Dining etiquette

Table manners were evolved as a result of the British aristocracy’s urge to preserve their class and status and to avoid speaking to ‘the help’ during dinner service. It was also their way of continuing the separation of classes. The intricacies of table etiquette ensured no outsider could sneak in undetected. The rest of the world emulated those rituals aka etiquette. Needless to say, for a new Indian immigrant to Australia, being suddenly pushed into a formal business dinner, offers many opportunities for extreme embarrassment. Here we provide a brief intro into the highly ritualistic world of dinner etiquette. Before we begin, let us first have a look at the etiquettes we got used to, in our home land.

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Formal place setting

8 course dinner formal place setting
8 course dinner formal place setting

The easiest way to become comfortable approaching a table setting is to learn the function of all the different items.


For a formal occasion, you will often have several plates on your table.

It includes

Service Plate, bread plate, small first course and salad plates will be brought out by the server as needed and then set on the service plate.. Your dinner plate will replace the service plate when the main course is served.

Service Plate

Service plate is laid at the centre of the cover before the diners come to the table. The service plate is the largest plate also called the ‘server’ is used during full course dinners or to dress up special events like parties and weddings. This is an under plate for holding the first course which will be brought to the table. In some functions this decorative plate is removed as soon as the guests are seated. Sometimes designer charger plates are left on the table throughout the course of the meal. But the etiquette is, they are always removed before serving deserts. Service plates act as a base for soup bowls, salad plates, and for the main course. In formal dining, food is never placed directly on a service plate. The service plate is a base on which to lay the plate for the appetizer course.

Bread and Butter Plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting. When dry toast and crackers are served at a formal dinner, they are placed on the tablecloth. However, at a formal dinner, bread is often provided to cleanse the palate between different wines and to tide one over during long lapses between courses.

Dinner Plate

The dinner plate is used more than any other plate. It is used to serve the main course at all meals, formal and informal. Modern dinner plates measure from 10 to 11 inches across.

At a formal dinner in a private residence, the entree is the third appetizer course, such as a creamed chicken in vol-au-vent cases, and as such is served on a medium-size plate, notably a salad plate. But in a restaurant, the main course often follows two appetizer courses, usually soup and salad. Typically, the entree consists of cooked meat served with vegetables, starch, and garnish, and as such is served on a dinner plate.

When dessert is served, all wineglasses (except dessert-wine glasses), bread plates, and salt and pepper shakers should be cleared from the table.

Fork and spoons

When setting a table, forks are placed on the left hand side and spoons and knives are placed on the right hand side. They are placed in such a way that you can start from the outside and work your way inside. For example for a four course meal the soup spoon is placed on the outside right because it is the only implement to be used for that course and there is no corresponding fork on the left hand side. Moving from outside in, next implement on the right hand side is the salad knife which is used with the salad fork. They are smaller than the man cutlery to reflect the size of the meal. Dinner knife is next partnered with the dinner fork on the left hand side.

Soup Spoon
Soup Spoon
Desert Spoon
Desert Spoon

Desert spoon partnered with a small fork is placed above the table setting and moved down after the main course has been cleared.

Four Course Meal table settings
Four Course Meal table settings

Four course meal image courtesy: http://www.professionalimagedress.com

The description of the table implements

Main Knife – the larger knife with serrations

Entrée Knife – smaller and can be used as bread knife

Main fork – the larger fork

Entrée fork – smaller fork and can also be used as desert fork

Desert spoon – Oval shape

Soup spoon –   Round spoon

Tea spoon – smallest spoon here and will only be on the table with tea and coffee

Handling the cutlery

The correct way to hold a knife and fork
The correct way to hold a knife and fork

Cutlery should be held lightly with the handle of each utensil resting comfortably in the palm of each hand. It should always be held parallel to the plate and not pointing to the ceiling or the floor. Elbows should not be on the table when food is present. Wrists should not lean on the edge of the table either.

Knife and forks are used together; you may not put one down while you are using the other. Use them both together and rest them both together.

The fork should never be turned over and used as a shovel during the meal. The tines of the fork must always point downward and the serration of the knife should always be level with the plate.

The exception to the rule is when you are eating pasta, risotto or Asian food.

The correct way to hold a knife and a fork – Image Courtesy: yeocards.com

The Napkin

The first thing to do when you are seated is to place the napkin on your lap. Unfold it completely and achieve maximum coverage. If you happen to leave the table during the meal, loosely fold the napkin and place it on the left of the table setting. Push your chair in when you leave. Napkin can be used to wipe the mouth as needed. Napkin can also be used to wipe the fingers under the table.


Soup is served in a variety of bowls and cups, hot or cold. Clear soup is served with a small round soup spoon; cream soup with a medium, more oval spoon. While drinking the soup, hold your soup spoon the way you would hold a pencil between your index and middle fingers with your thumb up. Spoon and soup away from you, towards the centre or top of the bowl, and then sip the soup from the side and not the point of the spoon. You may rest the spoon in the bowl while you pause. After you have finished place the spoon on the saucer or plate beneath the cup or bowl.

What you can eat with your hands?

These items are alright to be eaten with your fingers in a formal dinner

Asparagus, fruit, bacon when too crispy to cut, biscuits, bread, Pizza when in a casual setting, and chocolates

Finish and pause positions

When you finish a course, place your knife and fork side by side knife on top in the 4 o clock position on the plate, the blade of the knife facing in.

To rest or pause during meal, cross the fork across the knife in the 8:20 position.

finish and pause positions
finish and pause positions

Finish and pause positions image courtesy: http://www.wartimehousewife.com

Video on Dinner Etiquette




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