November 24, 2021 Sheila Anderson

Learning how to set a formal place setting can be overwhelming. So, too, can it be for how to navigate a formal place setting. We have all been there. We sit down to a nice formal dinner, and we hesitate to grab a water glass not sure which one is ours. Then we question is that your bread plate or mine? Oh, dear, and why are there so many utensils? Please know it is okay to ask someone at the table. It is even better to know so you do not have to feel awkward in asking. Better yet, you can be the one helping someone navigate their place setting.  

Place Setting Tips

Utensils seem to cause the most confusion. The first rule is to eat from the outside in as they are placed in order of use. This means you start by using the utensils that are placed furthest away from the plate and work your way in towards the place with each course.  


Knives and spoons are not as complicated as forks. There seems to be a fork for everything! Place forks to the left of the dinner plate. 

The salad or appetizer fork (smaller fork) sits at the outer edge furthest from the plate. Next is the dinner fork, which is typically beside the plate.

If there is a fish course first, then the small fish fork is the farthest left because you use that first. If salad is being served after the fish course, then the salad fork will be next, and finally the dinner fork. In those instances when the salad is served AFTER dinner, the salad and dinner fork will be switched around with the salad fork next to the plate. Confused yet? Refer to the handy diagram above as a reference.

If shellfish is being served, this small fork is set to the right of the spoon, the only time a fork is set on the right side of the place setting. 

Dessert Utensils

Dessert utensils lay horizontally above the dinner plate with fork tines to the right. The spoon lays with the bowl of the spoon to the left. If you see a fork there, you will know you will be having some type of dessert like cake or pie where a fork is more appropriate. If you see a spoon, then that may indicate the dessert is a type of custard which is better eaten with a spoon.  

Coffee Cup and Saucer

Coffee cups are typically brought out later when coffee is being served. However, should you sit down and see a coffee cup and saucer, know that yours is placed above and to the right of the knife and spoon. 


Place napkins either on the plate or to the LEFT of the forks.

Bread Plate

The bread plate is above the forks. The butter knife is diagonally on the bread plate.  


The water glass sits above and to the right of the knife. A champagne flute is to the right of the water glass followed by a red or white wine glass and a white wine glass.  

Emily Post has an easy tip to remember which is your bread plate and water glass. She suggests placing your hands out in front of you and touch the tips of your thumbs with the forefingers in each hand. This forms the letter “b” in your left hand that stands for bread plate and the letter “d” in your right hand that stands for drink. Emily Post also has other great tips from casual to formal dining.

Eating Style

Eating Continental style is more widely accepted around the world. This means, holding your fork in your left hand at all times versus switching it to the right hand when taking a bite. It is less cumbersome.  
When eating soup, you should spoon away from you. Typically you see the opposite. When you get towards the end of the bowl, tip the bowl away from you to get the last bit. 


I hope this helps serve as a refresher for the next time you sit down for a formal meal. If you can’t remember, know that you can always come back to my blog to review.


Also, be sure to check out my TV Segment “feel like royalty at your next dinner party” on KELOLAND LIVING.


Happy dining!


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