Many of you will know what this article’s heading means. If you don’t, I hope you are not a food server! This is the etiquette rule for placing a plate in front of a guest. You leave it on their left, and you remove it, when they are finished, from their left as well.
But let’s get practical here. The rules of etiquette are so that we all know what to expect. They are as much practical in nature as they are useful. They should never be an obscure set of rules that only the most educated know and use.
So let’s say your guest is seated in a corner and leaving the plate on the left doesn’t work. Or maybe you have to reach in front of another guest to leave a plate. Is that good etiquette? Heck, no!
As with all things in life, common sense should prevail. Etiquette exists in order to put people at ease. So, as has happened to me, if all the other diners at the table use the bread plate on the right, you should follow suit. Use the bread plate on the right. To point out the error would be a bigger crime against etiquette than to go along with the crowd.
If you find yourself without a fork because some of your table mates took the fork on the right and some took the fork on the left, you will need to discreetly say something. I usually try to identify where an extra fork is located at the table, and then casually ask if it could be passed to me. If the table is so big that this can not be accomplished without raising my voice, I will ask a member of wait staff for a fork. Discretion is the key.
Although I may choose to do my own thing every now and then,* I do feel like knowing the rules is important. Knowing and using the rules of etiquette are so important for job interviews, meeting dignitaries (including your future in-laws), and going out to eat with friends. The only way to know that you will not embarrass yourself is to practice at every single meal you consume.
No matter how old a person is, it is not too late to learn these social graces.
*Here is one of my modern updates to an old rule of etiquette: If you are leaving the table during dinner, it is proper to place your napkin in the seat of your chair. This signals the waiter that you will be returning. In the day of mini skirts and thong underwear, I will not be caught dead putting anything that will touch my mouth in a public seat! Rather, I place my napkin to the left of my plate. I have yet to have a waiter remove my plate by accident.