Your Guide for Formal Dining

  • Pin It
  • print
  • email to a friend

Your Guide for Formal Dining

By Jonathan Able

Okay. You’ve just been invited to a fancy dinner party, wedding, or some other formal occasion. You’re seated at the dinner table, and suddenly your heart stops. What are all of these strange and foreign…things…laying before you? Who needs three forks when you can just use one? How many glasses do you really need? You expect me to do what with that knife?

It’s truly a fight or flight situation, and as you see it you only have two options: fake a stomach bug and pick up some take-out on the way home, or stumble your way through course after course of shiny, sharp and tined tools.

If these are the thoughts racing through your head, then this article is for you. We’ve mapped out the traditional place setting for formal dinners and navigate you through it, piece by piece. No longer will you need to follow everyone else’s lead when reaching for your salad fork. Instill a new confidence in yourself as you lead the pack through one of the most exotic wildernesses of them all- the dinner table!

A.) Napkin
B.) Dinner plate
C.) Salad plate
D.) Bread plate
E.) Water glass
F.) Red wineglass
G.) White wineglass
H.) Fish fork
I.) Dinner fork
J.) Salad fork
K.) Dinner knife
L.) Fish knife
M.) Soup spoon
N.) Dessert spoon and fork

Jonathan Able is a Savannah transplant and received a BFA in Theatre from Valdosta State Unversity where he spent many hours memorizing scripts and working on his Meisner technique. As a newly found young adult, he looks forward to getting the hang of things like bills and taxes. His favorite color is green and he's never met a carb he didn't like.

Read More From Cooking Basics.

Read More From Kitchen Basics.

You May Also Like These Articles:

You May Also Like These Recipes:

Leave a Comment

Reader Comments:


Sorry Jonathan. There are no variations in the proper place setting. Salad fork is always to the left of the dinner fork, as it is used first. Terry Glawe is correct: use them left to right, toward the dinner plate. You say "you will always find variations on these rules," but then that is exactly why people get confused. Read all old cookbooks and they usually have a description of place settings. One thing you did hit on in your article, people need to learn the "lost art" of dining properly. A lot of young people today have no clue as to table manners either. And another thing: in housewares you can hardly purchase salt and pepper shakers as a set. They are usually sold separately, and what do people do? They buy up all the salts or peppers, and everyone should know that salt has fewer holes and pepper has more. It is so frustrating!

By Mary on June 16, 2012


I think you might be wrong about the salad fork. I had always heard that you go from outside to inside toward the plate. This has the salad fork next to the plate. Please explain.

By Terry Glawe on December 06, 2011


I'm confused. I was always taught that your service for forks would be in the order in which they are used. It looks to me like the fish fork is out of place. Additionally, the dessert spoon and the coffee spoon are often times confused for one and the same implement. There should be two spoons in the service if coffee or hot tea is being served as well as dessert which requires a spoon. I guess it might depend on what part of the south you are from...LOL. It's ALL good!!

By TBJ on February 22, 2011


Hi NS, Thank you for your question. Dessert fork was listed twice as its setting is optional. We have amended the article, though, to avoid further confusion. Letter H is also sometimes used as a Fish fork. Of course, you will always find variations on these rules. Most importantly, enjoy your meal and your company!

By Jonathan Able on January 28, 2011


Why do you need 2 dessert forks?

By Debbie on January 19, 2011


I am confused with "J" and "N"-- why do you have 2 dessert forks per place setting? Thanks for your help! smile

By NS on January 19, 2011


I am confused with "J" and "N"-- why do you have 2 dessert forks per place setting?

By NS on January 19, 2011


HELP! I'm confussed. I was taught that the napkin goes on the right side. Start with the plate, dinner knife, teaspoon then napkin with the folded edge facing the plate so when you pick up your napkin the bottom right edge is what you pick up and the napkin will unfold for you. On the left side of the plate the dinner fork is beside the plate and the salad fork beside the dinner fork. Is this an informal setting? THANKS!

By Jane Johnson on January 19, 2011


Hey PAULA, Happy Birthday! I'd like to share how I taught my children and grandchildren which side of the plate the fork, knife and spoon belong. I just told them to count how many letters are in each word i.e., fork=4, knife and spoon=5. Then just remember that left=4 and right=5. They tell me this method is now being passed on to the next generation. . . . .Who knew? Love, JANE

By Jane Black on January 19, 2011

My Recipe Box |

Paula's Upcoming Schedule