Table Manners 101

Dear Annabel,

I have recently come across your blog in search of websites that explain proper etiquette in social situations, and I absolutely love your blog. I would like to know about proper dinner etiquette and the placement of dishes and utensils, the uses of each dish and utensil and also the proper way to hold a fork and knife and how to eat.1d3a48a981afd60a1d2640d470298747

I feel that knowing this will be very useful for future dinner invites and parties that I am attending or putting together myself.

Sincerely, A

Dear A,

I’m so glad you wrote in. With a few simple tips, you’ll soon be setting tables and handling utensils like a pro. Even better, you’ll enjoy being a more confident hostess and dinner guest.

Let’s begin with the basics. has a great video that shows you how to set a family dinner table. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can work on flatware placement for fancier affairs. (Here’s a helpful article from on how to set a formal table.)

Understanding how to set the table can help you grasp the proper use for each utensil. The number-one rule of table manners is this: your utensils are logically placed so that all you have to do is work your way from the outside in. 
It may help to study the diagram shown here, but be aware that table settings change according to what’s being served for dinner. For example, the soup bowl might be swapped out for a salad plate. If there’s a fish course (before the main course), you might have an extra fork and knife, or a tiny fork that tells you to expect shellfish.

Here’s another diagram that might help you visualize a formal table setting. If this all sounds hopelessly complicated, don’t fret. Just sneak a peek at your host or hostess and follow his or her lead.

As for how to hold your utensils, my recommendation is to do so gently. Grasp them as you would a pen or pencil (as opposed to weapons you might use to fight off a bad guy).

Here are a few other top tips:

  • Place your napkin in your lap as soon as your hosts do so (or, if you’re in a restaurant, as soon as you sit down).
  • Take small, ladylike bites.
  • Always break bread with your fingers (rather than sawing a piece in half with your knife).
  • Use your butter knife to place a pat of butter on your bread plate. Break off each bite and butter it as needed.
  • When you’re finished with a course, rest your knife and fork diagonally across the upper-right quadrant of your plate (tines of the fork pointing up, blade side of the knife facing in).

The best way to boost your table manners and etiquette I.Q. is to practice. Treat every meal as an opportunity to learn and grow. When you’re ready for a challenge, test your table manners by taking this quiz on

Good luck, and please feel free to email me if you have any more questions.

Graciously yours,


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