Which fork do I use? And other table-manner tips

Table manners rusty? Not sure what the small spoon is for? Check out our guide to navigating the place settings at a fancy restaurant or event.

Table-manner tips: Napkins and plates

Here's the deal: Reaching for the wrong wineglass or inadvertently swiping your dinner companion's roll won't get you tossed from any restaurant. But when you're surrounded by 17 pieces of fine tableware and trying to act sophisticated, realizing you're the only one without a napkin in your lap or that you've used your neighbour's bread plate is just the kind of thing you want to avoid at a business dinner or formal luncheon with the future in-laws. Feeling comfortable and capable in a ritzy restaurant is all about getting back to the basics: learning the boundaries of the place-setting turf, knowing how to use all those shiny forks, and understanding the rudimentary rules of table etiquette.

Navigate a proper place setting
Forget about memorizing the shapes and sizes of the different utensils, plates and glasses. Follow one simple rule of thumb: Start with the outside flatware, set farthest away from your plate, and with each new course use the next utensil in the setting, moving inside toward your plate. Yes, there may be a spoon on the far right and a fork on the far left, but only one of those utensils is for the soup course. Familiarize yourself with this classic table setting, and you should have no problems finding your way through the flatware maze. You will no doubt run into slight variations of this setting, but if you follow the "outside to inside" rule, you can't go wrong. Also, servers at high-end restaurants typically set, remove and replace flatware as it's needed, which takes even more guesswork out of the equation.

Where to put your napkin
Your napkin may be laid in the middle of your plate, stuffed into your water glass, or set to the left of your fork setting. As soon as everyone at your table is seated, unfold the napkin and lay it across your lap. (A waiter may do this for you.) When you leave the table, whether it's the middle of the meal or the end, loosely gather the napkin and set it to the left of your plate; don't leave it on the seat of your chair.

Understand what each plate is for
Think of the charger or service plate -- the large plate underneath the dinner plate or napkin -- as a purely aesthetic dish that keeps spills off the tablecloth. It is not a big bread plate. Do not eat off of it. In traditional fine dining, your waiter carries the plate away with the dishes from your first course. Or, plates and bowls for each course are set on top of the charger, and it is removed at the end of the meal, before dessert.

Your bread plate, the small dish at 10 o'clock above the charger, may or may not have a small butter knife laid across it. If no butter knife is set, use the "master" knife that is passed with the butter or your clean dinner knife.

Many people commit the most basic fine dining crime when they try to eat bread. Do not bite into a whole roll or slice of bread. Take a whole piece of bread from the basket, place it on your plate, then tear off bite-sized chunks to butter and eat. If olive oil is passed, drizzle a tablespoon or two on your bread plate -- don't turn your plate into a wading pool. At seriously formal meals, you may not have a bread plate, in which case you should rest your bread on the edge of your dinner plate.

In France, if bread plates aren't set, diners place their bread directly on the table where this plate should be. The French also invented the ramasse miettes, or "crumb collector," the long metal scraper waiters use to sweep specks of food from the table. Coincidence? Au contraire.

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