Spring is here, Summer is coming, and there will be barbecues! There will be weddings! And yes, there will be finger foods to accompany all the fun.
Finger foods pose a special etiquette challenge, because doing it “right” does not necessarily mean the same thing in every situation. An ear of corn at a beach cookout is not the same kind of finger food as a tiny quiche appetizer at a wedding reception. And what on earth happens when an ear of corn ends up on your plate at a formal dinner?
Here are a few guidelines to keep your manners correct and your shirt spotless when indulging in fabulous finger foods
Six Helpful Finger-Food Hints
1 When a plate is available on which to put your choice of food, use it.
- This way you can leave your hands free to shake hands with other guests, or to talk with your hands and not have to wave around shrimp batons.
- Put any dip on your plate, along with chips or veggies, and you can double-dip to your heart’s content. Do not double-dip when you have to share the dip bowl!
- If you are using a plate and need to set your food down, you may find a table or window ledge where your plate can rest.
2 If your food has seeds or pits, remove them from your mouth by the same method you put them in.
- If you pop an olive into your mouth with your fingers, take the pit out with your fingers and put it at the edge of your plate. No plate? Wrap the pit in a napkin. You did remember to take a napkin?
- If you are eating watermelon with a fork, move the seeds from your mouth to the plate using the fork. If you are eating big slices at a picnic, organize a seed-spitting contest and add a little excitement to your finger food.
3 Some foods you can always eat with your fingers:
- Chips, because to try to cut them with fork and knife will send pieces flying across the table (or your neighbor).
- Crisp bacon, because trying to cut this will only shatter it into little pieces that are next to impossible to scoop onto your fork. Limp bacon is always eaten with a fork to avoid greasy hands and chins.
- Burgers and sandwiches should be cut in halves or quarters before picking them up and eating. Messy, falling-apart sandwiches should be eaten with a fork.
4 Guidelines for eating strawberries and shrimp, or any food that has a handle:
- If shrimp is served with the tail on, go ahead and pick it up by the tail, dip it (or not), bite off the shrimp and place the tail back on your plate or into a napkin. Otherwise, shrimp is generally picked up and eaten with a fork.
- If strawberries are served with the stem attached, pick them up by the stem, bite off the fruit, and put the stem aside. If there is no stem, pick up and eat the berries using a spoon.
- A toothpick is also a “handle” and can be treated the same as a shrimp tail or a strawberry stem.
5 Food served at a picnic or barbecue, such as fried chicken or ribs, may be picked up and eaten with the fingers. The same food is eaten with knife and fork in a more formal setting.
- Eat picnic finger foods in small bites and use the napkin often.
- Some picnic foods also have a useful handle, like the bone on the end of a sparerib or the stem of an ear of corn.
- Which brings us to sweet corn: this is always finger food unless served in a formal setting, and we hope no one will put you in the position of dealing with it then!
- To make eating the corn a little less messy, you can butter just a few rows at a time as you go along.
- If you end up at a linen-covered table faced with an ear of corn, hold the ear vertically and slice off the kernels onto the plate. Ideally, your host will have done this ahead of time.
6 Finger vs. fork, you choose!
- Pizza is an acceptable finger food on all occasions. If the pizza is overloaded with goodies or very thick (think Chicago deep-dish), common sense calls for a fork approach. If the pizza crust stability is a close call, you can fold it over and eat each piece like a taco.
- Asparagus has been considered a finger food as long as the stalks were firm enough to pick up without drooping. Lately, opinion has swayed toward eating this vegetable with a knife and fork. This is always the safe option, especially when hollandaise is involved.
- French fries usually are eaten in the same manner as the rest of the food on your plate.
- If you are picking up a burger or a sandwich with your fingers, go ahead and eat your fries the same way.
- If your fries accompany a steak or some nice fish, eat everything on the plate with your fork and knife.
When in Doubt
If you are ever in doubt about how to eat finger foods served on formal or casual occasions, the best course of action is to just look around you. Before you take that first morsel of food, watch to see what your host or hostess is doing. At a large gathering, observe how the rest of the guests handle finger food. Then relax, have some fabulous finger foods, and enjoy the day.