Which Fork Do I Use?

By Jorj Morgan

Has this happened to you? You are invited by your biggest client and her team of executives to join her at her favorite, trendy, oh-so-chic restaurant for dinner. You've agonized over your outfit and reconfirmed your sitter. You arrive to find a table filled with enough sterling silver utensils to fill your entire kitchen drawer. Which one is which? And, which bread plate should you use - the one on the right, or the one on the left? Here is an easy guideline that will not only help you get through the meal but may ward off indigestion.

The serviette.
A maitre de escorts you to your table and gestures towards or pulls out your chair. Take the seat. He's offering you a view of the room or demurring to your hostess' seating choice. He may remove your napkin from the table and place it on your lap. He's not getting personal; he's using good manners. Courteously reply, "thank you." Leave the napkin on your lap for the remainder of the meal. If you excuse yourself for any reason, place the napkin on your chair - not on the table. The napkin is used to wipe crumbs from around your mouth. It is not meant to record an imprint of your new red lipstick. Try to restrain from blotting!

The place setting.
Many fine restaurants will set each place with several dishes. A large dish set at your place before you sit down at the table is the charger. This dish is meant as decoration and not really to function as a plate that holds food. The charger is usually removed before the first course is served. However, it may remain to cushion either a chilled salad or bowl of soup. After you have finished with this course, the entire place setting including the charger, soup or salad bowl and utensil is removed.

Your bread plate is placed on your left at about the eleven o'clock position of the charger. When offered a roll, place the roll directly onto the bread plate - never on the charger. Take butter from the butter dish to the bread plate - not directly to the bread. If someone at the table has chosen the wrong plate, you have two choices. You can follow suit, or decline the bread. Do not say, "I think that is my plate," to the offending tablemate - it's bad form.

The glassware
Stemware is place to the right and top of your place setting - at about one o'clock. Large goblets are filled with water. White wine is offered in a separate glass from red. If the brand of wine is changed during the meal, a fresh glass is placed for you. The idea is that each wine should be sipped from it's own glass. Wine connoisseurs suggest that you hold a wineglass by its stem. When a waiter pours water or wine, or places food in front of you it is good form to cordially thank him.

The old rule of thumb is to start from the outside and work your way in when faced with a number of utensils. In most cases, this will work. But, it is a good idea to be able to differentiate between various utensils and know the specific use of each one. On your left at about nine o'clock you will find the forks. The outer most fork is a salad fork. Use it to nibble discreetly at your greens and place it on your salad plate when you are finished. Working your way toward the plate, the next fork is the largest and is meant to be used for the entrée. A third, smaller fork placed directly to the right of the entrée fork is placed there for use at dessert.

On the right at about three o'clock are the spoons and knives. The outermost spoon is a soupspoon and is usually larger than a teaspoon and is sometimes bowl-shaped. A second spoon placed to the left of the soupspoon is a teaspoon and is used to stir coffee. The knife is placed to the inside of the spoons and is to be used for the entrée.

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rules. For example, a butter knife, which is smaller than a regular knife can sit on the right side of the charger, or directly on the butter plate. A teaspoon and dessert fork can sit in opposite directions at the top of the charger. This signifies that they are to be used at the end of the meal. A fish fork, if needed, is placed on the right side of the plate. And sometimes, a larger steak knife can be placed across the top of the charger.

One rule to remember is that you always set the utensils that you are using on the plate that you have eaten from when you are finished. Do not put soiled utensils on the tablecloth or placemat. Rest the utensil at an angle, at the top of your plate to signal the waiter that you are finished. If two dishes are used - for example soup served in a bowl on top of a plate or coffee served in a cup placed on a saucer - position your utensil on the bottom most plate and not in the bowl or the cup.

More dining tips
Here are a few more tips to get you through your next business dinner.

  • Defer to your host when making menu suggestions. Ask for her advice on food choices.
  • Always make eye contact, smile and say thank you to your waiters. This shows that you are gracious, polite and self-assured.
  • Avoid messy food choices. Unless you are prepared to wear a bib and use metal crackers - don't order a whole lobster.
  • If you are uncertain as to a utensil or plate, follow your hostess' lead. Your tablemates may not choose the right one either - but following suit is the preferred way to play this game.
  • Touch up make up, comb hair, and use cell phones away from the table.

Once you have mastered the place settings at the chicest restaurant, its time to share your knowledge at home. Help children to properly set the table, use the correct utensil, and return forks to their proper place. You will reap the rewards of your efforts when you take them out to your favorite restaurant and their manners are impeccable!

Also see:
Throwing a summer dinner party
Take a tip from Mother Nature - dine alfresco

Email Jorj at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with your place setting challenges and questions. We will share the answers with other BlueSuitMoms.

Jorj Morgan is the Lifestyle Director of BlueSuitMom.com and the author of At Home In The Kitchen, a cookbook due in spring 2001.