A Guide to Proper Dinner Table Settings and Etiquette

Have you ever felt embarrassed when you go to a fancy dinner, and you’re not sure which fork or spoon to use first? I know I have. My first experience with a fancy dinner, I had no idea you were even supposed to use all of the silverware for different courses and meals. I just dug right into my food like a bulldozer. I know, it sounds extremely improper…but hey, I had no idea what I was doing!

Luckily I had a friend right beside me who discreetly made me aware of how improper I was being, and advised me of how to correctly use the silverware. So for all of you out there who are in the dark when it comes to proper table settings and dinner etiquette, here is a little guide to help you along for the next time you’re about to find yourself in an embarrassing situation at the dinner table.

How to Properly Set a Dinner Table

  1. Set the service plate directly in front of the chair.
  2. Place the salad fork directly to the left of the service plate.
  3. Place the dinner fork to the left of the salad fork.
  4. Place the fish fork to the left of the dinner fork.
  5. Place the serviette (napkin) to the left of the fish fork.
  6. To the right of the service plate, place the service knife.
  7. Place the fish knife to the left of the service knife.
  8. Place the soup spoon to the left of the fish knife.
  9. Directly above the plate, place the cake fork and dessert spoon (spoon above fork).
  10. To the left of the dessert utensils, place the bread and butter plate with the butter knife laying horizontally across the top of the plate.
  11. Place the water glass to the right of the dessert utensils, slightly above the dessert spoon.
  12. The white wine glass goes to the right of the water glass, slightly below it.
  13. Place the red wine glass to the right of the white wine glass, slightly below it (Note: The glasses are going to be going in a slightly diagonal direction to the right).
  14. Place the soup bowl directly in the center of the service plate.

And now to the harder part…actually using the dinner utensils.

Utensils, generally, are set up so you can start from the outside and work your way in. Use the utensils furthest from the plate first. Also, it is important to note that you should only use one set of utensils per course. Be sure not to mix up using two forks for the same dish.

When using the soup spoon, hold it away from the body while sipping from the side. Don’t pull a Billy Madison move and slurp your soup like a 5 year old child who hasn’t learned what manners are yet.

For the main course, you want to use the dinner fork. Usually, the dinner fork would be located directly to the left of the service plate, but in this instance, the salad fork is directly to the left of the plate, and the dinner fork is to the left of that. Also, for the main course, use the service knife located directly to the left of the dinner plate.

When you are completely finished with your meal, leave the plate in place. Lay the fork with its tines down first, then lay the knife diagonally across it with the sharp side facing inward. This lets your server know you are finished with your meal and it does not interrupt other guests who might still be eating.

Lyndsay Gower
Lyndsay Gower

A University of Tennessee graduate with a degree in advertising, she coordinates KaTom’s marketing efforts. When she’s not doing that, she can typically be found sharing a meal with friends, cruising Knoxville’s craft beer joints, or floating down one of East Tennessee’s numerous rivers. Her life’s goal is to visit every U.S. national park and she likes giving pets opposite-gender names.

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