The Proper Placement of Eating Utensils at the End of a Course or Meal
How used silverware is placed onto the plate at the end of a course is a matter of both form and function. The used eating utensils should be placed onto the plate, aligned vertically towards the right side of the plate, so that as the table assistant approaches from the right side to retrieve the plate, holding it by its rim, his thumb can easily secure the silverware, while his four fingers are placed under the plate to steady the dish from underneath. While some authorities allow for the vertical (knife, blade pointing inward, to the immediate right side of the fork, tines facing upward) placement of used eating utensils in the center of the plate, such a placement is impractical for the person tasked with removing the plate since he is not able to readily secure the silverware with his thumb as the plate is being hoisted and removed.
But the foregoing addresses only the functional component. In terms of form, the placement of the silverware at the end of a course is inspired by the manner in which the table is set at the commencement of the meal. As such, the knife is placed to the right of the fork, blade pointing inward, and the fork is placed alongside the knife, tines pointing upward. On the rare occasions where a knife, fork, and spoon are used to eat a particular course (for example, poached pear à la mode), the spoon is placed to the right side of the knife, bowl upward; and the knife is placed in the middle, blade pointing inward, with the fork next to the knife, at its left, tines upward. (See also below subsection on “Soups”; See also below subsection on “How to Eat Certain Foods”—discussion on “Iced-tea” spoons and straws).
Overlapping the knife and fork to form an “X,” or meeting the tips of the knife and fork to form an inverted “V” defeat both form and function and are incorrect. And placing the fork with its tines facing downward is a definite dining no-no–almost as blatantly incorrect as when a person, with childlike defiance, turns a drinking-glass or teacup upside-down in order to indicate his lack of desire for a particular beverage.
Any eating utensil designated for a particular course but not used by the diner should be left on the table, where it will be retrieved by the table assistant when the dishes for the course are being removed, or at the end of the dinner when the table is being cleared.