Why the Royals Have to Adhere to Strict Dining Rules, According to an Etiquette Expert

Imagine the infamy of sticking your pinky out when drinking tea, LOL.

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You're likely aware that the British Royal Family has to uphold some pretty strict rules and traditions when eating in public: We've previously reported on the foods they're not allowed to eat, for instance, as well as a whole bunch of more general rules they have to follow.

As for how exactly the royals are expected to eat their food, etiquette expert William Hanson tells Marie Claire exactly why they have to uphold all these rules—here are 10 reasons you're probably glad you're not in line to the throne.

Holding silverware in the correct hands

"Traditionally, cutlery is held with the knife in the right hand, and the fork in the left, a rule that dates back to when men would carry their swords and daggers in their right hand," Hanson says on behalf of Coffee Friend.

"Mercifully, we now know this to be a load of rubbish and so it is perfectly acceptable to switch the cutlery (fork in right hand, knife in left) but the cutlery is still held in the same manner: the index finger goes down the fork, stopping before the bridge.  For knives, the index finger also extends down the knife, stopping where the blade and handle meet.

"As so much royal duty involves soft diplomacy over dinners, having control over their cutlery (and food) is an essential part of their toolbox."

Never letting silverware squeak against their plate

"In Western formal dining, we don’t want any form of noise—whether that’s unpleasant sounds of mastication or the fork and knife scraping along a near-empty plate," Hanson explains.

"It is not a breach of protocol to make noise with the cutlery on the plate. If it happens once or twice by accident, no issue, but to continue to do so is especially unfortunate." OK, I guess that sort of makes sense.

Making it clear they're done eating

"When a member of the Royal Family is finished eating, they place their cutlery together," Hanson says. "If you imagine the plate as a clock face and the cutlery as the hands of the clock, when finished eating in Britain, the cutlery is positioned at 6:30 with the tines of the fork facing upwards.

"The cutlery is placed together in such a finished position to alert the staff (and other diners) that you have finished so they can clear your plate without having to ask whether you are finished or not."

Always drinking from the same spot on their cup

So, royals can't turn their cups around while drinking, "especially for those wearing lipstick," Hanson says. This is to avoid extra rings of lipstick on the vessel. But like, imagine being offended by that?

Holding a teacup properly

"Members of the Royal Family usually hold the teacup pinching their thumb and index finger between the handle, with their other fingers following the shape of the handle for support," Hanson explains.

"It is not, contrary to popular belief, sophisticated to stick the little finger out when drinking tea or coffee." That's me told.

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Following the Queen's cues

"Yes, when dining with Her Majesty, no one should begin until the Queen begins eating; similarly, when The Queen’s cutlery goes into the finished position (as explained above) everyone else should follow suit—regardless of whether there is food left on their own plates," Hanson explains.

But I eat so slowly??? That's it, if I'm ever invited to dine at Buckingham Palace, I'm RSVPing no. I don't want to leave any of that delicious food behind, thank you!

Folding their napkin on their lap

Of course, there is also a whole protocol for how to use a napkin. "For larger napkins, members of the Royal Family will place their napkins on their lap shortly after taking their seats, folding it in half with the crease facing away from them," Hanson says. "When they are finished eating and leaving the table, the napkin is placed in a neat heap on the left-hand side of the setting." SO MUCH TO REMEMBER.

Only talking to the people next to them

If you still thought royal dining sounded like fun until now, I feel like this one might change your mind. "With formal dining, conversation flows to each person’s left and right—rarely ever across the dining table," Hanson says.

"The Queen would often wait to see which way her late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, turned and then follow suit." To be fair, that's quite sweet.

Swearing off garlic

Keen cooks will be checking out now: Garlic is off limits at official functions. "This is often the case when planning royal menus at home or away," Hanson says. "Similarly, tricky foods are never served to ensure no awkward photos, but also to make sure all guests feel relaxed and don’t worry about how they need to eat a particular dish." Again, I do actually appreciate that one—it's not like the Queen's dinner table comes with Red Lobster bibs.

Dressing formally

Forget showing up to family dins in your PJs. "Members of the Royal Family spend their lives changing clothes to make sure they are dressed properly for the occasion," Hanson says. "Royal dressing dictates that they never follow fashion fads, but instead dress in a more timeless, elegant way, although they may sometimes work in the year’s most popular color or pattern.

"For formal state dinners, ladies’ shoulders should be covered, wearing long, floor-length dresses with hair worn 'up.' Men are in black wool tailcoats, white, winged-collared shirts and white bowties."

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Iris Goldsztajn
Morning Editor

Iris Goldsztajn is a London-based journalist, editor and author. She is the morning editor at Marie Claire, and her work has appeared in the likes of British Vogue, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29 and SELF. Iris writes about everything from celebrity news and relationship advice to the pitfalls of diet culture and the joys of exercise. She has many opinions on Harry Styles, and can typically be found eating her body weight in cheap chocolate.