The Correct Placement of Silverware When a Diner Must Take Temporary Leave of the Table; at the End of a Course; When Already-used Silverware must be Re-used; and When the Silverware Remains Unused

Placement of Eating Utensils When Taking Temporary Leave of the Table

When a gentleman must take temporary leave of the dining table, he places his silverware onto the dish from which he is eating, towards its right side. The knife is placed to the right of the fork, blade facing inwards (towards the fork), and the fork is placed alongside the knife, to its left, tines upward. Both utensils are aligned vertically. (See above subsection on “The Soup Course” for placement of soup spoons). Other authorities hold that the fork should be placed vertically onto the left side of the dish from which the gentleman is eating, with the knife, blade facing inwards, placed vertically onto the right side of the dish. But as with other rules of etiquette, one general rule is preferred over two or more alternatives, especially when the alternatives give rise to additional issues. For example, with the “fork on the left side of the dish, knife on the right side of the dish” rule, what then is a gentleman to do if he is only using a fork? Place it onto the left side, or onto the right side of the dish? So once again, the “right side only” rule seems more consistent: When using only one eating-implement, be it fork or spoon, the same right-side placement applies—a spoon or a fork being used by itself is simply placed vertically onto the right side of the dish, bowl/tines facing upward. (And contrary to yet other “authorities,” aligning the utensils and placing them vertically onto the center of the dish would be absurd and therefore completely incorrect since it would result in the placement of the utensils atop the uneaten portion of the course, conspicuously—and unappetizingly—awaiting the diner’s return to the table).

And, again, when soup is served in a cup with a spoon, both placed atop a plate—as is correctly the case—the soup spoon should be discretely wiped clean with the lips before being placed onto the plate, vertically at the right side of the cup, the bowl of the spoon facing upwards. The spoon should not be left in the cup. The same rule applies to when soup is served in a soup bowl presented atop a plate. When soup is served in a soup plate, however, the spoon is placed vertically atop the right-side flat surface of the soup plate since the soup plate is likely to be of equal or almost-equal dimensions as the service-plate upon which it sits, thereby making it almost impossible to align the spoon onto the service-plate, at the right side of the soup plate. But as with other soup dishes, the soup spoon should not be left in the soup (unless the soup plate is designed such that its “flat surface” is so slanted as to render the spoon incapable of being securely placed thereon. In that rare instance, the soup spoon must be left in the soup (but towards the right side of the dish)—out of necessity—the way the spoon will also have to be left towards the inside-right-side of the soup plate at the end of the course.

When a spoon and fork are being used to eat spaghetti (as is oftentimes done in the United States, but rarely in Italy) (See “Spaghetti” below) and leave must be taken from the table, the spoon and fork are vertically aligned and placed adjacent to each other onto the right side of the dish, with the spoon to the left side of the fork since when eating spaghetti in such a manner, the spoon is always held in the left hand. Upon the gentleman’s return to the table to resume eating his spaghetti, he simply picks up his utensils and continues eating. (But see below regarding the placement of the spaghetti spoon/fork at the end of the course). A waiter or table-assistant who unwittingly attempts to remove a temporarily unattended, unfinished dish should be advised against doing so by the host or by a diner sitting adjacent to the temporarily absent diner.

 

The Correct Placement of Eating-Utensils at the End of a Course

How used silverware is to be placed onto the dish at the end of a course is a matter of both form and function. The used eating-utensils should be placed onto the dish, aligned vertically towards the right side of the dish, so that as the table assistant approaches from the right side to retrieve the dish, holding it at its periphery, his thumb can easily secure the silverware, while his four fingers are placed under the dish to steady it from its underside. While some authorities allow for the adjacent, vertical placement of the used silverware in the center of the dish, such a placement is impractical for the person tasked with removing the dish since he is not able to readily secure the silverware with his thumb as the dish is being hoisted and removed. But that 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, the 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 upwards; and the knife is placed in the middle, blade pointing inward, with the fork next to it at its left, tines upward. (See  also above subsection, the “The Soup Course”; See also below subsection on “How to Eat Certain Foods”—discussion  on “Iced-tea” spoons and straws).

Unlike the placement of the spaghetti spoon-and-fork combination when temporary leave of the table must be taken, at the end of a spaghetti course where both spoon and fork were used, the spoon, its bowl turned upwards, is placed to the adjacent right of the fork, its tines pointing upward, both implements aligned vertically towards the right side of the dish. The rationale for this placement is that at the end of a course, the objective is to return items to the position they occupied at the commencement of the course.  And when a spoon and fork are presented together as the eating-implements for a spaghetti course, or for any other course, the spoon, consistent with table-setting in general, is situated to the right of the fork.

