Metro-East Living

Is it rude to use salt and pepper shakers before passing them to the person who asked?


Q: Enjoyed your column on the proper use of salt and pepper shakers. Dining friends and I have often had similar discussions. While on the subject, there have been two more discussions. The first question: if someone asks to please pass the salt, should you pass both the salt and pepper? A few of us were taught that the shakers should be passed/kept together. The second discussion has created a few friendly yet heated conversations. If someone asks for the salt/pepper, is it considered rude to pick them up and use them yourself first, and then pass them on to the guest who requested them?

A: Thank you for your comments and for your questions. In reference to your first question: Yes, the salt and pepper should always be passed together, even if only one is requested. The pepper shaker is on the left and the salt on the right. As to your second question: The salt and pepper should not be used first by the person passing the salt and pepper, unless the requester says: Please feel free to use it yourself before passing. If that does not occur, wait several minutes after the requester has used them and then you can request they be passed back to you. So as not to embarrass the requester who did not offer you the opportunity of using them first, you could casually say: I think I might like a little salt and pepper myself, if you would please pass them back to me.

Q: I wish restaurants would put more than one salt and pepper shaker on the table. Invariably, someone will ask that they be passed and most of the time I am the one to respond because everyone else seems to be talking. If at all possible, I try to reach them without my arm crossing over into anyone else's space, but my question is: Is it proper for me to rise up off my chair a bit to reach them and then pass them? I've done that before and I don't think anyone has seemed to notice or ask me what I am doing, but my wife doesn't think it is proper.

Salt and pepper 4.JPG
Since sea salt is flakier and some chefs feel it should not be ground because it would lose its flavor, one now sees the return of individual Victorian-type salt cellars in many restaurants, including a tiny spoon. Provided photo

A: Your wife is correct. It is not proper to rise from your chair to reach anything on the table and then pass it. If you cannot comfortably reach it, then you extend the request to another person closer to the item.

Q: I've seen people use their fingers to get salt out of a salt cellar. Is this proper? Can you sprinkle the salt directly over the food item from the little spoon, if there is one?

A: It is proper if it is an individual salt cellar in front of that person. If it is a salt cellar that is being shared by everyone at the table, or even if being shared by two people, the answer is no. The tip of one's clean knife should then be used to bring a small amount of salt from the salt cellar and place it on the edge of your dinner plate. Then, for each bite of food to which you would like salt added, carefully dip that bite with your fork into the salt before bringing to your mouth.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Dianne Isbell at Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to