When it comes formal (or informal) dinners, sometimes as a guest the place settings can be intimidating unless you have had previous experiences at such dinners. Below is an example from the movie Pretty Woman (1990):
The best way to understand the use of the utensils is to understand how each place setting is set.
The minimum place setting is the teaspoon, place knife, place fork, and salad or dessert fork. The next most needed pieces are the butter knife and soup spoon. Other place setting pieces that are most commonly used are the cocktail/seafood fork, demitasse spoon, iced beverage spoon, and individual steak knife.
Menu cards are used in a more formal setting. They are usually placed in the center of the place plate, to the left of the forks, or on a menu card holder.
Silverware should be placed on the table in the order of its use, starting from the outside and working toward the plate. Here are some basic rules for placing silverware:
- The silverware, napkin, and plate are lined up approximately one inch from the edge of the table.
- Forks are placed at the left of the plate, except the cocktail/seafood fork which is placed at the right of the spoon, tines up.
- Knives and spoons are at the right of the plate with the blade of the knife facing toward the plate.
- Dessert spoons and/or forks are usually preset above the dinner plate. The place cared sites just above the dessert spoon or fork.
- The iced beverage spoon may be placed on the table to the right of the soup spoon or it may be laid above the plate with the handle of the spoon to the right.
- The individual butter knife is usually placed across the top of the butter plate parallel with the edge of the table.
A china service consists of plates for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee and tea cups, serving dishes, and various sized plates for other purposes. The large flat plates are called dinner plates and are used for the main course. A smaller plate is used for a luncheon, and a smaller plate still may be used for dessert or salad. Various size plates are needed for butter, fruit, etc.; cups or bowls are used for soup. “Place plates” or “service plates” are the plates that are pre-set on a formal or semi-formal table before the guests are seated. No food is actually served on these plates.
If you use a water glass, place it slightly above the tip of the knife nearest the plate and in front of the wine glasses. If serving two wines, place the white wine glass closer to your guests than the, usually larger, red wine glass. You may pour liqueur or a cordial in a smaller glass after you serve coffee or, if you choose, pass after dinner drinks on a tray.
While a formal dinner is delightful, you will usually entertain in a less elegant setting. In such cases adapt the setting diagram as necessary keeping in mind knives and spoons to the right and forks to the left of the dinner plate.
**Special Note: Keep in mind when you take your seat at an official dinner, your drinks or glasses are to your right. Your roll or pre-set food items are to the left. A good rule of thumb is to remember: drinks to the right, eats to the left!