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Formal Table Setting

Formal Table Setting

The formal place setting can get a bit complicated to arrange, as it is intended to accommodate multiple courses. Below we've included a couple of general rules to help make the order by which you set the table a bit easier to remember.

  • Upon setting a formal table, it is crucial that you place each utensil down using extreme precision. Utensils should never be placed more than an inch or two above the table's edge. Each utensil should be placed down equidistant to the next.
  • Remember the golden rule of place settings -silverware should always be placed in the order which it will be used, working your way inwards.
  • There should never be more than three forks and three spoons on the table at once (not including the oyster fork which as we will discuss, breaks two important rules!) Tableware necessary for any future courses should be served with the serving itself, rather than being present on the table beforehand.

It should be noted that at a formal meal, dishes of food are never to be placed on the table. Food is meant to be served from the kitchen. This rule helps to explain why practically speaking, it is not necessary to have all the utensils out on the table in advance. This also allows for an abundance of space in the center of the table, leaving room for the placement of various, ornate centerpieces (discussed in a later chapter).

The Plate –the plate serves as the base element around which the place setting will be assembled, it should therefore be placed down first. In tour case of a formal table setting, the plate serves an alternative function to that of the the plate in the informal setting.

The plate here (alternatively referred to as a “Charger”), is not eaten off of, rather it serves as a base upon which the first courses will be served. Upon the serving of the main course, the charger should then be “swapped” with the new plate upon which the entre'e is served. It is considered improper etiquette to “clear” the prior to the serving of the main course.

The Forks – forks always go on the left side of the plate, and all silverware is to be arranged according to the order in which it will be used. This means that the fork for the first course should appear as far left as possible, and the fork to be used for the entre'e should be placed directly next to the plate (unless the entre'e is the sixth or seventh course, in which case the fork for the entre'e will be served with the food itself, and the fork next to the plate will be the third fork necessary to eat with)

“The Oyster Fork” – if you serve oysters as an appetizer, you will need one of these (usually only available for purchase in a sterling silver flatware set). As I mentioned above, the oyster fork breaks two of the cardinal rules of table setting. First off, this is the only fork that is to be placed on the right side of the plate. Second, this fork is an exception to the three forks only rule. It may be the fourth fork out on the table. The oyster fork is to be placed as far to the right as possible, after the knives and the spoons.

The Knives – knives are to be placed on the right side of the plate, as per the order in which they will be used. Blades should always face inward toward the plate. Up to three knives may placed next to the plate at once (this is not to include the butter knife which will be placed elsewhere).

Spoons – spoons are also to be placed on the right side of the plate, to the left of the knives. The dessert spoon (and fork) is to be brought out at the end of the meal with the serving of desert. They should not be placed on the table in advance, regardless of ow many courses are being served.

Bread and Butter – the bread plate should be placed above the charger, on the upper left hand side. It should be positioned in the same horizontal line upon which the glasses will be placed. A butter knife is then to be added, positioned diagonally upon the butter plate, with the knife's blade facing toward the upper left-hand side.

The Napkin – the napkin is to be placed on top of the charger (or in the place where the charger would be located, should you choose not to use one).

Goblets – goblets are to be placed on the upper right hand side of the plate, in order from largest to smallest. The largest glass (the water glass) should be placed directly above the entre'e knife. The champagne flute should then be placed to its right, followed by the wine glass/es (two glasses if both red and white wine are to be served) and lastly, the sherry glass.

Previous: How to Set a Table
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