Most of us can confidently use a fork, knife, and spoon. A formal table setting, however, can come with up to 4 plates, 3 knives, 3 spoons, 4 forks, and a whopping 5 glasses. A throwback to an age of more strict manners, knowing the specific uses of these highly specialized pieces of flatware remains part and parcel of performing proper table etiquette.
When figuring out which utensil is for what, a general rule of thumb to follow is to work from the outside of the plate and make your way in. Flatware farther away from the plate are for earlier courses, and closer to the plate are for entrees. Dessert utensils sit above the plate.
Most of the time you can get away with the basics of flatware, but here’s a 101 for those formal occasions where you find yourself with more utensils than fingers.
Directly to the left of the dinner plate should be two identical forks. These are used for the meat and fish courses. A slightly smaller fork should be to their left, used for salad courses. The final fork, for dessert, should sit directly above the dinner plate.
Directly to the right of your plate will be 2 knives in a formal dinner setting. The first and larger, possibly with a serrated edge, is a dinner knife, which should be used with meat and poultry entrees. To its right is a slightly smaller knife, used for fish courses. The final knife is the flat butter knife, which should be found on the bread plate to the top left of the setting.
Dinner spoons can be found directly to the right of knives. A multipurpose piece of flatware, dinner spoons are most frequently used as aids to other utensils, like helping a diner twirl long pasta around a fork. To its right, you’ll find the soup spoon for soup courses. The dessert spoon rests above the dessert fork to the top of the place setting.
And there you have it! Flatware gets even more specialized than what’s listed here with items like the demitasse spoon and oyster fork, but this guide should get you through the majority of even the most formal of occasions. What do you think? Is there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below!