Passing Food 6 Rules: How To Pass Food The Right Way

On informal occasions, guests usually should serve themselves from shared serving dishes. Knowing how to pass food the right way helps you avoid table incidents and embarrassments.

What passing food etiquette is

Passing food etiquette is the set of rules to properly pass and serve food, beverages, or other items at the dining table. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can irritate guests or cause small table incidents.

If you are hosting, follow passing food etiquette to prompt your guest to correctly pass food to each other.

If you are a guest, respect passing food etiquette rules to properly pass and serve food or drinks to the other guests.

Rules to pass food and items at the dining table

Passing food etiquette rules

At the dining table, always pass food to your right

1) Pass food to your right

Always pass food to your right. All the guests at the table should pass food in the same direction.

The idea is to avoid having one guest with multiple serving plates at the same time, or plates crossing from different directions. This rule ensures that serving dishes move smoothly around, and avoids table incidents.

Never pass an item across the table. Even if the guest requesting the item sits right in front of you. Instead, pass the item to the guest on your right.

2) Hold bottles and serving dishes right

When you pass food or a beverage, hold serving dishes, bottles, or containers in the appropriate way. The general rule is to keep your hands as far as possible from the food.

How to pass serving dishes

Hold serving dishes by their bottom. Keep your hands near the borders, which are usually cooler. Avoid holding the serving dish by its center, which is usually hot. Never touch or put your fingers on the surface of the dish, where the food is.

Place the serving utensils on the right side of the serving dish

How to pass serving utensils

Similarly, hold serving utensils by their handles. Do not touch the parts that get in contact with food. First, you risk soiling your hands. Second, some utensils can be sharp and you risk hurting yourself.

Before passing a serving dish, place serving utensils on the right side of the dish. When you pass the dish, hold both the dish and the serving utensils.

Hold a bottle by its body

How to pass bottles

Hold bottles from their body. Never hold a bottle from the neck or the cork.

How to pass condiments

If you pass condiments, hold them by the handle or by their section farther from the food. Usually, the bottom.

3) Do not eat or drink from serving dishes or bottles

Never eat from a serving dish. Instead, move food and sauces from shared dishes to your plate and eat from it. 

Use serving utensils only to put food on your plate. Once done, place the serving utensils back into the shared dish. Return them in the same position you found them. Normally, they should be on the right side of the dish. Place carving knives with the blade facing inward.

Do not bring the serving utensils to your mouth, and do not place them on your plate. Do not use your personal utensils to serve food.

Take whole foods from serving dishes. Do not mince or divide food on the serving dishes. Doing otherwise is bad table manners. If you touch anything from a serving dish, you must move it from the serving dish to your plate.

Never drink directly from a bottle. Pour the beverage without touching your glass with the bottle.

do not overfill plates

4) Serve yourself in moderation

Serve yourself in moderation. Every guest must be able to eat the same amount of food. Take a moderate serving, then pass the food around.

You can take a second serving after all guests have had their serving. Ask politely if someone else wants another serving before taking it for yourself. 

If you are a guest, do not ask for anything more than what is served to you. If the host offers a second serving of a course, you can accept it. 

do not overfill glasses

5) Do not overfill plates and glasses

When you are serving yourself or other guests, do not overfill plates or glasses.

Allow some empty space on plates. Never stack food.

Fill water glasses ½, wine glasses ⅓. Do not fill glasses over ¾ full for water, or ½ for wine.

6) Serve your neighbors first

Before serving yourself from a serving dish or a bottle, ask the guests near you if they would like to be served. If they do, serve them first. If guests near you ask you to pass a serving dish or bottle, offer to serve them. 

When a guest near you has the glass empty and you are closer to the beverage, offer to refill their glass. If you offer to refill a glass with an alcoholic beverage, you should ask once but not insist.

When you reach for something on the table, you should not cross another guest with your arm. Instead, ask another guest to help and pass the item to you.

passing food etiquette mistakes

Passing food etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst passing food etiquette mistakes. 

  • 9/10. Eating from a serving dish.
  • 8/10. Passing food in the wrong direction.
  • 8/10. Using your utensils to serve food.
  • 7/10. Serving yourself a large amount of food.
  • 4/10. Serving yourself before your neighbors.
  • 4/10. Overfilling dishes or glasses.