The Etiquette of the Dining Table Setting and Good Manners
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The Etiquette of the Dining Table Setting and Good Manners

This is a description about how to set a table properly and how to use all of the items when you are confronted with them. There is some comment on manners or the lack of them and a bit of commentary on why they are useful and even necessary in everyday life.

I know, I know, you think I’m a nag, but you can’t have it both ways.  You either want etiquette, class and sophistication or you don’t.  As I’ve said before, etiquette is a commitment to a way of life.  What I’m trying to say here is that where ever or what ever you are eating, your manners will never leave you if you have made them part of your way of life.

 An example would be camping.  You’re out at a lake around a campfire and your eating hot dogs with your hands, so you think you don’t need etiquette here, am I right?  Of course not, would this give you leave to chew your food with you mouth open, and maybe talk at the same time.  You will still make your companions feel ill watching you.  It is likely that you didn’t bring any serviettes (napkins), and now you have mustard all over your mouth.  Paper towel will do the job nicely, it’s not the finery of the napkin that gives you class, it is the act.

Table manners have evolved over many years and some are definitely too antiquated for our daily living.  Well you’re not going to believe this, but I just did a search of ‘Victorian Table Manners’ and I couldn’t find one that would be too antiquated for today’s society, so I will have to retract that statement.

 I will mention a few basic etiquette rules you can take to the table with you.  We will cover them in depth at a later time.

1. Keep your mouth closed.  This pertains to eating, arguments, and       opinions.

2. Learn what a basic table setting should look like.  If you know the basics,   you can figure out the rest.

3. Do not make loud noises.  This means no lip smacking, body sounds, clinking china with a spoon or talking loudly.

4. Do not pick your teeth at the table.

 Most of us have been to an event where they are serving a formal dinner.  You sit down at your designated place and in front of you are six forks and six knives, spoons, utensils above your plate and maybe a small knife sitting on a small plate above.  My God, were do I start!

Well you could use that old standby, wait for someone else to start and then copy them, but then if they’re wrong, you’re wrong.  Believe it or not, this table would not be considered ‘properly set’.  You should never have more than three forks and three knives at a place setting.  If further implements are required, they should be brought in when that course is served.

The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to start with the outer fork and knife (the ones that are farthest away from the plate) and work your way in.  In the drawing  you have a (H) fish course first, then (I) your main or dinner course and then (J) your salad course.  Yes, there really is such a thing as a fish fork and some times you really do have salad after the main course.  If you are to be served salad before the main course then the salad fork would be on the other side of the dinner fork.

On the right side of the plate, starting at the far right, there is a (M) soup spoon, (L) fish knife (yes there is) and a dinner or main course knife.  We can be pretty sure that the first course will be soup as there is a (C) soup bowl in the middle of the (B) service plate.

Above the (B) service plate are a (N) cake fork and dessert spoon.  These will often be served with dessert instead of having them on the table.  On the small plate above the forks is a butter knife.  Use this knife to scoop butter from the dish and place it on the bread and butter plate.  Do not butter your roll directly from the butter dish.

We have already mentioned the bread and butter plate, but what you may not recognize is a (B) service plate.  This is a plate that is used under other serving plates like soup or salad.  It is always removed when the main course (dinner plate) is served.

Now look at the glasses above the knives.  Notice that they are set diagonally with the largest first.  They are from left to right (E) water glass, (F) White wine glass and (G) Red wine glass.  AHA! You didn’t know there was a glass for each colour.  It is possible that you need both, depending on what you are serving and you will never want to serve a white wine in the same glass that you served a red wine.

The last item in the drawing is the serviette (napkin) and it should always be cloth, preferably linen, crisp and clean.  It can be placed properly in many different places like under the forks or in a napkin ring on the service plate.  You can be inventive with this as long as you have one.

Alright, you now know how to set a table, which utensil to use if you are at a formal dinner and how to behave.   It is something you need to know, even if you are not using it everyday.  You NEVER know.


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