 

When Already-used Silverware Must Be Re-used for a Subsequent Course

On occasion, due to insufficient silverware, diners are asked to use the same silverware for a subsequent course.  In such unfortunate instances, the eating-implements are correctly placed directly onto the table (if no place-plate has been provided). If a place-plate has been provided, the eating-implements are placed onto the place-plate as described in the various scenarios presented above. When no place-plate is provided, however, and the eating-implements must be placed directly onto the table (if no placemat is available) awaiting the subsequent course, the eating-implements are placed together towards the right side of where the subsequent dish will be placed:  In the case of a knife and fork, the knife is placed vertically with its blade facing the space to be occupied by the dish, with the tines of the fork, facing upward, placed onto the blade-portion of the knife, the fork’s handle laying askew to that of the knife; a single spoon or fork is placed vertically towards the right side of where subsequent dish will be placed, bowl/tines facing upward. Holding one’s already-used silverware in one’s hand awaiting the arrival of the subsequent course is a definite no-no:   It renders one looking ravenous.

 

Unused Silverware

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 meal when the table is being cleared.

 

Advertisements

The Order of a Formal Meal–from the last meal served on the RMS Titanic on April 14, 1912, to a formal meal in a modern home

The Order of the Formal Dinner

The order and manner in which food is presented at a formal dinner varies from culture to culture, country to country. And to further complicate matters, the order in which food is presented on the menus of restaurants that offer national cuisines oftentimes varies from the traditional order of food presentation in the respective countries. It is therefore necessary for a modern-day gentleman to have a basic understanding of the various gastronomical traditions of the world if he is to successfully navigate the ever-increasingly eclectic world of social dining. (See chapter, “International Customs”).

In the Gilded Age, it was not uncommon for hostesses to present ten-course meals—with all the required eating and drinking implements proudly presented on the dining table at the commencement of the meal. Some hostesses were renowned for setting their dinner tables with 24 pieces of silver and 10 glasses for each guest. It was a time when less was not more; it was less. The April 12, 1912 dinner on board the RMS Titanic, regarded by many as the final dinner of the Age, featured:

First Course

Hors D’ Oeuvres

Oysters

Second Course

Consommé Olga

Cream of Barley

Third Course

Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce, Cucumbers

Fourth Course

Filet Mignons Lili

Saute of Chicken, Lyonnaise

Vegetable Marrow Farci

Fifth Course

Lamb, Mint Sauce

Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce

Sirloin of Beef, Chateau Potatoes

Green Peas

Creamed Carrots

Boiled Rice

Parmentier & Boiled New Potatoes

Sixth Course

Punch Romaine

Seventh Course

Roast Squabs & Cress

Eight Course

Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

Ninth Course

Pâté de Foie Gras

Tenth Course

Waldorf Pudding

Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly

Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs

French Ice Cream

Each course was served with a different, complementary wine. And after the Tenth Course, fresh fruits and cheeses were made available. Thereafter, cigars were offered with a choice of coffee, port, or distilled liquors.

Today, however, even the most formal of meals in the finest of homes are limited to six, or, perhaps, seven courses, and no more than three eating implements are presented on each side of the plate setting at the beginning of the meal: The additional implements are brought to the table as needed, when needed.

The Menu Card

Some hosts take delight in surprising their guests with each meal presented. Many guests, however, especially those with modest appetites, prefer to know the scope of the dinner before it begins so that they can take portions—if the dishes are presented à la russe—which will not exhaust their appetites before the culmination of the meal at dessert. And the most practical way to afford guests advance notice of the courses is via menu cards. At large dinners, menu cards, either engraved or written in calligraphy, are placed onto the table, one between every two guests, or sometimes onto each place plate under the napkin. At smaller, private, formal dinners in a home, there is usually one menu card, which is placed before the hostess.

The typical order of a meal in a fine restaurant in the United States is: appetizer, soup, salad, main course (also called the entrée), dessert, and coffee/tea/after-dinner drink. That, however, unbeknownst to many Americans, is not the classic order in which food is to be presented at a formal dinner in Western culture.

