A. There has been some confusion on which way to pass food and I, too, have read in old etiquette books that one should pass to the left. However, today, we teach to pass to the right. One of the reasons for this is that typically, a guest of honor is seated to the right of the host and when the host starts passing any food they would offer it to their guest first. From there, it goes around the table and comes back to the host after everyone else has taken a portion.
Another reason to pass to the right is that it is easier for right-handed people (and most of the world is right-handed, but that leaves the left-handed people out, so I am not sure I buy that reasoning) to reach across their plate and serve themselves from the left side of their dinner plate. But if you are a guest at a table, follow the direction your host has indicated. It's more important to keep all food going in the same direction, rather than worrying about whether is going to the right or the left.
Some other things to keep in mind regarding direction at the table:
•Food is served from the left and cleared from the right.
•Liquids are served from the right.
•Some establishments serve soup in the French fashion, from the right, but many others serve from the left.
•Enter your chair from the right side of the chair, with your left hip. In crowded restaurants or at banquets, if everyone enters their chair from the right it alleviates congestion and getting tangled up in chair legs. Always push in your chair when leaving the table.
•Your bread-and-butter plate is on the left of your dinner plate and your beverage glasses are on the right.
•Salad served accompanying the main course will be to the left of your dinner plate.
The rules at the table are established for very practical reasons. Just like the rules for driving, they keep things flowing so we don't bump into each other.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll forward it to her.