You've made all the necessary preparations for a soiree to remember - Cornish game hens, a peat fire burning unobtrusively in the fireplace, and the finest Washington State wines money can buy. The evening proceeds without a hitch, until Martha Stewart reaches for her soup spoon... but where is it? Nobody knows! It's not where it should be - it's not even on the left side of the knife. Was it delivered with the soup? No. How uncouth - are we to use the dessert spoon, or just scoop handfuls of broth into our mouths? Oh good heavens, there it is - on the left side of the plate....
Do you hear the frustrated whispers and smell the mortification mingling with your butternut squash? You've just committed a major place setting faux pas. Now you must get on your knees and beg for Martha's forgiveness (good luck)!
Nobody wants to kneel before Martha Stewart. To avoid this unfortunate fate, learn how to make a proper place setting for formal and informal occasions.
- What is a place setting? A place setting entails the drinking vessels, food receptacles and utensils that one person will use during a meal. Unnecessary items will not be present in a place setting, so place settings will differ depending on menu and formality.
- Charger plate. Think of your visits to restaurants; do you ever notice the plate that is present from the moment you are seated? That empty plate is the charger plate. Purely decorative, it serves roughly the same purpose as a welcome mat at the table. Looking at it reminds the diner of the pleasant meal to come. The charger plate therefore brings comfort. If the meal is formal, a charger plate should definitely be part of your place setting. Informal place settings don't require a charger plate, but can benefit from one.
A charger plate should remain on the table for the salad and soup courses, and then be removed to make way for the main course. Soup bowl or salad plate can be placed directly on top of the charger plate during their courses.
- Knives and spoons always should go on the right side of your plate in a place setting. Always place forks to the left of the plate. The only exception to the "forks on the left" rule is the oyster fork. If you plan on serving an oyster appetizer course, then you will need to have the dainty oyster forks on hand and place them to the right of your plate.
- Place all utensils parallel on either side of the plate. The bottom of all utensils should line up neatly and rest about an inch from the table's edge. The only exception to these rules (once again!) is the oyster fork, whose prongs angle slightly inward to rest on the soup spoon.
- The rule for utensils is to work inward toward your plate as the meal progresses. Place settings should be organized so that, with each new course presented, the guest can use the outermost utensil(s). Accordingly, place a salad fork to the left of a dinner fork, because salad will be served before the main course. Place a soup spoon to the right of the knife, and an oyster fork (if necessary) to the right of the soup spoon, angled inward as previously described.
- Provide a fork and knife for the main course. If you plan to serve fish, you should also provide a fork and knife, no matter how tender the fish.
- When it comes to dessert utensils in your place setting, you have options. Some prefer to bring the dessert utensils with the arrival of the dessert itself. If you choose to present the dessert utensils at your place setting throughout the meal, you should place them above the plate, parallel to each other and the edge of the table. The spoon should point left and the fork, right.
- Napkin. In an informal dining scenario, you can place the napkin beneath your spoon and knife on the right side of your place setting. You also have the option of wrapping your utensils into your napkin and placing a napkin ring around it. For a formal place setting, the napkin can be folded to rest to the left of your forks, or you can fold it decoratively to rest on your charger plate.
- Stemware and glasses. Place all stemware and glasses on the right side of your place setting. The water glass should be above and just to the left of your innermost knife. A red wine glass should be positioned to the right of your water glass and slightly closer to the utensils. Similarly, position a white wine glass just to the right of the red wine glass, and slightly closer to the utensils. They should create a slight diagonal line.
- Bread plate. If you have a bread plate, place it above the forks on the left of your place setting.
The more informal you intend your dinner to be, the less rigidly you have to adhere to these rules of place setting. But make sure that your place settings are all as identical as possible. Happy entertaining!