By BIS Contributor Colleen Rickenbacher


Hopefully, we are all familiar and well aware of using the fork, knife and spoon for our dining needs…

But it amazing how some are not exactly sure how to set a normal place setting or a formal place setting. So let’s start with that.
Granted, growing up in a fast-food world does not provide many opportunities for learning the finer points of dining etiquette, but in a business setting, minding your manners can make a lasting impression. Your manners at the table can have such an impact. It could lead to being recognized as being polished then lead to a positive business experience where you are viewed in a manner that could lead to closing a deal or getting a promotion. On the reverse end it could so strongly impact your impression in a negative way that you could lose an account or be passed up for promotion. That is how important your table manners are paying close attention to what you learn here as well as perhaps even printing this information to keep for a quick study when you are faced with formal dining could be an invaluable tool.
These tips will provide the basics about what you should and should not do in a business/formal setting. The following will help you negotiate a complex table setting and give advice about hosting a business dinner and being on your best behavior at other meal functions.

Elaborate dining

Usually replace the flatware and china before each course.
Dessert utensils are placed horizontally above the dinner plate. The dessert spoon (bowl facing left) goes above the fork (tines facing right). Move these utensils into position on both sides of the plate before you start to eat. Receiving both utensils allows you to use either one or both for your dessert. Just a little trick . . . start with the fork on the left side of your entrée plate and the spoon on the right side. Then just slide them to the horizontal pattern above the entrée plate. This is an easy way to set them up. Generally, the fork is heavier than the spoon, so always “think” that the fork has to carry the weight of the spoon, so the fork will be on the bottom.
In more formal settings, generally the silverware is delivered with the dessert. But, in most cases, the silverware is set above the entrée plate with the fork closet the entrée plate with the tines pointed toward right and spoon above the fork with the bowl of the spoon facing left. (As shown in the next photo). At times when dessert is served, the wait staff will come to your place setting and move your silverware into position But, if they do not do this, then you will need to move your silverware into position before you start to eat your dessert. Never grab either the fork or spoon from their positions above the entrée plate and go directly to your dessert. It must be placed to their left (for the fork) and right (for the spoon) position before ever using them.
Even if you are only going to use the spoon or the just the fork, then still move the other one into their designated position. It should never remain above the entrée plate. They are both moved to the left and right positions.
Then at the end of the dessert, both fork and spoon are placed at the 10:20 position across your plate. The fork is placed above the spoon in that position. If for any reason a knife becomes part of that group, then the knife would be first, followed by the fork, then spoon.

Dining Rules to Live By

Silverware: The rule to remember is once you pick up any piece of your silverware, it never touches the table again. Don’t let your silverware rest partially on the table and partially on your plate. Place the blade of the knife, the tines of the fork or the bowl of the spoon facing the 10 if looking at the face of a clock. The bottom of the silverware will be at the four position. In most cases, work from the outside in with your silverware.
Generally, the rule of thumb is that you start on the outside of your silverware and work your way in toward your entrée plate.
If you order a salad for your meal, then bypass the salad fork and use your entrée fork. That has become your entrée and not your salad for that meal.
The “b” and “d” rule or BMW: To get your bearings when you are seated, think BMW—bread, meal, water. Your bread, meal and water go left to right, just like the letters. Some people remember “b” for bread and “d” for drink. Note that the lower case letter “b” on your left hand facing the plate stands for bread and the lower case “d” on your right hand facing the plate stands for drink. Make these letters by putting your index finger up in the air and then making a circle with your thumb and middle finger. The “d” sign is the actual “d” used in sign language.

More Utensils

Your first encounter with multiple utensils and glasses does not have to be intimidating. Formal table settings are laid out logically. You need to remember only a few simple rules to be able to read the tabletop road map.


There can be as many as three forks to the left of the service plate and three knives to the right. You should never find more than three of one utensil at a place setting.
The only exceptions will be the butter knife that is placed on the bread plate and a fourth fork, the small oyster fork, which is placed at the extreme right of the place setting and is used for oysters or shrimp cocktail. Its tines should be resting in the bowl of the soup spoon.
After the soup spoon, and working from outside to inside on both sides, are the fish fork and fish knife, followed by the meat fork and knife. Next to the dinner plate are the salad fork and knife, unless the salad is served first, in which case, it is farthest away from the plate.
The simple rule about cutlery use: Always start from the outside and work your way in, course by course, toward the center.

The First Course

The oyster fork is used to eat clams, oysters and shrimp cocktail. Because shrimp cocktail is frequently served in a pedestal dish, it would be difficult to cut the shrimp with a knife without toppling the dish. Just eat it from the fork by taking several small bites. If shrimp is served on a flat plate, you may use your knife to cut it. The lettuce in the dish is not to be eaten. It is for decoration only.
The wait staff will remove this course from the right then place your soup plate and saucer from the left.

The Soup Course

You will find your soup spoon on the right. Lean forward slightly to eat your soup, dip the spoon sideways into the soup at the edge nearest you. Just skim the surface of the soup and move the spoon away from you.
Sip silently from the side of the spoon without making any noise. Don’t put the entire spoon in your mouth. If you must have that last little bit, tip the bowl away from you and continue to spoon the soup from the outer edge of the bowl.
If the soup is served in a cup with handles on both sides, it is perfectly appropriate to pick up the cup by both handles and sip the soup. Remember I am talking about a clear broth soup. Don’t tip and pick up a bowl of tortilla soup just because it has handles.
If you are served crackers with your soup course, put  the soup spoon down and take a bite of the cracker. (Remember, if soup is served in a cup, the spoon rests on the plate beneath, but if soup is served in a larger bowl, the spoon stays in the bowl.) Do not hold the cracker  in one hand, the soup spoon in the other, and alternate between them. Don’t break crackers into your soup. Use the same procedure as for bread. Break off the bite that you will eat and then place the remaining cracker on the under plate. If oyster crackers are served, place them on your plate and add a few at a time to your soup.

Visual Signs for the Waitstaff

Imagine a clock on your plate. To indicate you are finished eating, place both the knife and fork in about the 10:20 position of a clock with the points at 10 and the handles at 20 after, or the the tines of the fork can be up or down, and the blade of the knife should be facing you. If you have been eating the course with the fork only, place it tines up in the 10:20 position when finished.
A fancy finish is to put the tines up and insert the knife in between the tines.
Another easy sign for the waitstaff is to just place the fork and knife side by side on the right- hand rim of the plate. The fork is inside the knife and with the fork tines up or down. The blade of the knife should be turned inward.

If resting while eating in the Continental/European style, place the knife and fork in an inverted V formation. The blade of the knife should be toward the center of the plate, with the tip of the knife aimed at 12 and the bottom at 4. The tines of the fork should point down and be aimed at 12, with the bottom of the handle at 8.
The other resting position for eating American style is to place the knife across the top of the plate horizontally with the blade facing toward you and the fork placed diagonally across the plate as similar to the finished position at 10:20 with the tines up.

Following these classic rules of etiquette will always stand you in good stead, and with practice they will become second nature in no time.