Why Not Put Your Elbows on the Table?

Elbow on Table
Keeping elbows on the table when conversing before ordering or in between courses is acceptable. But if food is on the table, keep them off to avoid bad posture and invading other’s space.

1. The History

In early days, it was common for people to eat off trestle tables, which consisted of a longboard supported by two or more divergent legs. This setup wasn’t stable, and it was easy for food to spill if someone leaned on the tabletop. Hence, the elbow rule. 

In medieval times, people would carry weapons to the table, and keeping elbows off the table prevented them from reaching for their swords.

In some cultures, the rule of keeping elbows off the table has taken on even greater significance. In Japan, for example, placing one’s elbows on the table during a meal is bad manners. In Thailand, however, resting one’s arms on the table during a meal is acceptable. 

2. The Cultural Expectations

In America, it’s not uncommon for parents to scold their children for putting their elbows on the dinner table. It’s a rule that’s often reinforced in social settings as well. 

The elbow rule is a cultural expectation passed down through generations. The idea is that putting your elbows on the table promotes bad posture and encroaches on others’ space. 

When you put your elbows on the table, you’re taking up more space than necessary. This can make your dining companions uncomfortable, especially if the table is small. Keeping your elbows off the table is a way of showing consideration for others.

3. Rule of Thumb

  • Between courses: It’s acceptable to put your elbows on the table between courses when you’re not actively eating or drinking. This is a good time to rest your arms and converse with your dining companions.
  • Before ordering: It’s okay to rest your elbows on the table while perusing the menu or waiting for your food to arrive.
  • Formal settings: If you’re dining in a formal setting, such as a fancy restaurant or a business dinner, avoid putting your elbows on the table. This is considered a breach of etiquette and
    imaginary boundary.
  • When there’s food on the table: Once the food is served, take your elbows off the table. This shows good table manners and ensures you sit properly and don’t invade others’ personal space.

4. Body Language During Mealtime

Maintaining good posture and eye contact during mealtime helps establish trust and build stronger relationships. When sitting at a table with someone, your body language can convey a lot about your attitude and feelings. When you make eye contact with someone, you’re showing them that you’re present and attentive. 

Regarding eye contact, try to focus on the person speaking. It’s okay to glance around the table setting occasionally to acknowledge others. If you do the talking, take breaks to let others chime in. 

Maintaining good posture includes sitting straight and keeping your feet flat on the ground. Avoid tapping your feet or playing with utensils because it shows a lack of interest. 

5. Posture Effect On Digestion

Sitting with your elbows on the table is one common posture that can lead to digestive issues. This posture can compress your digestive organs, making it more difficult for food to move through your system.

The correct posture for easy digestion is to sit up straight and avoid slouching or leaning forward. Ensure your feet are flat on the floor and your back is supported. This will ensure your digestive organs are not compressed and allow food to move through your system more efficiently. 

6. Social Faux Pas

The most common social faux pas is resting elbows on the table during a formal meal. Even in the 21st century, this is considered impolite and inconsiderate of your dining etiquette.

You can occasionally rest your elbow on the dining table in informal settings, such as a family dinner or a casual meal with friends. However, it is still important to be mindful of your surroundings and the expectations of those around you.

7. Teaching Kids

a boy eating with elbows on table
A boy eating with elbows on table

Whether at a family gathering, a business lunch, or a fancy dinner party, our behavior at the table can leave a lasting impression on those around us. Teaching children good table manners from a young age prepares them for these situations, shows respect for others, and demonstrates good character. 

Here are a few tips for teaching your children proper elbow-on-table etiquette:

  • Start early: It’s easier to establish good habits early on than to try to correct bad habits later.
  • Lead by example: Children are great imitators, so ensure you model good manners at the dinner table. Sit straight, keep your elbows off the table, and use utensils properly.
  • Explain why: Explain that good manners show respect and consideration for others.
  • Make it fun: Use games and role-playing to make learning etiquette rules fun for your child. 
  • Praise good behavior: When your child demonstrates good table manners, praise them. 

What Does The Bible Say About Elbows On The Table?

The Book of Ecclesiastes 41:19, states, “Before your neighbors, be ashamed of theft. Be ashamed of breaking a promise, leaning on the dinner table with your elbows, and stinginess when asked for something.” 

In ancient times, sharing a meal was a significant event. It was a time for people to unite, show hospitality, and build relationships. One could avoid accidentally knocking over dishes or spilling food by keeping elbows off the table. 

It was also a way of showing respect to fellow diners and demonstrating self-control and discipline.


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

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