Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Dining How-Tos – Set a Proper Table

September 28th, 2011 · 1 Comment

My friend Alyson Seligman who writes the witty and fashion-forward Average Girl’s Guide blog had a great post on setting a proper table, with explanation. She had some fabulous table designs pictured as well – inspiration for setting a gorgeous table.

I like her ideas, but I like this table-setting illustration from Replacements.com – a long-time company where you can find missing pieces to your silverware, china or crystal patterns – or get help identifying them.

The only comment I’d add is to save the dessert fork/spoon for after the meal is cleared, or move it above the plate crosswise for the start of the meal.

B’s and D’s

I don’t know of any mnemonics to help you remember which side of the plate the bread plate and glasses go on, but I know a trick I use when I teach kids to cook and set a table. (Kids take great pride in having different dishes for salads, and glasses for water and forks that look like a restaurant at home – so parents: teach this and they’ll appreciate dinner time a bit more, if this is a novelty.)

Here’s the reminder: Make a circle with your middle finger and thumb on both hands and point your forefinger up. The left hand will form the letter b – for bread. The right hand will form the letter d – for drink glasses. Easy enough.

To use your wares:

Use silverware on the outside first. The salad fork should be on the outside left; it should be picked up with the salad plate and the charger or underplate.

If fish is served as a separate course, a fish fork may be next, and a second knife may be placed.

You can use the fork in either hand and be proper.

Never set a used utensil down on the table; it remains on your plate once you’ve picked it up.

Use your butter knife if none is offered to remove a little butter or spread from the table bowl; place it on your bread plate, then pass along the butter to your right. (Food is always served from the left.)

To signal you don’t care for wine, simply put your hand over the glass or shake your head slightly when wine is offered.

Always pass the salt and pepper together.

To signal to the server that you’re done, rest your utensils pointing at the five o’clock position on the plate or bowl, with handles on the edge of the plate. Always point the knife blade inward.

Dining table etiquette

Here are other table-setting “rules” and formalities:

  • Remove your napkin and unfold it – don’t snap it – then place it on your lap once seated.
  • The meal starts and ends with the host’s cues.
  • Once the hosts puts their napkin on their laps, you do the same.
  • Once everyone is served, and the host picks up his fork, you may then eat.
  • If a prayer is said, respectfully bow your head – you do not have to participate.
  • If a toast is made, stand if the host stands. Do not stand if you’re the object of the toast.
  • Never talk with food in your mouth. Cover your mouth if you must answer immediately.
  • Keep elbows at your sides and your hands in your lap.
  • Try all of the food on your plate, even if you don’t really care for it. If you’re a host – never ask why the guest has not finished their food.
  • If you have serious dietary restrictions, let the host know well ahead of the dinner; otherwise, simply eat what you can. Do not make a scene at a formal dinner – and never request a special meal at a private dinner without prior arrangements. You’re a guest – period.
  • Excuse yourself from a table by simply saying, “Excuse me.” No further information is necessary.

Dinner niceties

  • Bring the host or hostess a small gift – flowers (in a vase), candy, a bottle of wine, a small kitchen tool if they’re a cook or something similar.
  • Remember to write a thank-you note for the evening, but express your thanks before leaving and compliment their home or food.





Tags: Holiday cooking · Home Cooks

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Scott Simmons // Sep 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Nice job, Alyson. It’s easy to forget those last essentials — the thank you note and remembering that you are a guest, not a customer.

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