Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.
Q. Karen, I really enjoy French onion soup when it is offered on a menu, but it can be so difficult to eat. It seems I always have the cheese all over my face. Do you have any tips for eating it gracefully?
A. French onion soup is a favorite of many, but it can be difficult to eat, to be sure. But there are ways to get around having the cheese stretch out the length of your arm. When your soup arrives, let it cool a bit (without blowing on it) and then break the cheese away from the rim of the soup bowl or soup cup and dip under the cheese and crouton for the broth. As the level of the soup goes down and the cheese cools, you can use the side of your spoon against the side of the bowl or cup to get a bite of the cheese and crouton. You would not want to use a knife to cut the cheese.
Adding a soup course to a meal can make any meal feel like a special occasion, and I encourage people to order soup and get comfortable eating it. However, if your performance at the table is directly related to getting a job or making a good impression, order a soup that is easier to eat than the French onion soup.
Here are some more tips for eating soup graciously:
•Soup is often served as a separate course at a more formal meal. This soup is usually less hearty than one served as a meal.
•The soup spoon is held the way a pencil is held, steadied between your index finger and middle finger, except the thumb is turned up rather than down as when one is writing.
•Soup is spooned away from you toward the center of the soup plate. Sip the soup from the side of the spoon quietly.
•The soup plate is a very shallow bowl with a rim around it. Using one finger under the rim, a soup plate may be tipped away from you in order to fill the spoon with the last sips of soup. It is acceptable to rest the spoon in the soup plate between bites or when you have finished.
•Soup is often served in a two-handled cream soup bowl or bouillon cup. Both hot and cold soups are eaten with a bouillon spoon, which has a round bowl and is smaller than a regular soup spoon. Place the spoon on the saucer between sips and when you have finished. Never leave the spoon in the cup.
•Do not blow on soup or stir to cool. Skim a little off the top close to the edge, since this part will cool first. Be patient.
•Do not put crackers or bread in soup while dining out. Nothing goes in the bowl except your spoon.
•Servers usually present food from the left and clear from the right. However, soup is often served in the French style, from the right, since it is considered a liquid. This may vary in individual restaurants.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll forward it to her.