I start to set
the table by arranging the chairs around the table. The rule of thumb I use is: Always
leave enough space between chairs so all guests can be seated comfortably without rubbing
(a table setting)
I have taken up your time with explaining some pro and
con of table coverings and why we use forks on our dinner table. Now let us look
at serious work, namely how to place all the utensils for a multi course dinner onto a
table in the "so-called-right-way" (see also WAITING
ON TABLES ...there is no absolute standard of correctness).
I start to set the table by arranging the chairs around
the table. The rule of thumb I use is: Always leave enough space between chairs so all
guests can be seated comfortably without rubbing elbows. The chairs are placed close
enough so each guest can reach the neighbor's plate, in the event they are into sharing. I
also seat each person close enough to allow for a conversation without shouting.
Once the chairs are in their positions, I put a
place-plate at the spot where the guest's food shall be served. These place-plates are
also known as plate-liners, place-setting-liners or show-plates and they are nothing else
but large platters. Those come in many shapes and sizes. Some are made from porcelain,
others are silver or silver plate. Many plate-liners in today's use are brass and copper
others are pewter. I have no preference between the large selection of plate-liners.
However, I find that the type which is large enough to hold all plate sizes - used during
dinner - is the most practical. My logic for the large plate-liner is: The big ones can be
put on the table when I set the table without the need to be removed till after the main
I think a plate-liner is to mark the guest's seat and
to provide a designated surface onto which I place the plates and food served to the
guest. But I know such is not always the case. For many a times the plate-liner is in all
actuality a precious expensive piece of art. Therefore as soon as the guest is seated
these platters are removed. Often one doesn't want to take a chance to leave it on the
table where silverware in the hands of a guest or hard under-surfaces of any china
could easily scratch and devaluate the expensive art-piece used as show platter.
If I do not have a plate-liner,
then I start out with the napkin. But let us say
I have a plate-liner and plenty of table silver to work with. The table silver can be of
any kind fitting the taste and decor of the house. I start the table setting with the
large MEAT KNIFE, laid down to the right of the plate liner with the cutting edge pointing
to the plate. Next the MEAT FORK is placed on the left of the plate liner. Next to it, on
the left of the meat fork goes the FISH FORK, if such a course is served. The FISH KNIFE
has its place to the right of the meat knife.
If one does not have so-called "proper fish forks
and knives" regular knives and forks will do. Yet I remember back in Hamburg I had
customers who refused to eat their fish with anything but the correct fish knife and fork.
In the United States very few restaurants have such utensils on hand. If a guest asks, my
answer is: "We do not use what we do not have!"
For a pasta course, the large PASTA SPOON goes to the
right and the PASTA FORK to the left of the existing silverware set-up. However I have
seen place settings where the pasta fork was placed inside the pasta spoon, both to the
For the salad course, the SALAD FORK is placed on the
left side, slightly elevated. The SOUP SPOON goes to the right of the knives. The knife
for the appetizer again to the right and the APPETIZER FORK should be put onto the outer
The DESERT SPOON and FORK are above the plate, the idea
being: These are the last pieces of table silver to be used, after the plate liner and all
other silverware are removed. The distance of the cutlery - excluding the dessert
silverware - from the table's edge should be about a thumb's width, but never more than an
The idea of having the main course's table silver
closest to the plate and the appetizer knife and fork the furthest away from the plate
liner is to allow the guest to use knives, forks and spoons from the outside in, as each
course is served. In addition to the silverware mentioned a plate for bread is placed to
the left just next to the outer fork. On to this bread plate I put the butter knife with
the cutting edge pointing left. Wherever balsamic vinegar and olive oil are used a butter
knife might not be necessary.
Now add to it a nicely folded napkin and some wine glasses and the table is ready.