There’s often a moment of confusion at a business dining event when the wait staff places a basket of bread in the middle of the table. Who takes the bread first and which way should it get passed?
Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right answer. The person closest to the bread should reach for it. Before taking a piece himself, he should turn to the person on his left and ask if he or she would like some bread. When his neighbor has been served, he can then take a piece and then pass it on to the person on his right. And around the table it goes.
Why to the right you might ask? We pass to the right as a result of how food was and still is served by wait staff. If you watch a show like Downton Abbey, you’ll notice that the food is brought to the table on platters and held by the wait staff as each diner serves him or herself. The server always approaches each diner from the left side. This is because the majority of people are right handed and the right-handed diner can more easily take food from the platter if it is presented on their left side. Similarly, when food is passed from person to person around a table, it is easier for a right-handed person to receive a platter of food in their left hand while taking their helping with their right hand. They would then take the platter and offer to the person on their right. As long as all the platters of food moved in the same direction—to the right—no one ends up with two platters coming to them at the same time. So, we pass items on the table to the right, partly to accommodate the right-handed world, and partly to keep the food service orderly.
You may have heard of the convention of “leave left, remove right.” The “leave left” is seen at restaurants today. When wait staff brings your plate of food, they approach from a person’s left side (a convention held over from when food was served on platters) as they place the plate in front of the diner. Leave left. The” remove right” refers to which side wait staff will approach a diner in order to remove a plate when the diner is finished. It makes it easy for the wait staff to use their dominant right hand to remove the plate.
That’s it. Generally speaking, pass items at a table to the right—bread, salad dressing, salt and pepper, a platter of food, wine or a beverage that’s on the table. If wait staff are bringing you food, they’ll likely approach you on your left, and if they are coming to take an item away, they’ll likely approach on your right.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.