Your Guide for Formal Dining

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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

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Reader Comments:


Thank you for this. I used to have this, I cut it out of a magazine 40 years ago, and now cannot find it. Always enjoy watching you. You bring back wonderful memories of how it was cooking with family in the kitchen! After watching you, I always cook something!

By Kelly on August 05, 2012


Fran, thanks 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 24, 2011


We all need this..I get confused what's goes where smile) Thank you!!!

By Sandra on January 23, 2011


Hey Paula! When are you going to have a Paula Deen Shop WEST of the Mississippi????? We travel all the way down to Tunica and we NEED you at our Harrah's on THE MISSOURI!! Love all of your boxed cakes and muffins! My husband just LOVES your salad dressings. Everyone thinks they are SO funny (punn) at the end of my meals that they all finish up with "MMMMM MMMMM MMMMM MMMMM MMMM!!! "Paula DEEN!" So, I told them that they have to pay for me to go back to Tunica in March! Your prepared food has helped me out of many a last minute meal for guests!!! Think the placesetting is very helpful to many.

By Marty McCully on January 23, 2011


What a great way to let the young executives and everyone know what to do at a formal dinner table. Most young people today do not know which implement to use or which beverage glass is for what. Or, not to wave and point to others with their knives and forks. This article or the series may need to address napkin placement in your lap and dressing for a formal dinner party, and appropriate table conversation. A good knife and fork school for all.

By Scottie on January 22, 2011


I thought the same thing, RL and Nicole. I think I am heading to Paula's if there are TWO desserts at the meal. WOOOHOOO!!!

By Terrie Madruga on January 22, 2011


I want to know where to get the potato slicer that you use to make your fried potatoes? I really enjoy watching Paula's shows.

By kathy whitten on January 22, 2011


Perhaps, back in the day, the number of silver pieces denoted a level of soci-economic stature. Or perhaps the fork is easily interchangeable. Maybe either location is formal. Here's a thought, maybe there's a fork missing...Hmmmmm..

By DancesLikeSnoopy on January 21, 2011


Why do you have two dessert forks? My Grandmother set her table like this but I don't remember two dessert forks!

By Cindi Schneider on January 21, 2011


why do you need 2 dessert fork?

By fran on January 21, 2011


I thought the forks and knives were always on the left? and spoons on the right?

By Jean Kriegel on January 21, 2011


The two dessert forks are alternative presentations ~ sometimes dessert fork is inside, sometimes above the place setting. Dessert spoon is always above place setting.

By kelly on January 21, 2011


couldn't one of those dessert forks be a cocktail fork, as in shrimp, crab meat, etc?

By Virginia on January 21, 2011


Where's my Iced Tea glass? jk Great article. I learned to start from the outside and work your way in toward your plate. I need to pass this along to my family, so that when we go to nice restaurants, it doesn't have to be explained.

By D on January 21, 2011


Dessert forks X 2?

By Anonymous on January 21, 2011


By on January 21, 2011


Life is too sweet for one dessert fork, y'all! wink

By Jenn HoeGun on January 21, 2011


Why do you use 2 dessert forks in a placesetting? Thanks for your help!

By Nicole on January 20, 2011


why are there two dessert forks?? (J and N)

By RL on January 19, 2011

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm