Soup spoon etiquette
April 27, 2006 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Soup spoon etiquette question: where should one rest it in between bites?

When out at restaurants, soup is typically served in a bowl that sits on a plate. I was always taught to leave the spoon in the bowl (resting against the edge) if you want to pause (e.g. to take a sip of your drink, pass the bread, etc.), and only to place the spoon on the plate when you were finished with the soup. I believed this to be a signal to the server that you were done so they could take away the plate and bowl. My girlfriend disagrees, and thinks that whenever you take a break from eating, you should place the spoon on the plate until you are ready to resume eating. Who is right?
posted by rorycberger to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
the spoon should rest on the plate when it's not in your hand.
posted by seawallrunner at 5:04 PM on April 27, 2006

The spoon should be rested on the plate.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 5:06 PM on April 27, 2006

The only relevant link I could find quickly says that you're right. See here

I, however, tend to follow your girlfriend's practice. Perhaps I should reevaluate my own etiquette.
posted by dbolll at 5:08 PM on April 27, 2006

You want to avoid/minimize inadvertent spills, so it should go on the plate. This is also why you tilt the bowl AWAY from you when scooping up the last few spoonfuls of soup.
posted by beerbajay at 5:09 PM on April 27, 2006

GENTLE READER: "Miss Manners is going to drive you crazy on this one. You want a simple answer so you can eat your soup in peace and propriety, and she is about to douse you with technical terms."
posted by tellurian at 5:11 PM on April 27, 2006

I agree that the goal is to minimize spillage. leave it in the bowl.
posted by clord at 5:16 PM on April 27, 2006

Response by poster: beerbajay - I've heard about scooping away being a means of preventing spills, but following that same logic, to me it seems much more tidy to leave the spoon in the bowl. At the very least, you dirty the plate every time you set the spoon on it, especially if you have already put the spoon into a bowl of thick soup and want to pause before the next bite. After that, every time you set it there you risk inadvertantly getting corn chowder on your fingers.

btw, my girlfriend and I have both reevaluated our practices, and we see the logic (and faults) in both systems. Now we are just looking for a credible authority to tell us which way is technically correct.

[on preview: hmm, now we have two conflicting links. Anyone want to break the tie?]
posted by rorycberger at 5:22 PM on April 27, 2006

posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:25 PM on April 27, 2006

Here's one for in the bowl. No! plate. It depends on the bowl.
And finally: "a spoon in a bowl is a symbol of death".
posted by tellurian at 6:24 PM on April 27, 2006

You bite your soup?
posted by TonyRobots at 6:54 PM on April 27, 2006

Page 411 of Emily Post's Etiquette, 17th Edition seems to indicate it is proper to set it on the plate.

"When the soup is finished or the spoon is laid down, the spoon is left in the soup plate.."

"If you want a bite of bread while eating your soup, don't hold the bread in one hand and your soupspoon in the other. Instead, place the spoon on the underplate, then use the same hand to take the bread to your mouth."

.. not that I personally would. But, I would consider this a credible source of traditional etiquette guidance.
posted by Edge100x at 8:15 PM on April 27, 2006

So... with the Ms Manners explanation, how do you draw the line between a flattish soup bowl, and a bowlish soup plate? "The width of the rim is greater than an inch" or something?
posted by -harlequin- at 8:53 PM on April 27, 2006

"When the soup is finished or the spoon is laid down, the spoon is left in the soup plate.."

The important thing to note here is that, in polite society, soup is served in "soup plates" not in bowls -- that is the correct term for those big flattish bowls. There might be exceptions for serving some specific kinds of soup in other ways but in that case, if the container is narrow, you wouldn't want to leave the spoon in it anyway. If you are eating soup in a place where it comes in normal bowls soup etiquette is probably not the highest priority.

So in the first reference Emily is not talking about putting the spoon on the underplate, or charger as it is sometimes called. However, the second reference seems to contradict the first, god alone knows what she is really suggesting you do.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:06 PM on April 27, 2006

I recall reading in an old book of etiquette that when finishing the last bit of soup you should tip the bowl away from you, rather than towards you. Makes sense--the drips fall in the bowl.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:29 PM on April 27, 2006

While I empathize with the original poster's desire to know the correct rule, I think this is a situation where "proper etiquette" has gone off the deep end and rather than being an unwritten code of common civility, it's just some some ridiculous, outdated way of affecting the customs of the upper classes of ages past. If someone is aware of these customs, but finds them ridiculous and so disregards them, there will always be some jackass somewhere who delights in pointing out the guy who doesn't comport with some obscure, pointless practice.

The big problem I have with this whole thing is that it cannot be handled with basic common sense. To even have a prayer of handling the spoon correctly, you have to first identify the dish in which your soup is served, a skill no one would ever need to learn, outside of a four-star chef, or yuppies who spend their days prowling through Williams-Sonoma catalogs. If it's a soup plate--a type of dish I have in my cupboard, but had just known as a "bowl"--then you leave the spoon in the dish. If it's a soup bowl--you poor sucker--then you place the spoon on the plate. You don't just put your bowl right on the table, do you?

What is so pernicious about "etiquette" like this is that is almost impossible to ever rid ourselves of it. Once you know the proper rule, it is never in your best interest to take the initiative and try to banish it, because there may always be someone at the table who thinks your failure to conform with the custom is a sign of ignorance on your part.
posted by Brian James at 11:58 PM on April 27, 2006

I have always found that keeping the spoon in the bowl (especially when soup is served quite hot) heats up the spoon so much that it burns my lips. So between pieces of bread or conversations, I prefer to place the spoon on the plate.
posted by googs at 2:47 AM on April 28, 2006

It makes sense to keep it in the soup plate but put it on the plate for a bowl: if you set your spoon down in a bowl, it gets soup too high up the handle. At least, that's my way of doing it.
posted by dame at 6:29 AM on April 28, 2006

>The big problem I have with this whole thing is that it cannot be handled with basic common sense.

Sure it can. A soup plate is shallower, so when you leave your spoon in it there's less of a chance of you bumping the spoon and having it overbalance and cartwheel out of the bowl, spraying soup everywhere. A soup bowl is deeper, making this more likely, therefore you put your spoon on the plate beneath. Seems perfectly logical to me.
posted by MsMolly at 11:44 AM on April 28, 2006

Agreeing with dame -- leaving your spoon in a deep, high-sided bowl gives the spoon too much possibility of slipping deep into the soup, getting soup all over the part of the spoon you'd like to hold. Leaving your spoon in a shallow dish is unlikely to cause problems.
posted by occhiblu at 12:33 PM on April 28, 2006

Good points from googs and dame. And Brian James has just coined the perfect phrase for my view of etiquette: 'an unwritten code of common civility'.

Seriously: Etiquette has two functions. One (the desirable one) is to make other people comfortable; the other (the perversion) is to give petty SOBs something to feel superior and/or pick on other people about. I'd just as soon dump the parts of etiquette that aren't relevant to the first use; this lets me concentrate on the people I'm with, instead of on my utensils. And if the side-effect is that I'm no longer invited to dine with petty SOBs—oh, darn.
posted by eritain at 2:03 PM on April 28, 2006

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