Simple Rules for Table Setting Etiquette

Table setting etiquette is the proper placement of eating utensils on a table, with the intention that the diner will have everything they need in within convenient reach. When you are planning a dinner party, social gathering or simply setting your own table for the family dinner, follow some basic table setting etiquette to ensure that everyone will have what they need to completely enjoy the meal.

When it comes to place settings, proper attention should be paid to plates and napkin. The base plate is the center of the setting and the main focus. A side plate, if any, should be set to the left side of the base plate. For a formal dinner, the napkin can be placed in the center of the base plate. For less formal settings, fold the napkin and place it on the left side of the base plate and forks. Don't place the forks on top of the napkin-a common error.

Move to cutlery. Cutlery generally consists of a fork, knife and spoon. However, depending on the courses of the meal, there can be salad forks, soup spoons, tea spoons and even shellfish utensils. Table etiquette dictates that forks will always go on the left, while knives and spoons are on the right. When it comes to cutlery placement, work from the outside in. This concept means that the utensils on the outside of the setting will be used first, such as the soup spoon and salad fork. A typical setting might look like this, from far left to far right: salad fork, entrée fork, base plate with napkin, dinner knife and soup spoon.

Glassware finishes off the basic table setting. Most meals will consist of a water glass and wine glass. Position the water glass right above the knife, with the wine glass to the right of that. If there is no wine glass, the water glass alone is fine. There are more rules for additional glasses, such as for sherry or when there are two wines, but these are basics for place settings, proper enough for everything but the most formal of dinners.

Table settings get increasingly complicated if you are serving additional courses or foods, such as soup, seafood and dessert. For seafood, place the seafood fork on the far right, after the spoon. This is the only exception to the fork-on-the-left rule. Dessert cutlery should be set perpendicular to the other utensils, above the base plate. A bread or dessert plate should be set in the upper left, above the forks. A soup bowl should sit on the base plate, and then be cleared away when the soup course is finished.

Finally, all pieces of a proper place setting should be spaced evenly-the same space between cutlery, the same space between glasses and so forth. When the place setting looks balanced and symmetrical, it further enhances the appeal of a proper place setting.

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