Finger Food Etiquette

Some foods are meant to be eaten with your fingers. Enjoy!

Young business professionals eating food at conference buffet
Casual dining often calls for eating with your fingers. Stewart Cohen/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Have you ever been to a restaurant or dinner party and wondered whether or not you should use a fork or your fingers? One way to know is to watch the host or hostess. Keep in mind that there are some general guidelines that can help you with your desire to have good manners.

Eating foods without a fork and knife can be fun and appropriate, as long as they’re supposed to be eaten that way. However, there are some foods and occasions that call for a utensil besides your fingers.

Know the rules and when you can break them without looking boorish. A guest with good table manners is more likely to be invited back to the next dinner party than one who commits one faux pas after another.

What you may do at a picnic is much more liberal than what you should do during a formal dinner. Each region also has its own customs and traditions. For example, in some southern homes, even the most mannerly southern belle will pick up bone-in pork chops with her fingers, something that might make a northern hostess gasp. If you are ever in doubt about which utensil to use or if it’s okay to pick it up with your fingers, watch the hostess.

Artichokes

When you are served an artichoke as an appetizer, use your fingers to pull the leaves by holding it at the pointed end. Dip the other end of the artichoke in the sauce provided.

Place it in your mouth and scrape the edible part off with your top teeth.

The host or hostess should provide a plate or bowl to discard the inedible parts of the leaves.

Asparagus

This long, skinny, green spear confuses even the most prominent etiquette experts. Some say it’s okay to eat with your fingers, while others say you should slice it in half and eat it with a fork.

I take the middle ground and say that it’s fine to eat it with your fingers as long as it’s firm. However, if you find your asparagus soggy or limp, eat it with your fork.

Fruit

Whole, raw pieces of fruit are generally eaten with the fingers. However, once it is cooked, use the utensil closest to it. A fruit cocktail, even when the fruit is uncooked, should be eaten with a spoon or fork.

Bacon

When you are served crisp bacon, go ahead and pick it up with your fingers. However, if it is soft, use your fork and knife. Doing otherwise could be quite messy.

Cheese

You should eat cheese with a fork if it is served as a side that accompanies another dish, such as meat or pie. If it is an appetizer, use a serving utensil or toothpick to lift it from the tray. You may eat it with your fingers after it is on your plate.

Chips

Chips may be eaten with the fingers at all times because they would crumble if you tried to cut or stab them with a fork. Remember that it is always bad manners to double dip your chip into a common dip container.

If you want to dip your chip twice, scoop some of the sauce onto your personal plate and dip as many times as you want.

Chicken

Chicken is another one of those food items, like pork chops, that stump people. I recommend eating all chicken, including fried, barbecued, or baked with a fork in a public setting, whether it is casual or formal. However, it is always okay to use your fingers to eat chicken at a picnic or outdoor barbecue.

Corn on the Cob

Very few hostesses are likely to serve corn on the cob at a formal dinner. However, if you find yourself facing a cob on your plate, it is acceptable to pick it up with your fingers and gnaw away. However, try to do this discreetly, and do not pull out a toothpick to remove the kernels from your teeth.

A better and less messy method may be to tilt the cob on its end, and using your knife, gently saw the kernels off the cob. Then you can scoop them up with your fork and not run the risk of having corn between your teeth all evening.

French Fries

Whether you are at a formal or casual dinner, use your fork to eat French fries. The only time you should eat them with your fingers is when you are at a fast food restaurant or picnic. However, if you are served fries with a hamburger, and the hostess uses her fingers, by all means, do what she does. You don’t want to make her look like a clod.

Pizza

There is no doubt that pizza is a finger food. However, if the piece you selected is heavy with toppings, you may choose to use a fork. It’s better to be a little more formal in a casual environment than to wind up with a pizza sauce stain on the front of your shirt.

Shrimp

The method of eating shrimp is determined by several factors. If they are served in a cocktail sauce with a small fork resting on the side of the plate, use the fork. Shrimp with tails on a serving platter should be eaten with your fingers. Hold the tail, dip it in the sauce, bite off the edible part of the shrimp, and discard in the dish or bowl provided by the hostess. Shrimp on a skewer should be slid off the stick and eaten with a fork.

Sushi

Most sushi should be eaten with the fingers. However, if you are offered chopsticks, you may use them. A small slice of sushi may be consumed in one bite. When you are served a larger slice or whole roll, lift it to your mouth with your fingers or chopsticks and bite off what you can chew.