The one unbreakable rule is that everything must be geometrically spaced – all places must be at equal distances, and all sterling silver flatware balanced.
The silverware used at a formal table setting should be sterling silver flatware if possible. It is not necessary that all the sterling silver match, although all forks or all spoons should be of the same pattern. Dessert sterling silver flatware, which is not brought to the table but is brought in with the desert plates, need not match the dinner flatware. Knives and forks should match.
The distance between places at the table set must never be so short that guests have no elbow room. About two feet from plate center to plate center is ideal. If the chairs have narrow and low backs, people can sit much closer together. The service plates are first put around the table at equal distances. The sterling silver flatware is placed in the order of its use, with the implements to be used first farthest from the plate. The salad fork is placed next to the left of the plate, then the meat fork. Just to the right of the plate is the salad knife and on the outside is the meat knife. The cutting edge of each toward the plate. Outside the knives are the soup spoon. Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.
If bread or rolls are to be served, a butter plate should be used. The butter plate is located above the forks at the left of the place setting. The butter knife is laid across it, slightly diagonally from upper left to lower right, with the sharper edge of the blade toward the edge of the table.
The wineglasses chosen for the formal table setting depend upon the menu, but their table setting arrangement is according to size, so that little ones are not hidden behind large ones. Place them directly above the knives in a straight row slanting downward from the upper left. Generally one or two wines are served, so a water goblet and one (or two) wineglasses are all that are necessary. If wine is not served at all, iced-tea glasses or simply tumblers for water are used.
If you plan to serve coffee with the meal, the cup and saucer go to the right of the setting, with the coffee spoon on the right side of the saucer. Although it is far nicer to serve coffee separately with dessert at end of the meal.
Remember that whether you are using fine china or paper plates; sterling or copsticks; these are rules are for your guests’ comfort and enjoyment.
FORMAL DINNER SERVICE – SERVED
The one rule for a formal table is for everything to be geometrically spaced: the centerpiece at the exact center; the place settings at equal distances; and the utensils balanced. Beyond these placements, you can vary flower arrangements and decorations as you like.
The placement of utensils is guided by the menu, the idea being that you use utensils in an “outside in” order. For the illustrated place setting here, the order of the menu is: Appetizer: Shellfish, First Course: Soup or fruit, Fish Course, Entrée, & Salad
*Knife blades are always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate. No more than three of any implement is ever placed on the table, except when an oyster fork is used in addition to three other forks. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then the utensil for the fourth course is brought in with the food; likewise the salad fork and knife may be brought in when the salad course is served. Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.
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