A 21st-century, Formal, Six-Course Dinner

Appetizer

Soup

Fish Course

Meat or Fowl Course

Salad

Dessert

Coffee/Tea

After-dinner Drink

In some countries, or regions thereof, a sherbet/sorbet/granité is served between the fish and meat/fowl courses to “cleanse the palate.” And long gone are the days when a game course (of some wild meat) would be served after the meat course. Today, if game is to be served, it will be presented as a substitute for the meat/fowl course.

In Italy, one of the founding fathers of Western European culture, the typical order of a formal meal would include a course of pasta (in the south) or risotto (in the north) because of the prominence of those staples in Italian cuisine.

Antipasto (appetizer)

Soup/Pasta/Risotto

Main Course (Meat, Fish, Poultry)

Salad

Assorted Cheeses

Dessert

Fresh Fruits

Coffee

Digestivo

The Proper Placement of Eating Utensils at the End of a Course or Meal

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.

Eating with a Knife and Fork–American Style vs. European Style

Eating with a Knife and Fork

In cultures where the knife and fork are used for eating, there are three accepted ways of eating: European style (also called “Continental style”), American style, and a synthesis of the European and American styles.

In the European method, the fork is almost always held in the left hand, tines down, and the knife, held in the right hand, is used to push and then compact food onto the down-turned fork before the food is conveyed to the mouth with the fork, tines downward. Likewise, when meat is being cut, the fork, being held in the left hand, is used to spear and secure the meat, tines pointing downward, while the knife, being held in the right hand, is used to cut off the the desired portion. Once cut, the desired portion is conveyed to the mouth with the fork, tines downward. In the European style, the only time a fork is held in the right hand is when it is not being used in conjunction with a knife. In such cases, the fork is transferred to the right hand, and the food is conveyed to the mouth, tines pointing upward.

In the American style, the fork is switched between the left and right hands, depending on the circumstances. When eating anything that does not need cutting, the fork is held in the right hand, tines upward, with the knife placed either vertically onto the far right side of the plate or in the “three o’clock” position, with the handle resting on the table and the blade pointing into the plate. When something must be cut before being conveyed to the mouth, the fork is switched to the left hand, the knife is held in the right hand, and the fork, tines down, is used to spear the item that is to be cut, holding it in place as the knife is used to cut off the desired portion. Once cut, the knife is laid onto the plate (in one of the two placements described above), and the fork is switched to the right hand. The food is then conveyed to the mouth with the fork held tines upward. In the strict American method, even if successive portions are to be cut, the fork is switched to the right hand each time food must be conveyed to the mouth.

The American style evolved out of necessity: In North America, the fork did not become a popular eating utensil until the 19th century; for the most part, only spoons and knives were used. So when food had to be cut, it was held in place with the spoon held in the left hand, and the food was cut with the knife held in the right. But since a spoon cannot spear food, in order to convey to the mouth whatever was cut off, the diner would have to place the knife onto his plate, then switch the spoon to his right hand to then convey the cut-off portion to his mouth, obviously with the bowl of the spoon turned upward. When forks became fashionable in the United States during the 19th century, the method of switching hands simply carried over to forks.

Many diners find strict application of the American method—with all its hand-switching—to be too cumbersome, especially when cutting off several items successively. Hence, the very popular (even in North America) synthesized method, which combines the European and American styles: The fork is held in the right hand, tines upward, to eat whatever does not require cutting—meanwhile, the knife is placed onto the plate, whether vertically or in “three o’clock” position as described above. When an item must be cut off, the fork is switched to the left hand, tines pointing downward, as it spears and holds in place the item to be cut with the knife, held in the right hand. The cut-off portion is then conveyed to the mouth with the fork, held in the left hand, tines pointing downward. And if items are to be cut successively, the cut-off portions are conveyed to the mouth with fork, tines down, held in the left hand. The fork is returned to the right hand only when the diner wishes to eat something that does not require cutting.

But regardless of the method used, it must be done with dexterity. Food and drink should be gracefully conveyed to the mouth while an upward, though natural and relaxed, posture is maintained. The mouth should not be carried to food and drink. And it is critical that a gentleman maintain his elbows sufficiently at his side so as not to interfere with diners sitting adjacent to him. Also, there are few things more embarrassing in life than to have whatever is being cut, end up—along with everything else on the plate—onto a hostess’ stark-white, linen damask tablecloth. It is therefore imperative that a gentleman pay close attention to what he is doing while eating. Cutting must look effortless—even if it isn’t. And if getting the last morsel, no matter how delicious, might risk an accident at the table, that morsel would be better left uneaten. A gentleman must choose his battles. And lamb chops have been known to defeat many a gentleman at the formal dinner table.