A Guide to Table Settings
Have you been in this situation before? You scored an invitation to the swanky sit-down wedding of a good friend from college. You walk into the reception and see a name card at each seat, along with over 10 different pieces of silverware, including 5 forks. At home you only have enough forks to invite 3 friends over, and you certainly don’t know which knife to use for a multi-course meal. Hoping not to embarrass yourself in front of more sophisticated friends, you survey the crowd before taking a bite. You choose the cutlery they choose and continue to follow along.
The good news is, unless the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey is your dining companion, you won’t be scolded for using the wrong piece of silverware. Just know that if the utensil is on the table, you'll need it during the meal. The guide for knowing what to use (and when) is easy: start on the outside and work your way in.
Here is the order for a traditional table setting:
Typically, the napkin will be placed on the left (though in some formal settings you will find it on top of the plate).
Left of the plate (from the outside in):
Fish course fork
Meat course fork
Right of the plate (from the outside in):
Salad course knife
Fish course knife
Meat course knife
Above the plate:
Bread and butter plate and knife
Glasses (left to right):
Need an easy trick to remember where the bread plate and glasses go? Make an "O" with your right thumb and index finger and keep your other fingers straight. Do the same with your left hand. These should form the letters d (right hand) and b (left hand), which also indicates your "d"rink (glass) goes on your right and your "b"read plate goes on the left.
There may be other dishes at your place setting, depending on how the meal is served. If this is the case, don't panic. The main plate will be on top of a decorative "charger", with the salad plate and sometimes a consommé bowl on top.
Food and drinks are customarily served from the left side of the guest. Wines are served from the right.
If you do get confused half-way through a dinner party, stay calm and hope the food is so delicious your dining companions won't notice you used the same knife twice. Keep eating and drinking. Remember to stay poised! And, for goodness sake, don’t let those elbows drift onto the table.
A very special thanks to Pearl Home at Jacksonville Beach for letting us use their plates, glasses and dinnerware for this story.