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What is the proper etiquette for salt and pepper shakers?

Salt and pepper shakers are common condiments found on most dining tables. However, there are certain etiquette rules regarding their use that not everyone may be aware of. Proper etiquette dictates everything from where to place the shakers on the table to how to actually use them during a meal. Understanding these guidelines can help ensure you are practicing good manners when seasoning your food at the table.

Where should salt and pepper shakers be placed on a table?

Salt and pepper shakers should always be placed to the side of the dinner plate, not directly above it. They belong on either side of the plate, one inch away from the edge. The pepper shaker typically goes on the left while the salt shaker goes on the right. However, if you want to follow a more formal arrangement, place the salt and pepper shakers above the dinner plate instead, about one inch away from the edge of the table. They should still be lined up to the left and right of the plate rather than directly behind it.

Who should control the salt and pepper shakers during a meal?

Proper etiquette states that the host or hostess should control the salt and pepper shakers at all times during a meal. It shows respect for them to handle the seasoning of each guest’s food. The host can then accommodate preferences and dietary needs. Guests should never helping themselves to the salt or pepper without permission from the host first. Doing so would be impolite. If you are dining out at a restaurant, it is acceptable to season your food as desired. However, you should still ask for the shakers to be passed to you rather than reaching across the table.

When should the salt and pepper shakers be passed around?

The shakers should only be passed once all the food is served. Diners can then season their plates as desired before starting the meal. At a dinner party, the host would normally pass the salt and pepper to each guest along with any other condiments once everyone is served. For a more casual family meal, they can be centrally placed so diners can season as needed. You should not pass the shakers during the meal, as that would be disruptive.

How to properly use salt and pepper shakers

When using the salt and pepper shakers, keep the following etiquette tips in mind:

  • Always pass both the salt and pepper together, even if you only need one.
  • Pass the shakers to others around the table – do not throw them across the table.
  • Shake the seasonings onto your plate or food gently rather than banging the shaker.
  • Do not shake excess seasonings onto your plate.
  • Try a small portion first before shaking on more.
  • Place the lid back securely on each shaker before passing.
  • Use “please” and “thank you” when asking for or handing the shakers.
  • Do not use fingers to grab salt or pepper directly from the shaker.

Being careful and polite when using the salt and pepper shows consideration for other guests. Follow the recommendations above to season your meal appropriately.

Filling and refilling salt and pepper shakers

As the host, it is your duty to ensure the salt and pepper shakers are filled before a meal. Pay attention so they do not become empty while people are using them. For a dinner party, consider filling fresh shakers just before guests arrive. That way you will not need to refill them during the event. If they do become empty, promptly remove the shakers from the table to refill out of sight of guests.

Etiquette rules for salt alternatives

If serving herb salts, seasoned salts, or salt substitutes, follow the same etiquette as you would for traditional salt:

  • Place alternative salt shakers to the right of the dinner plate.
  • Let the host control when to pass around the shaker.
  • Shake gently onto food rather than banging shaker.
  • Do not use fingers to grab directly from shaker.
  • Pass please and thank you when requesting or handing shaker.

The same etiquette applies no matter the type of salt being served. Place any salt alternatives near the dinner plate and pass them politely upon request.

Salt and pepper shaker etiquette for various dining scenarios

While the general rules remain the same, salt and pepper shaker etiquette may vary slightly based on the dining situation:

At home

For family meals, you can keep salt and pepper shakers casually placed in the center of the table. Family members can then season their food as desired. Still refrain from throwing shakers or banging them directly on plates. Fill shakers before each meal.

At a dinner party

For formal dining, keep the shakers to the side of each guest’s plate but control when they are passed. Pass them after everyone is served. Fill fresh shakers before guests arrive so refills are not needed.

At a restaurant

Most restaurants will have salt and pepper shakers centrally placed on the table. Diners can use as needed but should still avoid making a mess or noise. Do not move shakers from their position. Ask the server to refill if empty.

Outdoor dining

Take care when using glass shakers outdoors. Try not to bang them directly on plates to prevent cracking or breaking them. Wipe away any moisture that collects before passing to prevent spilling.

Business meals

Use salt and pepper sparingly if dining with clients or colleagues. Take care to shake gently and tidy any spilled seasoning. Ask for the shakers to be passed instead of reaching across the table yourself.

Choosing salt and pepper shakers

As a host, the style of shaker you choose can complement your table decor. Here are some popular options:


  • Glass – elegant but fragile
  • Silver – sophisticated for formal dining
  • Wood – rustic, casual style
  • Ceramic – fun colors and patterns
  • Plastic – affordable but disposable looking


  • Simple – understated look
  • Ornate – intricate details
  • Novelty – whimsical shapes or themes
  • Matching set – coordinated style
  • Contrasting – purposefully different

Select shakers that suit your tablescape. Stick to one paired set for each place setting. Make sure lids stay securely on to prevent spilling salt or pepper during use.


While a small detail, salt and pepper shaker etiquette is important for proper table manners. Placement, usage, and presentation all contribute to polite dining etiquette. Keep shakers filled and in their proper positions. Always pass them politely. Let the host control when to offer them to guests. Season your food carefully without making a mess. With some basic manners, enjoying salt and pepper during a shared meal can be pleasant for everyone involved. Following proper etiquette shows respect for hosts, guests, and the overall dining experience.