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The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.
setting a table
- Flatware is laid on the table in the order of use. A placement that starts on the outside of the place setting and moves inward toward the plate. Flatware is never laid on the table according to size.
- Because the majority of people are right-handed, the knife and spoon are laid on the right side of the place setting and the fork on the left. The left-handed diner reverses the placement.
- With an uneven number of people are seated, the oddnumbered place settings are laid opposite the middle of the even-numbered place settings.
- The lower edges of the utensils are aligned with the bottom rim of the plate, about 1 inch up from the edge of the table.
- To avoid hiding a utensil under the rim of a plate or bowl, lay it approximately 1 inch away from the side.
- To eliminate fingerprints on the handle, hold flatware by the "waist," the area between the handle and the eating end of the utensil.
- Fork tines may be placed downward, continental style, or upward, American style. In the continental placement of flatware, the fork is laid on the table in the way it is held, tines downward. In the American style although the fork is used tines downward to cut food, it is held tines upward to eat, and the fork is laid on the table tines upward.
The dinner knife is laid to the right of the plate, with the blade facing the plate.
At an informal meal, when salad is served as a side dish with the main course, the dinner knife is used to cut both salad and the main course. But at a posh event, if salad is served after the main course to clear the palate for dessert, and the salad is composed of thick-veined greens, a salad fork is laid next to the dinner plate, and an extra dinner knife is laid to the left of the regular dinner knife. At a formal affair, when a knife is needed for the salad course, it is presented to the diner on a tray.
The fish knife and fish fork are placed on the table in the order of use. When fish is served as an appetizer course, the fish knife is laid to the right of the dinner knife and the fish fork to the left of the dinner fork. But if fish is served as the main course, the fish knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate and the fish fork is laid to the left of the plate.
The dessert fork and dessert spoon (or dessert knife), are placed differently at formal and informal affairs. At a formal event, the dessert fork is laid on the left side of the plate, and the dessert spoon (or knife) is placed on the right side of the plate. The diner lays the utensils on the table in respective order.
At an informal meal, when two utensils are provided for dessert, the utensils are laid on the table or presented on the dessert plate. The dessert spoon (or dessert knife) is laid on the table above the dinner plate in a horizontal position, handle facing right. The dessert fork is laid beneath the dessert spoon (or dessert knife), handle facing left. The dessert utensils may also be presented on the dessert plate in the same way as formal service.
The fruit knife and fruit fork are presented on the fruit plate in the same way as dessert utensils.
The butter spreader is laid on the bread-and-butter plate at formal luncheons and all informal meals but is not used at a formal dinner held in a private residence.
At a formal luncheon or informal meal, the butter spreader is laid on the bread-and-butter plate in one of three positions: horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. In the horizontal placement, the butter spreader is laid across the top edge of the breadand-butter plate, parallel with the edge of the table, an alignment that repeats the parallel arrangement of stemware. The vertical placement of the butter spreader echos the perpendicular alignment of flatware. The diagonal placement reiterates stemware aligned at an angle. Although the way the butter spreader is placed on the bread-and-butter plate is a matter of choice, the important point is keep the alignment the same for the entire table setting.
The soup spoon is placed on the right of the outside knife.
The teaspoon, after-dinner coffee spoon, and demitasse spoon are placed on the saucer behind the cup handle. The spoon handle faces the diner in a four o'clock position, ready for use. But when a teaspoon is used as an eating utensil, such as cereal at breakfast, it is laid on the right side of the place setting.
The iced-beverage spoon is laid on the table on the right side of the glass. But once used it is not returned to the table. Instead, the iced-beverage spoon is held in the glass while drinking.
The seafood fork is laid on the right side of the soup spoon. It is the only fork placed on the right side of the place setting. The fork tines are placed in the bowl of the soup spoon with the handle at a 45-degree angle. It may also be laid next to the soup spoon in a parallel position.
The salad fork is laid on the table in the order of progression. When salad is a first course, the salad fork is laid to the left of the dinner fork. If salad is served after the main course, the salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork.
The number of utensils laid on the table initially is determined by the number of courses.
Regardless of the number of courses served, and when the utensils are placed on the table, the cover is always laid with a knife and fork. The exception is when soup is the main course, then only a soup spoon is needed.
A place setting for a multi-course meal, notably a formal dinner, is crowded with flatware and stemware; to alleviate clutter, no more than three knives, three forks, and a soup spoon are laid on the table initially.
For example, at a sixcourse meal with three appetizer courses, such as soup, fish, and pate, plus a main course, salad, and dessert, three forks and knives are laid on the table initially, one for fish, another for pate, and a third for the main course, plus a soup spoon. The seafood fork is laid on the right side of the cover, if appropriate. When salad is served, the salad fork is presented to the diner on a small tray. The dessert utensils are presented on the dessert plate.
meals with fewer courses
At a simpler meal, such as a menu composed of soup, salad, main course, and dessert, the table setting is not cluttered and all the flatware is laid on the table at one time.
At the host's option the dessert utensils may be brought to the table on the dessert plate.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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