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

Author: Canadian Living

Menus & Entertaining

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

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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3 dinner forks to know about:

1. Salad fork

The salad fork, the outermost utensil to the left of your plate, may have a thicker left tine and is smaller than a dinner fork. If you're dining in a true French restaurant, the salad fork is set closest to your plate because the salad course is served after the entree.

2. Dinner fork
You can hold your dinner fork, situated immediately left of the plate, two ways: American-style, tines-up in your dominant hand and anchored between your middle finger and thumb, or European-style, tines-down in your left hand with your index finger extended along the back. Rest your utensils tines-up, blade-in vertically on the sides of your plate when you are not using them. The handles should not touch the table again once you have used your flatware.

3. Fish fork
A fish fork is typically delivered before the fish course, and it is smaller than the dinner fork. Before stainless steel was introduced in the 1920s, when most utensils were made of steel, fish forks were traditionally made of sterling silver, which does not react with lemon or other acidic sauces often served with fish.

2 dinner knives to know about:

1. Salad knife
The salad knife is the outermost knife in the setting.

2. Dinner knife
The dinner knife, placed directly to the right of the plate, is used for the salad and fish course if additional knives are not set. To use a knife in the American way: Pin food with the fork tine-down in your nondominant hand and cut with the knife in the dominant hand, lay the knife across the edge of the plate, then switch the fork back to the dominant hand to spear and ear the morsel. The Euro way: Cut and corral food onto the fork using the knife in the dominant hand, keeping the fork in the nondominant hand to deliver the bite. After using your knife, lay it blade-in across the top right edge of your plate.

3. Steak knife
A steak knife is usually delivered with the meat course.

2 dinner spoons to know about:

1. Teaspoon
A teaspoon is placed during coffee service, or sits between the knife and soupspoon.

2. Soupspoon
A soupspoon is the outermost utensil to the right of the plate. The bowl of a spoon should not pass through your lips in a restaurant. You can slurp out of the can at home, but in public, dip your soupspoon away from your body, scoop three-quarters of a spoonful, then bring the edge of the spoon to your lips, tilt the bowl slightly, and sip.

Dessert flatware
Dessert flatware is usually placed at the top of the plate with the bowl of the spoon pointing left and fork tines to the right, or it may be set with the dessert course.

Learn which glass to drink from
There's absolutely no risk of grabbing your neighbour's glassware in a formal table setting -- a grouping that can contain up to five different vessels -- if you can remember that your glasses are always on the right side of your plate. Your waiter will fill each glass with the appropriate liquid and remove and set glasses as needed, depending on what you order to sip.

Should your life depend on selecting the right glassware in a blindfold test, this will save your skin: The water goblet is laid at one o'clock above the dinner knife and is the glass farthest left in the grouping. In übertraditional, multicourse place settings, a small sherry or aperitif glass may be set above and to the right of the water glass. Your red wineglass, which typically has a more bulbous bowl, sits to the right of the water glass. The white wineglass has a narrower bowl and may be set slightly below, but always to the right of the red wineglass. A champagne flute, if one is set, is placed above and between the red and white wineglasses.

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Excerpted from The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining by Colleen Rush. Copyright 2006 by Colleen Rush. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

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

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