Whether your career is riding on preparing the perfect meal or you are just invited over to a friend’s house ….everyone needs to know the ground rules. I admit to a constant state of frustration every time I set the table. The rules of etiquette are based on “no surprises” and “no embarrassments”. Rules for dining create a more relaxed atmosphere if you know the basics.
My mother thought that these ways were “old fashioned” and didn’t think the knowledge would ever come in handy. Mothers of today- do not follow her example. We need all the information we can get. AND things are more enjoyable if you understand them. The correct glass, the correct fork may seem stuffy but when faced with the opportunity in life to eat with a King, a President, a gourmand or your boss….it’s better to know your salad fork from your soup spoon.
There are two schools of thought about setting a table and many times it is done a bit differently in Continental Europe than in America. If you are an American, set the table as Thomas Jefferson did. And if you happen to be entertaining the French President – even more reason to set it our way.
If you are missing pieces, don’t sweat it. But whatever you do, do not put something on the table just because you have it. At the end of dinner, everything must be off the table.
The proper way to fold a napkin is as it is shown in the drawing. Take this into account when monogramming linen. However, you can do a fancier folding of the napkin or drape it accross the place plate if there is no soup course. I am a big fan of napkin rings. Love them! They can be used for a buffet and they can be used for a semi- formal dinner. Stick with the diagram for a formal dinner.
HINT: the proper way to pick up a napkin is from the far left corner which allows you to spread the napkin in your lap with little effort. This comes from the days when the attendant would pull out your seat and place your napkin for you.
This is for formal dinners unless you have help serving. The service plate is not used and therefor must be removed and replaced by the dinner plate. This can be awkward unless done by either a waiter or by you and a designated friend who effortlessly gluides into the job seemingly without asking.
If you have a soup course, you should use a service plate- you can get by with an underplate (dinner plate) if you need to. I mean who is paying that much attention?.
Formal Table Setting Etiquette Tip
After the soup course is complete and the bowls are cleared, a salad plate will take the soup bowl’s position. Traditionally, a charger holds the spot for the dinner plate, and is removed after the salad course so the place is never bare. If you do not want to clear the table after the soup course and bring out dinner plates, you can place a dinner plate on top of the charger.
HINT: Service plates can always do double duty as terrific Buffet plates. I always find that dinner plates are too small and awkward. If someone is going to sit in my living room and eat, I want them to have a 26″ napkin and a large enough plate that they can balance it easily.
Wide and flat for warm, tall and compact for cold. Yes, you can use what you’ve got.
Bread and Butter Plate and Knife
The butter knife can be from a different service. It is not proper to use your dinner knife. Eliminate bread and butter if you can’t do this correctly. Noone will notice.
Best to use a low stem to keep the water cold. Since people drink so much water these days, you can use a highball glass if it is of the same service.
HINT: Always pick up a glass by the stem.
A lot of time is spent on the proper glass for red wine these days. But rarely do people have more than one kind of red wine glass in their service. If you do have more than one type and plan on serving different varietals during the meal, then set the glaases in order of their serving from left to right so that a person is not reaching over a glass to reach a glass.
HINT: If you are serving a meat that requires a steak knife and you do not have these in your service, present them with the main course.
This is another item that people do not always have in their swrvice. Simply do not serve a fish with bones or that requires cutting. Most fish courses are tender enough for a fork.
Here, I differ with the rules. For a formal dinner, yes. But for a fancy lunch or semi-formal dinner; I love to put my big soup spoons at the top of the service plate. If you do this, you should forgo the dessert spoon or cake fork – you would present them with the dessert.
Dessert Spoon and /or Cake Fork
Just remember, the rules make sense and they are there so that everyone has an equal shot at picking the correct fork.