using a special bone, mother-of-pearl, gold-plated, or a plastic spoon, believing that metal spoons can alter the taste of the beads.

This food is always offered chilled. So you will see it typically served in a bowl on a bed of crushed ice, along with a variety of toast accompaniments.

Caviar is to be consumed in small amounts and eaten in small bites. The purpose is to let you experience the food without becoming overwhelmed by the flavor or texture.

Use the accompanying spoon, and scoop less than a teaspoon amount onto a piece of toast and then eat with your fingers. It can be eaten alone or with garnish.

Caviar is often served with freshly buttered round or rectangular toasts, topped with a dollop of crèmes, steamed potatoes, rice, or depending on the hostess.

Corn on the Cob


It can be challenging to see corn on the cob served at a formal dinner. It's definitely not easy to eat corn prettily!

But on occasions where corn is part of the banquet, you can find three-pronged holders specially made to help you with this kind of food. Simply stuck on either end of the cob to enable you to lift it to your mouth without messing up your fingers.

To eat with ease and grace, begin with a few rows. Then take time to butter and season another segment of kernels at a time. The intervals will allow you to eat as clean as possible.

If you prefer not to eat directly from the cob, cut off three or four rows of kernels at a time with a knife. Season the corn bits like what you did above, and eat with a fork.

When corn is being served, finger bowls are typically provided as this can be a messy food.

I've included an infographic at the links below. Go check your personality based on how you eat corn. It's fun!

Hot Soup


Slowly pull the dish close and scoop the soup in movements away from yourself. Avoid overfilling the spoon or it will spill as you lift.

Remember it's a hot soup you are eating so lift your spoon carefully and slowly from the bowl to your mouth. Don't blow on your soup to cool it off. If it is too hot to eat, wait until it cools.

As you near the end of the soup, it is polite to tilt the bowl to scoop the remaining soup, but tilt it away from you and not towards you. Simply push the bowl away from you gently when you're through.

If a soup spoon is not provided, use a dinner spoon. Be careful as you might get the wrong spoon and end up eating soup with a serving dish spoon!

Fresh Fruits


At a formal meal, fruits should be cut up with a fruit knife and fork presented on the plate and not laid beside it.

Large-sliced fruits are usually offered with a fruit knife to help you cut them into bite sizes then eat them with your fruit fork. Small fresh fruits like plums and apricots are eaten with fingers, as are dried candied fruits.

Peeled fruit is eaten cut side down on the plate so the juice runs onto the plate. It's the cut side facing upward for an unpeeled fruit to absorb the juice.

You seldom see oranges served as they are really too difficult to cope with. Tangerines, though, can easily be peeled, broken into small pieces, and eaten with the fingers. Fingerbowls are also placed beside each guest.



Traditionally, artichokes are served with melted butter or vinaigrette sauce. You will find this vegetable boiled or steam-cooked and then presented on a salad plate.

No matter how formal the occasion, each leaf has to be plucked off the bud and then dip the base into the sauce before conveying it to the mouth by the fingers.

Gently pull it through your teeth to remove the edible part, or scrape the meaty pulp off of each leaf and eat the flesh. Do not yank. You don’t want to look like a hungry dog tugging against a piece of food. Discard the rest by placing it on the side of your plate.

Take your fork and knife to separate the remaining leaves from the center part of the artichoke. That circle fleshy part at the bottom is the heart. Eat it with a dessert knife and fork after cutting the meat into bite-size pieces.



In general, asparagus is viewed as finger food. But when the vegetable is covered with sauce, sautéed, or comes as an accompaniment to a dish, use a knife and fork to cut the stalk into bite-size pieces.

Alternatively, enjoy the spears lightly steamed or raw. Pick up the spear towards the blunt end of the stem and dip it in the accompanying sauce. Eat bite by bite except for the woody stem towards the bottom.

Hors d'oeuvres


Hors d'oeuvres (pronounced awr durv), are light appetizers offered while waiting for the main course. They are either salty or spicy bites served at a table or passed on trays.

Appetizers are to enjoyed away from the table. Since most of these delights are finger foods, they are eaten without the need for silverware. Unless there is something tough like sausage, salami, or pieces of meat from which fat must be removed; in this case, a knife and fork are used.

