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Respectfully Yours: Handling French fries depends on setting

Dear Jacquelyn,

While at an upscale restaurant with my husband, I happened to observe a young man using his fingers to eat his French fries. Has the prevalence of fast-food restaurants and finger foods blurred the lines between eating with utensils and eating with our hands?

Dear Reader,

Good table manners are based on the circumstance and using your hands to eat is acceptable in some dining situations.

When it comes to eating with your fingers, there are some easy tips to help you decide when you may comfortably use your fingers to handle your food and when you should pick up your fork.

When in doubt about using your fork or your fingers, do what is most efficient while considering the level of formality of the dining experience. As a general rule, if you are going to eat the main course with a fork, you’ll do the same with accompanying side dishes.

Certain foods are referred to as finger foods such as French fries.

Dining etiquette guidelines become blurry when the main course is served with what may appear to be a “fork” food. French fries are most often ordered as a complement to the main entrée.

The answer to “Should French fries be eaten with a fork?” will depend on what food is being served with the French fries. In casual restaurants when French fries are served along with a hamburger or other sandwich, it is acceptable to eat them with your fingers. Dining in a more upscale restaurant calls for French fries to be cut into bite-sized lengths and eaten with a fork.

The best rule of thumb in any situation: If you’re unsure of what is and is not a finger food, look to your utensils setting.

Dining etiquette guidelines are in place for two reasons. One reason is so we do not embarrass ourselves. The second reason is so that everyone enjoying the meal is comfortable and having a lovely experience.

Keep in mind, table manners are not about adhering to a rigid code of conduct. They exist for guidance but should never take away from the pleasure of sharing a meal.

Respectfully Yours,


Have a question? Email: jacquelyn@ptd.net. Jacquelyn Youst is owner of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol, specializing in etiquette training. She is on the board of directors of the National Civility Foundation.

All Rights Reserved &Copy; 2021 Jacquelyn Youst