Y’all, for me, an improperly set table is like nails on a chalkboard. But, I also realize that these arbitrary rules are what give etiquette a bad name.
However, if a table is set correctly, it serves as a guide to the diners, so that they don’t take their neighbors’ silverware or coffee cup.
Recently at two “nice” upscale restaurants at which I had dinner, the blades of the knives were facing away from the plate! In Mafia lingo, that means I have been cut out of the family and may end up wearing concrete shoes in the ocean. Yikes! And I didn’t even know the chef or owner!
Here is the problem: if a table is set incorrectly, no one knows which items belong to whom. The great thing about a table set according to custom is that everyone at the table knows what to do. I use the word custom because what I do in the south is a bit different from what my friends in the Northeast do, and the same goes for Europeans.
Here are a few ways to remember proper placement:
* Forks go on the left. F-o-r-k is four letters and so is L-e-f-t.
* Knives and spoons go on the right. K-n-i-f-e and s-p-o-o-n and r-i-g-h-t all have five letters.
* Drinks go on the right (again, both have five letters: d-r-i-n-k and r-i-g-h-t). Think about all those right-handed diners taking a drink. They wouldn’t reach across their plate for tea, coffee or wine, but rather just reach forward. Wine and water glasses go at the top of the knife, whereas coffee cups go to the right of the knives. The coffee cup can get confusing if the place settings are close or improperly set. Remember ALL drinks are on the right, so the right coffee cup is yours.
* Bread plates go on the left, above the forks.
* The silverware should be placed 1″ away from the edge of the table. The edge of the plate should also be 1″ from the table edge. If a salad plate is used at the same time as the dinner plate, it goes to the left of the forks, 1″ from the edge of the table, as well. Diners are not supposed to rearrange their plates and silverware; dishes farther than 1″ away from the table will be a stretch for many diners to reach.
* Silverware should not be hidden by the plate, nor should the closest knife and fork be more than an inch from the sides of the plate. A place setting just looks better if it is not scrunched in nor spread out.
* Generally, a place setting should have no more than three knives and three forks preset; anymore makes for an intimidating setting. If other forks and knives are necessary for the meal, they may be brought in with the course for which they are needed.
* Only preset utensils that will be needed. For example, if serving a meal that does not require a knife or spoon, they should not be put out.
* Napkins are to be set to the left of the forks or in the center of the charger plate. These days we often see the napkin under the forks. This is a space-saving technique as is a folded napkin in the water glass.
* Finally, once finished eating, diners should place their knife and fork on the plate. Generally, if the plate is the face of a clock, the knife and fork are at 4 p.m., with the knife resting above the fork. This lets the hostess or waiter know that they may remove the plates.
There are hundreds of other tips and tricks for a proper place setting. These seem to be the most basic and useful for people of all ages and backgrounds. Now I hope my friends in the restaurant business will use this guide to train their staff.
Bonus Information: There are exceptions in place settings, just as there are in spellings and English. For example, if setting a cocktail fork, it goes to the right of the spoons. If a casual lunch is being served that does not necessitate a knife, then the fork may be set on the right. So, when setting a table, a quick bit of research will always pay off!