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Setting The Table:
Traditional Tips For Dining Right

Do you know where the knives go? And on which side of the plate you're meant to put your drink? It can be confusing at a restaurant, and even more so if you try to set the table yourself. If you're planning a big St. Patrick's Day meal of corned beef and cabbage, now's the time to learn how to set your table the right way â?? centerpieces and all! Older funny books and cookbooks used to have diagrams for proper table settings in the back, but it is definitely a dying art. Here are a few tips to help you set your table right!

Basic Table Setting

A basic table setting is really quite simple. You start with the plate in the center; on the left is one fork, on the right is one knife, and if necessary, a spoon. Your glass should be placed above the tip of the knife, while your bread plate and bread knife is placed above the tip of the fork. Napkins are just to the left of the fork or on the plate. Diners are normally expected to use the same utensils for each course, or you may bring clean ones between dishes. Normally, basic table settings don't have much excess, so only set what you need for the meal.

Formal Table Setting

When it comes to formal table settings, the main style is French, and there's really no room for mistakes, but there are a few slight variations. All items on the table must be equally spaced and geometrically organized. In fact, many high-end restaurants train their employees with rulers to ensure everything on the table is lined up perfectly. All utensils and glasses are organized in order of use — from the outside in. Unlike some informal or private table settings, formal settings normally have utensils for each course already set — from appetizers to desserts.

Although most Americans hold the knife in their left hand and the fork in their right, proper technique is the opposite, which is why all knives are set just to the right of the plate, and forks are set to the left. If soup is the first course, the spoons are placed to the far right of the knives, unless a small shellfish fork must be used for the first course.

There are a few variations when it comes to glassware, but you generally have the water goblet directly above the knife, a champagne flute just to the left, and the red or white wine glass to the right. You may also add a port or sherry glass to the far right. Some people also adjust their glasses by cascading height as well. Just be sure they're lined up, and slightly curved toward the guest, not creeping over towards the adjacent diner. The bread plate is directly across from the glasses, aligned over the forks, with the bread knife laid across it.


Tips & Tricks

If you can't remember where to put the bread plates and glasses, or if you're out at a fancy meal and you can't figure out which glass is yours, make an "okay" sign with each hand, by touching your forefinger to the tip of your thumb. If you look at your hands, the left one makes a "b" (for "bread") and the right makes a "d" (for "drink"). Simple, right? Additionally, appetizer utensils always go on the outside, so salad forks and soup spoons should never be next to the plate.

Decorative accents


The major rule of thumb about centerpieces is to keep them short and unobtrusive. It might be nice to have a long-stem rose or tall beautiful lilies on your table, but it's not good form to use tall centerpieces as they can obstruct your guests' view and stunt conversations. Keep them small and attractive, and for formal settings, make sure they are aligned perfectly in the center of the table.

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