20-40-60 Etiquette: Salt and pepper protocol, revisited

The salt and pepper shakers stay on the table all day at some friends' homes. Is that OK? 20-40-60 Etiquette takes on the question, with Kate Stanton as guest.
BY CALLIE GORDON, LILLIE-BETH BRINKMAN, HELEN FORD WALLACE Published: April 11, 2012
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QUESTION: My mother taught me to always remove the salt and pepper shakers from the table after the meal is finished and to not leave them out. I have noticed at friends' houses that the S&P shakers are always on the table during the day. What is the right thing to do?

CALLIE'S ANSWER: Salt and pepper shakers have become so decorative and pretty! I do think that you should remove them from the table when you are finished with the meal. However, place them somewhere that people can see the shakers if they are pretty! I love to see what types of shakers people buy.

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Since we began this column more than two years ago, a question about salt and pepper etiquette remains one of the most discussed issues that 20-40-60 has addressed. There's a lot of interest in salt and pepper matters — when to pass it, how to pass it and now, what to do with it when the meal is finished.

I don't know of any hard rule that requires you to clear the table of shakers after a meal, and I don't think leaving the pair out in your own home during the day is a misstep by which others should judge you. In tidying up a kitchen, cleaning off the entire table, including salt and pepper, is one way to make it look clean and clutter-free. If you're entertaining, it's a good idea to get salt and pepper shakers off the table in time for dessert.

But in my own house, a shaker or two left behind doesn't faze me: Many days are so busy that I'm simply happy to have cleared the dishes and wiped the table and counters.

HELEN'S ANSWER: I am with you on removing the salt and pepper shakers after the meal is finished. When you clear the table of dirty dishes, they go, too. They should probably be stored in the cabinet out of sight until the next meal. There are so many choices in salt and pepper shakers that if they are really beautiful, maybe they could sit out on the kitchen counter. But the ones we use at home are not so lovely and should be put away.

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