Hors d'oeuvres may be canapés which are small pieces of bread with toppings. Some are served with skewer or toothpick such as cheese, beef, grilled shrimp, and fruit kebabs.

Crudités are cut raw vegetables served with a dip. Egg rolls, empanadas, samosas, crackers, and chips are also often served with a dipping sauce.

Others may come in small pastry shells filled with savory or sweet food bites like caviar, mini quiches, and creme fraiche tarts.

The Simplest Rule

Table manners for eating difficult food depend on how courses are served. The "rules" should not be confusing. All they stand is to prepare diners to correctly eat those foods that look difficult to eat when in a formal sit-down.

Let's simplify:

  • Any food covered with sauce is considered utensil food, so use a fork.
  • Dry food like crackers, cheese, and fruits that are not messy to the hands are eaten with fingers.
  • If still in doubt about what to do, use utensils.

Your eating habits reveal as much about you. The feeling can transform you from an ordinary eater to someone with class.

Happy Dining!

Check out this How-To Guide To Proper Dining Etiquette For Adults & Children

Would you Believe?

© 2012 Tonette Fornillos


Tonette Fornillos (author) from The City of Generals on August 09, 2013:

Hello Jayme. "When all else fails, watch what the others are doing"... very true and our safest mode.... or use utensils when still in doubt. In my experience, I skip the dish that looks like I would never enjoy eating, haha. Some of the funny moments about social etiquette, but which usually serve as lessons. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts. Enjoy and best of all. :=)-Tonette

Tonette Fornillos (author) from The City of Generals on August 09, 2013:

Hi shaiz... you're not alone with the corn on the cob. With the finger bowl, you're telling the guests that it's fine to eat the corn any manner. Though, in more formal dining occasions, I will not serve corn - for beauty and convenience purposes, lol. Thanks for dropping by. Goodluck:=)-Tonette

Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on August 09, 2013:

Excellent advice. The world of food is quite perplexing, and no matter how well we think we know what to do, there will always come a surprise dish that confuses us for a moment. When all else fails, watch what others are doing! :)

Chen on July 29, 2013:

Wow, so good to know. I always worry about corn on the cob, never thought of offering a finger bowl with it. What great tips. Excellent job!

Tonette Fornillos (author) from The City of Generals on June 26, 2012:

Thanks so much Peggy. I'd say that at all times it pays to know even just the basic etiquette. It's both beauty and respect for others. Best regards!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2012:

Good pointers for how to approach eating different foods while in social gatherings. Voted useful and up.

Tonette Fornillos (author) from The City of Generals on May 28, 2012:

Hi jpcmc - since all societies have had various rules for eating, we can keep enjoying the ride provided the food is being enjoyed. You're not alone, truly :=). Thank you for sharing.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on May 28, 2012:

At least next time I won't make a fool of myself. But when given the chance, I'd eat it the way I feel comfortable.

Tonette Fornillos (author) from The City of Generals on April 25, 2012:

Hello kabayan travelman.

"Men will just follow and support them" says it all.

There is nothing more inspiring to us women than your words and actions of support. You just showed the man in you and the genuine spirit of a true pinoy! I'm proud you are my 43rd follower :=) kabayan, salamat and you've liked the photo.

Thank you very much. BLESSINGS!

Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on April 23, 2012:

This applies to all ladies out there, who want to experience fine dining. Men will just follow and support them.

I enjoyed the soup (nice photo). Thanks for sharing, kabayan!

Bon apetit!!!

Tonette Fornillos (author) from The City of Generals on March 30, 2012:

That was sweet Laura. The fun attitude you both had together while laughing about that spider roll moment was so precious to remember... and since sushi is considered "fast food" I think any manner of eating the dish is acceptable provided it is being enjoyed.

Thank you for sharing that. It was a perfect date! More happy bonding for you two. Keep up and cheers!

LauraGT from MA on March 29, 2012:

Great tips! My husband and I bonded on an early date when we were having sushi. We ordered a spider roll, which was very unwieldy. Instead of making a big deal about it, he just said, "here goes!" and put the whole thing in. He was still gracious, but we laughed about it. I guess we knew it was meant to be. :)

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