Place Setting Etiquette

Place setting etiquette can be daunting even to the most sophisticated diner.

There are few women that do not remember the scene in “Pretty Woman” where Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian Ward, is overwhelmed at the prospect of a formal dinner and table setting etiquette.

The “Slippery Little Suckers” phrase is still used now when it comes to eating snails with a snail tong and two-pronged snail fork!

We all laugh because we can identify with her situation but how often do we really experience the full formal dining experience and place setting etiquette?

Even in some of London’s best restaurants the formality is more relaxed, so when we are faced with the full shebang it is not surprising that so few of us are completely confident with place setting etiquette and silverware place settings.

The Basic Rules of Place Setting Etiquette

Whilst I have included full formal place setting etiquette in this section, the most important thing is to focus on getting the basics right first.

Simple table setting etiquette is  used in day to day life while eating out in restaurants and hosting your own dinner parties for friends and relatives.

The most important two rules of place setting etiquette to remember for all types of dining are:

  • You start from the outside utensils and work inward with each course.
  • Liquids are to the right, and solids are to the left

Cutlery (silverware/flatwear) should be held with the handle tucked into the palm, thumb down one side of the handle and index finger along the top.

If you are solely using a fork then it is fine to place it in your right hand with the tines facing upwards.

Rest your cutlery on your plate between every few bites, in a nine o’clock and three o’clock position with the tines of your fork facing down, and never lick or eat from your knife!

When you have finished, rest your cutlery together in the six o’clock position with the tines of your fork facing upwards.

Any silverware not used may be left in place but once you have used them they should never touch the table again. Also, don’t fiddle with your cutlery or you will appear nervous.

It is acceptable to arrive at the table with your aperitif but remember not to drink anything until your host has sat down and taken a sip. Taking this into consideration it is wise to try and finish it before you sit for dinner.

Place Setting Etiquette for Informal Dining

Silverware (Flatwear)

Forks go on the left

Knives and soup spoons on the right

Pudding tools are normally above the place setting, or brought out when the main dessert is served

Sometimes a salad fork is added to the left


Glassware will be on the right above your knife:

Large bowled glass for red wine

Narrower glass for white wine

Water glass

Plates & Bowls

The place plate or main dinner plate in the centre in front of each chair

Sometimes a coffee/ tea cup or saucer and teaspoon next to the wine glasses

Bread plate and knife to the left, above the forks

Any soup bowl is placed on a service plate which then sits on the dinner plate

Place Setting Etiquette for Formal Dining

At an informal dinner you may have a place card to help you find your assigned seat and you may also have a menu card. This normally contains the following:

A list of all courses to be served (excluding the sorbet or intermezzo)

Sometimes the wines offered with each course

The date, location and purpose of the dinner as a reminder and keepsake for the guest

Silverware (Flatwear)

Starting on the outside left and going towards the plate:

If fish is being served as a first course then a fish/seafood fork rests to the furthest left

The biggest fork is the dinner fork which is used for the main course, the entree

A salad fork (smaller than a dinner fork) is to the far left if the salad is being served first, if it is being served as a third or fourth course then it will be placed closest to the plate

Closest to the plate on the right and moving away from the plate:

Salad knife

Dinner knife

Seafood knife

Soup spoon

A cocktail fork which is placed on or to the right of the soup spoon

The dessert fork or spoon is horizontally placed above the place plate, tines of the fork facing to the right and spoon facing to the left


The glass farthest to the right is your aperitif glass or sherry glass (sherry is poured during the soup course)

Next is the white wine glass, which is used with your fish course or appetizer

Behind the white wine glass is the red wine glass, which is normally slightly larger in size

The largest glass is the water glass which normally sits just above the dinner knife

Behind and to the right of the water glass is the Champagne flute which is not used until dessert is served

Plates & Bowls

An underplate also called a charger that decorates the table

A small bowl and small plate with a doily, a small fork and a small spoon rest above the dinner plate. They are the finger bowl and dessert plate respectively

Sometimes a salad plate is already placed on the table but normally it is bought to the table and placed on top of the dinner plate

Sometimes you will also receive individual salt dishes with tiny spoons, these are called salt cellars

Other Dining Etiquette subjects to learn on this site:

Table Etiquette

Chopstick Etiquette

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About The Author

The Author, Emma Dupont, runs various courses in London during the year.

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