All diner rituals developed from the notion that the table is virgin territory and polite
people seek to preserve that cleanliness by never placing a used item (utensil, napkin,
elbow) on the table. Also, the right side is the dominant side, so dishes are served on
the right and cleared on the left.

Many of you are intimidated by a formal dinner because there are many more utensils
and glasses and plates on the table than what you use in everyday eating. A formal table
is always set like this:
on your right are knives, spoons and the liquid containers (your glasses)
on your left are the fork, napkin, and the solids (your bread plate)

Each course has its own utensils, but they will be set in the order in which you’ll use
them. Therefore, always use the outer utensil when you’re served the next course. You
don’t need to know what a fish fork looks like – all you need to know is that when the fish
is served, the proper fork will be the one that’s the outermost one on your left. If you’re
still not sure what to do with a dish, wait and watch what your hostess does. Some
foods are properly eaten with your fingers (like artichoke hearts), but when in doubt, use
a utensil.

Your napkin stays on your lap while you eat. It is returned to the table only at the
conclusion of the meal when everyone is finished – not when you’re finished. If you
temporarily leave the table before the dinner is over, put your napkin on your chair. At the
end of the meal, fold your napkin and put it to the left of your plate – never put it on your

Once you use your utensils, never put them back on the table. I don’t think that anyone
uses reste couteaus anymore, so always rest the utensil on your plate.  

Your knife and fork are the significant utensils because they signal when you’re resting
between courses and when you’re finished. To indicate that you’re not finished eating
but only taking a rest, make an “X” over your plate by placing the fork on the left and the
knife on the right. To indicate that you’re finished, place the knife and fork together in a
diagonal with the lower side on the right and the higher side at 11 o’clock.

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