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At informal meals, place the napkin in your lap immediately upon seating. During formal occasions, before unfolding the napkin, wait for the hostess to remove her napkin from the table and unfold it in her lap.
- Place the napkin in your lap upon seating.
- When leaving the table temporarily, put the napkin on your chair.
- At the meal's end, fold your napkin and place it to the left of your place setting.
Read more tips for using your napkin in the napkin etiquette section.
How do you hold a fork?
The continental style prevails at all meals, formal and informal, because it is a natural, non-disruptive way to eat.
- Hold your fork in your left hand, tines downward.
- Hold your knife in your right hand, an inch or two above the plate.
- Extend your index finger along the top of the blade.
- Use your fork to spear and lift food to your mouth.
At informal meals the dinner fork may be held tines upward, American table manners style.
The Table Setting
Deciding which knife, fork, or spoon to use is made easier by the outside-in rule – use utensils on the outside first and working your way inward. So, if you are served a salad first, use the fork set to the far left of your plate.
Your water glass is the one above the knife in your place setting and your bread plate is to the left. To remember which bread plate belongs to you and if the glass in front of you belongs to you or your neighbor, use “b” and “d”. Touch the index finger on your right hand to your right thumb. Touch the index finger on your left hand to your left thumb. The “b” formed by your left hand is for “bread” (your bread plate is always at the left of your place setting). The “d” formed by your right hand is for “drink” (your drinking glasses are always at the right of your place setting).
Our table setting section discusses in greater detail what you'll see at the table.
At a small table of only two to four people, wait until everyone else has been served before starting to eat. At a formal or business meal, you should either wait until everyone is served to start or begin when the host asks you to.