Table Etiquette During the Victorian Era in England

by Pamela Martin ; Updated September 28, 2017

Proper table manners signified high birth and good breeding for Victorians.

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Much has changed since the Victorian Era's strict rules of conduct, perhaps none more than those involving dinner table etiquette, although some endure today, including being considerate of other guests and being punctual.

Proper Behavior for All

Victorian diners knew that it was gauche to reach across the table for food, to gulp down refreshments or to slurp one's soup. Additionally, they knew they should not sprawl on the table, and should raise the food instead of lowering the head. As a courtesy to others, a diner did not request second helpings, which required others to wait for the next course.

Genteel Hostess Actions

A proper Victorian hostess never seated married couples together, instead allowing ranking precedence to match her guests with their dinner partners. She never served dinner until all guests were at table, making a late arrival inconsiderate. She instructed her servants to fill water goblets from the right of the guest, but to serve everything else from the left.

Gender Differences in Behavior

A gentleman seated his dinner escort on his right and then remained standing until all of the ladies were seated. A lady waited to remove her gloves until she was seated, while a gentleman removed his before taking his seat. She placed her napkin in her lap, but her escort was free to tuck his napkin into his collar to protect his shirt and tie. He also retrieved a plate from the buffet for his partner, as a lady never served herself from the line.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.