Formal Place Settings | Gracious Living

Formal place setting actually used at the White House

Meredith Sweetpea remembers the first time she went to a formal dinner and was baffled by the quantity of flatwear and plates, and which fork to use when. But she always loved dressing up the dinner table with, as her parents called it, “fancy service.”

Now she likes to entertain with the best dishes, in formal style. It is not unusual for a guest to be served the first course on a charger plate, and enjoy four or five additional courses throughout the meal.

So that the formal versus informal setting won’t baffle any of you, here is a brief overview of the Formal Place Setting in this first of a two-part series.

Formal Place Setting

A quick rule of thumb is to use your flatwear from the outside inward. One set for each course should be provided as necessary, unless the table has been set incorrectly to begin with.

For a formal place setting you will receive exactly the flatwear you will need, arranged in the correct order. it is also good manners to assume that the host or hostess has designated each piece of flatwear to its task.

As each course is finished, the corresponding flatwear (used and unused) will be removed with each dish, leaving you with the correct flatwear for the next course. If the meal has more than three courses, it is proper for common sense and aesthetic reasons not to place many forks and knives along side the plate or charger plate. These will be provided along with each course as it is served, after the original place setting has been exhausted.

When setting the forks and knives in place, point the blade of the knife toward the plate.

Removal of flatwear

As you finish each course, the utensils (used or unused) will be removed with the dish, leaving you ready for the next course. If there are many courses, however, it would be silly for common sense and aesthetic sakes to have numerous knives and forks laid out alongside the charger or dinner plate, so on that occasion, the proper new flatwear will be delivered with each course after the original settings have been used and removed.

Removal of plates

When finished with a course, the diner should never push his or her plate away from themselves, or–heaven forbid–stack the empty plates. All plates and flatwear will be removed by the server. Courses are served from the left and removed from the right.

The service plate

There may be a service plate, known as a charger plate, set for the first course. This plate should never be used for eating. The dinner plates are set upon it.  It may be removed prior to the first course, along with the dish from the first course, or used to hold all plates throughout the meal.

Setting the specialty flatwear

Soup Spoon
The soup spoon may be in place at the right of the plate–the only time a spoon is  provided in a place setting, or served along with the soup. When you are finished using the soup, the soup spoon should be left in the bowl.

Oyster fork
A small fork for eating oysters. It will be placed to your right (an 3exception to the rule that all forks go to the left of the plate.)

Salad fork and knife
The salad fork may have a thicker tine on its left side. This is convenient for right-handed people (the majority), and enables the fork to be used in cutting large greens without the use of the salad knife.

Fish fork and knife
A special fork and knife should be provided for fish. In the old days, the fish knife often had a silver blade that would not react with the lemon served with the fish (steel blades caused an unpleasant taste). Stainless steel knives do not have this problem. The fish fork is usually shorter than the meat fork.

Meat fork and knife
In the Western hemisphere, the innermost fork and knife are provided for the meat course. In countries where the salad is served following the main course, the innermost fork and knife are for the salad. The meat fork and knife are always larger than the salad fork and knife.

Dessert spoon and fork
The dessert spoon and/or fork may be set initially, or may be brought in with the dessert. If they are part of the initial place setting, they are placed horizontally north of the plate, parallel to each other. The fork is closest to the plate with the tines pointing right. The bowl of the spoon should point to the left.

The teaspoon will be provided when coffee or tea are served. It will be brought in on the saucer next to the cup.

Butter knife
If a bread plate is provided, a butter knife will be provided. This knife is only used to spread butter and never used to cut. The bread should be simply ripped apart. The bread should be buttered one bite at a time, never all at once.

Setting the formal glasswear

Glasses at a formal place setting should be placed to the upper right of the dinner plate. The white wine glass will be to the right, and moving left, is next to the red wine glass and the water glass. As each course is served it is matched with its chosen wine. When the course is finished both the plate and the wine glass should be removed. Glasses can be set in a straight line or on a diagonal from the plate.


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