In a world of ever-changing standards, a Debrett’s guide to etiquette could be considered the last bastion of old-fashioned social decorum.
So it may be with some bemusement that readers behold their newest guide, on how best to eat with one’s fingers.
The list of modern “dos and don'ts” declares our “more informal times” mean it is now “acceptable” to eat with the hands rather than silverware.
Table manners “are no longer about adhering to a rigid, and outdated, code of conduct”, it proclaims, with the use of a knife and fork no longer an essential part of dining.
The guide, which includes a ten-point plan to eating with fingers, is a marked departure from previous guidance from Debrett’s, which emphasised the proper use of cutlery in polite company.
Jo Bryant, etiquette adviser at Debrett’s, has now insisted table manners do “exist for guidance”, but should not impact unnecessarily on the enjoyment of dining with family and friends.
The new guide, published today, states: “In our more informal times, it is acceptable to eat certain foods - such as pizza and calzone - with you hands.”
It goes on to explain the aim should be to create “as little mess as possible”, with food cut into manageable pieces and sufficiently cool.
“When eating with your hands it can be tempting to hunch over your plate,” it states. “Try to sit up straight, don't intrude into your neighbour's space and never put your elbows on the table.”
Critically, it stipulates diners must take “plenty of small bites”, with any food spilling down on the plate being dealt with using a fork.
“Don’t pick it up with your fingers,” the guide warns.
According to the new rules, which concentrate on Italian cuisine, diners should make use of napkins, placing it on the lap to ensure clothes remain pristine.
“Wipe your hands as you need to; but remember it's likely to be a bit messy. If your hands get food on them, try to avoid licking your fingers clean.”
Other pitfalls, such as getting food on the lips, should be dealt with in a discrete “dabbing” motion rather than “grand wiping gestures”.
In a point which would no doubt appear obvious to Debrett’s regular customers, it specifies: “Never wipe your mouth with your hand or talk with your mouth full - even if you have a conversational gem up your sleeve.”
The final point of the guide to modern table manners states:
“Eating with your hands is a relaxed and convivial style of dining, but don't let your standards slip. Remember your manners and, above all, never use your phone at the table.”Jo Bryant, etiquette adviser at Debrett's, said:
"The British traditionally use a knife and fork when tucking into most meals. But the influence of other cultures and new foods, such as Calzone, means eating with our hands is a growing trend.Table manners are no longer about adhering to a rigid, and outdated, code of conduct. They exist for guidance but shouldn't take away from the pleasure of sharing a meal."
Debrett's traditionally prides itself on being “the modern authority on all matters etiquette, taste and achievement”, “recognising people of distinction and the finer things in life”.
The latest guidelines, which are to be published in Pizza Express restaurants nationwide, will join more traditional publications including the A-Z of Modern Manners, Etiquette for Girls and Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage.