This is a tradition from my husband's family that we really like and look forward to carrying on with our own family when our children our old enough.
Every once in a while when my husband was growing up my mother- in-law would tell her family early in the day that dinner that night would be a "manners night." Dinner would be served in the dining room instead of at the kitchen table. A fancy tablecloth would be spread, and the table was laid with the best dishes and silverware. Each place setting was complete with all of the extra fancy silverware, etc. It was an opportunity to practice using the best manners and to learn about table etiquette. That night, absolutely no elbows were allowed on the table; everyone placed napkins in their laps, and no one talked with mouth full, etc.
I think it is a kind thing for parents to teach their children how to behave properly when they are at other people's houses and so they will not feel out of place or awkward in fancy situations. And I think this is such a fun way of doing it- turns learning the rules into a special, exciting occasion. One could add all kinds of little touches to make sure that everyone looked forward to these nights- a special dessert, flowers on the table, maybe posting the menu on a board ahead of time, a special activity afterward.
Have you used/ seen any good ideas for teaching manners in a fun way? I'd love to hear about them. I'm especially keen to read about ways of teaching manners as consideration for other people's feelings. It seems like our culture today often treats good manners like they are nothing more than snootiness --when in reality, the foundation of much etiquette is the Golden Rule. It would be really neat to hear about fresh or creative ways that people are finding to show their children the sense and usefulness of good manners.