November 28th 2011

Picking the right fork in formal dining

Consider this: you’re at a formal dinner party and there is a pile of cutlery strewn so carefully around your plate.

There is so much to choose from. And you just don’t know what to do. What’s the salad fork? Is there a dessert spoon? And what’s that other one for?

If you need to make sure your social skills and dining etiquette is up to snuff, read on to learn how to dine with confidence at your next formal dinner party.

Your first step is knowing which utensils are used during a formal dinner. Generally, there will be three forks, two knives, and three spoons. The placement of these utensils helps you remember their purpose and when/how to use each one of them. Basically, you use your utensils from the outside moving in toward the plate.

The first fork is the Salad Fork, and it is located on the left side of your place setting, and closest tot he napkin. It is smaller than a regular Dinner Fork, which is located on the right of the Salad Fork and to the immediate left of the dinner plate. The Salad Fork is used for — you guessed it! — your salad. And the Dinner Fork is for the main course. The third fork is the Cake Fork, or Dessert Fork, and it is located at the top edge of your dinner plate. This is used for the dessert.

When holding a fork, you should balance it between the first knuckle of your middle finger, and the tip of your index finger. The thumb should steady the handle. Your left hand should rest on your lap as you eat. If you are left-handed, do this in reverse.

Okay, now onto the spoons! There are three spoons that are used during a formal dining experience. The spoon that is located to the right of the plate and on the outside is the Soup Spoon. This spoon is larger than the Teaspoon, which is next to it and slightly smaller. The other spoon is the Dessert Spoon, located at the top of the plate and below the water glass. When holding spoons, balance it between the first knuckle and the middle finger, horizontally, holding it in place with the tip of the index finger.

Next, the knives. The knives are located to the right of the plate and diagonally across the bread plate. The one immediately to the right of the plate is known as the Dinner Knife, which should be used with the right-hand (or left-hand, if you are left-handed). To use it, put the tip of the index finger leaning on the blade to help you guide your food. The fork, then, will be in your left hand as you cut, so before you take a bite, lay the knife across the top edge of the plate, switch the fork to the right  hand, and take a bite. The other knife is the Bread Knife, which is used to (obviously!) butter the bread. Keep this on the bread plate, and never lay it on the table cloth.

Remember that, before you eat, your napkin should be placed in your lap, forearms (not elbows) can rest on the table, used utensils should be placed on flat plates, do not cut apart your bread or salad with a knife (use the Salad Fork tines or tear apart the bread), put down your utensils to converse or take a drink, and enjoy and take your time!

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Andrew loves art and design, and pursues his studies in his final year at the Ontario College of Art and Design. He loves seeking out new artists and giving them their dues, and in his spare time, focuses on his own abstract sculpture.