When I first thought of today’s topic it brought to my remembrance a memorable scene from the movie Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts (Vivian) asks the hotel manager for a lesson in table etiquette as she wasn’t sure which fork to use and when. Minutes later in the movie while at an upscale restaurant while attending as a guest alongside Richard Gere (Edward), she’s presented with food she isn’t sure how to handle such as escargot, wishing for a regular salad as an appetizer stating “that’s the fork I knew!”.
All joking aside, when dining out or in someone’s home for a more formal meal, it is important to know which fork is used and when, also which type of fork goes with what. This will be the beginning of a series of posts to familiarize you with various table setting components. In the coming weeks we’ll also explore the proper way to eat some tricky foods.
At home, there is generally not much confusion between forks. We know that the larger fork is for the main course and the smaller fork is for salads, but fork knowledge goes beyond that. We also have lobster forks, dessert forks and more. Below is a visual and breakdown of each and when to use them in the course.
The general rule of thumb at a more formal place setting (and the easiest way to remember) is to use the fork on the outermost side first and work your way inward towards your plate. There are some cases as with European dining where a meal will actually be served before a salad, so don’t be alarmed if you see the entree fork appear before the salad fork in order.
Let’s review the formal place setting and how all of the utensils, specifically the forks fit into place:
a. Napkin- you may either find it beside the flatware, on top of the service plate or under the fork setting.
b. Side plate and butter knife for dinner rolls-always remains in the top left hand corner in a place setting.
c. Salad fork-shortest and furthest away from the plate with a shorter handle and tines than a dinner fork.
d. Fish fork-shorter than a dinner fork but closer to the plate than a salad fork, used with a fish course for its delicate flesh.
e. Dinner fork- always closest to the plate for the main course. It’s long narrow tines provide perfect spearing power for meat, poultry and vegetables.
f. Service plate-will change throughout the course of the meal.
g. Dinner knife- used specifically for dinner along with the dinner fork.
h. Salad knife- used specifically while eating the salad course along with the salad fork
i. Soup spoon- a soup spoon is larger and used for the soup course. Always spoon away from yourself to prevent splashing your clothing, the table cloth or any others dining with you.
j. Red Wine glass- closest to the dinner plate.
k. White Wine glass-directly to the left of the red wine glass.
l. Water glass directly to the left of the white wine glass and directly above the dinner knife.
m. Dessert fork and spoon- either the spoon, fork or a combination of both will appear depending on the dessert being served. The left tine of a dessert fork is generally extra-wide, providing more leverage when cutting through extra firm desserts such as baklava or the thick crust of a pie or bar. It is similar in size to a salad fork.
*One fork not shown in this illustration is the cocktail fork (also known as the seafood fork) which, when present, will be placed to the right of the soup spoon. Unlike the other forks shown, it is not placed with the other grouping of forks, has only 3 tines vs. 4 and is a shorter overall fork with short tines and a long narrow handle. The purpose of it is to spear seafood in a compote or a shell, such as shrimp cocktail or coquille St. Jacques.
Did you learn anything new today? Also, as we’ll be tackling tricky foods and how to eat them, what do you find most difficult to eat politely without making a mess? Is it snow crab legs, soup, food eaten with your hands such as a thick panini? I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for Reading!