I consider myself pretty well-mannered, but there are some basic table manners and etiquette that I can never seem to remember. I have used my partner’s bread plate in error many, many times and stumbled over where to place the dessert fork when setting a formal table for Christmas Eve. My all-time biggest snafu was at Christmas dinner at my husband’s mother’s early on in our relationship and she had set the table with plate chargers. Plate chargers? I didn’t know what they were and brought the charger to the buffet line, ready to pile it up with food. My mother-in-law was mortified and hurried over to me and took it out of my hand, thrusting a plate in it instead. Ooh boy.
Here is a refresher on some basic table manners - start teaching your your kids now so they don’t try and use a charger as a plate:
Which bread plate is mine?!? Your bread plate is always to the left. A friend recently showed me trick to keep it straight - hold up both hands in the “ok” sign (privately or just visualize of course:-)) - your left hand is a “b” for bread plate:
Basic table setting. When you are setting the table, or eating a meal that has been set for multiple courses, remember to work from the outside in, it order of course. You have to trust the hostess - the table should only be set with utensils you will be using for the particular meal, in the order you will use them, working from the outside in toward the plate. Dessert utensils are set above the plate, unless they are brought out with the dessert course.
Other table setting pointers:
- The napkin can either go to the left of the plate or on top of the plate and the fold is always pointing inward.
- The knife blade should always point inward toward the plate.
- No more than three of each type of utensil should be on the table and if more are required, they will be brought out with the appropriate course.
- As courses are served, use your silverware from the outside moving inward toward the main plate.
- Dessert and bread plates are to the left of the plate, water and wine glasses are to the top right.
For a formal dinner, it can look like this (there are variations and personal preferences of course):
Pass food counterclockwise. Why? To give some order to passing dishes, especially multiple dishes at once.
What to do with utensils when you are done? Place utensils on your plate with the handles on the number 4 (if your plate was a clock).
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Cut your food all at once? Never ever. While it is more efficient, proper table etiquette dictates one piece at a time - putting down both utensils between each bite.
Salt and pepper stay together. If someone asks to pass the salt, always pass both, never one or the other.
When starting a meal, never begin eating until everyone is seated and served, unless a hostess insists everyone starts before that point at an especially large gathering so the food doesn’t get cold.
What do you do with the napkin when you get up from the table? Whether it’s the end of the meal or the middle, should you get up from the table (only after saying “excuse me”) you should loosely place your napkin next to your plate - not crumpled or twisted, and contrary to popular belief, not on your chair.
Some more obscure etiquette points at the table:
- No candlesticks on the table during day time
- Place mats should not be used for formal dinners - tablecloths only (I ignore this - I love place mats).
- Gentlemen should stand behind their chairs until all the ladies are seated.
- When serving, serve from the left and pick up the dish from the right. Beverages, however, are to be both served as well as removed from the right-hand side.
- Gentlemen should stand when a lady leaves or rejoins the table in formal social settings.
Oh and the last table manner to keep in mind? Silence your cell phone and no texting!