Properly setting the table for a meal not only demonstrates your sense of style and etiquette, but it also helps prevent misunderstandings among your guests. Making sure that the glasses and utensils are in the proper locations keeps your guests from drinking out of each others' glasses or using each others' knives by accident. The placement of utensils varies depending on the formality of the meal and the number of courses you're serving.
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Basic Table Setting
Basic table setting etiquette is the same no matter how formal the meal or how many courses you're serving. A useful trick for remembering where to place dishes and utensils is the acronym FORKS. The fork is placed on the left, followed by the plate -- which symbolises the "O" in FORKS --and the knife and spoon are placed in that order to the right of the plate. The napkin goes to the left of the fork. Drinking glasses go on the right above the knife and spoon, and place the bread plate to the left above the knife. This is the foundation of the table setting; the number of courses and formality of the meal dictates the placement of additional utensils and dishes.
Informal Table Setting
In general, when you're serving a three-course meal, the best place setting choice is the informal style setting. An informal setting includes specific plates and utensils for each course. Start with the basic place setting, and add a salad fork to the left of the dinner fork, and a soup spoon, if necessary, to the right of the dessert spoon. Place the folded napkin in the centre of the place setting instead of the dinner plate. The salad plate goes to the left of the forks. If you are serving coffee with the meal, place the coffee cup and saucer to the right of the drinking glasses; otherwise, bring them to the table after the meal. Place the dessert utensils either horizontally above the plate, or on the sides of the plate. The dessert fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, closest to the plate, and the dessert spoon goes to the left of the plate, between the knife and soup spoon.
Formal Table Setting
If your luncheon is very formal, use the formal place setting. In this place setting, a charger, or under plate, goes in the centre of the setting underneath the napkin. Remove the charger when you serve the main course. Include a utensil for each course of the meal, arranging them in order of use, from the outside in; for example, if you are serving salad at the end of the meal, the salad fork should be closest to the plate, as it is used last. In a formal place setting, do not place the dessert utensils or coffee cups on the table until after the meal. Bring the dessert utensils with the dessert.
No matter what style of place setting you choose for your meal, remember some table setting basics. Knife blades should always face in toward the dinner plate; the butter knife lies diagonally across the butter plate, with the blade facing down. Never put more than three of any kind of utensil on the table at once. Take care to arrange all of the place settings at an equal distance from each other, and keep centrepieces and floral arrangements lower than 15 inches high so that your guests can see each other across the table.
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