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forks placed tines down - has anyone seen this? [moved from Manhattan board]

I was at Dona recently - very good, btw - and the forks at all the place settings were laid face down, with the tines facing the table. The waitress explained that the fork was easier to pick up that way. (I didn't think so.) Has anyone seen this place setting trend elsewhere? I also saw it at Cafe Gray. Assuming it is some kind of European dealio? What is the reasoning behind this?

Gastro Chic

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  1. It's European & quite formal & old-fashioned ...the explanation I heard is that the idea was that placing the tines down is politer...less aggressive in a metaphorical sense....

    3 Replies
    1. re: fauchon

      Yes it reminded me of the British tradition of cutting all the corners off the queen's tea sandwiches, so as not to suggest any violence towards the crown. Let me know if you've seen the tines-down thing anyplace else in NYC. thx

      Gastro Chic

      1. re: bellastraniera

        I'd never heard of cutting the corners off the Q's tea sandwiches...fascinating!

        Can't think of any NYC places that do the tines-down thing...

        Karl S is right...if you look at the classic French flatware (Puiforcat, etc), the design elements focus on what we would consider the backs of the forks....

      2. re: fauchon

        That is also why the knife is placed with the cutting edge inward, and why it is not "polite" to gesticulate with utensils - it could be seen as threatening.

      3. It's very formal European usage. Lovely French sterling flatware is intended to be displayed that way.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          And, I believe, in Europe, the monogram is put on the back of the utensil.

          1. re: MMRuth

            Exactly! My Sheffield's are like that.


        2. Interesting.

          The only times that I've seen forks placed tines-down is when the shrimp fork is placed tines down on a spoon to the right of the plate (not on the left with the other forks).

          Also, it's my understanding and practice that once utensils are used, they're not to touch the table; only the plate. So in between bites, I'll put the fork tines-down, pointing to the 2 o'clock; and the knife, under the fork tines, pointing to the 10 o'clock.

          It might be archaic, but it's how I was raised. I must be weird.

          1 Reply
          1. My parents (from england) used the fork with the tines down (in their left hand), so maybe it is an extension of this to set the fork tines down on the table. My mom never set the table with the tines down though.

            Interesting wiki entry about US vs. european ways of using utensils. This caused conflicts at the dinner table while growing up since I always preferred the US style and they believed the "proper and civilized" way was the European style. Eventually my parents gave up and let me eat how I wanted.


            1 Reply
            1. re: LStaff

              I was raised in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, so I learned to eat the British way. When I came here, I was surprised to hear someone tell me that it was "impolite" to eat the British way; that switching that fork from hand to hand while eating was the only "proper" way. Needless to say, I don't believe that. And I still eat the British way.

            2. Haven't seen this anywhere, but I do this once in a while because I've always felt that it keeps more of the surface that touches my mouth from touching the table. My parents eventually made me stop because they said it was bad luck (according to an Asian tradition), but I kept doing it on my own once I grew up and moved out.

              1. 10 & 2, with the tines down is how I was taught to signify to the waitstaff that you were finished and they could clear your plate away. Was anyone else taught this?

                3 Replies
                1. re: shopgirl

                  It's the minority approach in the US currently, I believe; it's more common (for the minority that knows about a utensil signal in the first place) to have the fork and knife at the 4:20 position (knife edge against fork tines, up or down); 6:30 is another version of that. There is are also version of the cross-ways 10:10 version at 8:20 and 12:30.

                  The position of the tines would be the inverse of how one normally uses them, so in the US it's useless because many of us eat European style (tines pointed down). Back when there was a strong etiquette rule in the US about eating tines up, tines down showed you were not eating.

                  Anyway, this is all going the way of the dodo bird, sadly.

                  1. re: shopgirl

                    Tines down on the tablecloth? With a USED fork? Ugh! I think what this post is about is clean forks being set at the table with tines down. Seems affected to me.

                    1. re: k_d

                      I think shopgirl and Karl S were referring to tines down on the plate to indicate whether one is still eating or done, not on the tablecloth.

                  2. I was always taught the "four o'clock" position signaled that one was finished eating. After all this discussion, I looked it up in my collection of etiquette books. (I do protocol consulting but usually precedence, flags, titles, dipolomatic matters, that kind of thing, not table manners.)
                    The sources (Baldridge, Post, Vanderbilt, Wilson, Claiborne)are often all over the place on a lot of subjects but this time everyone agreed that the knife and fork should be placed side by side on a diagonal at the "twenty past the hour" position. There was one uptight description of "fork tines up, knife to the right with the blade facing toward the fork, both projecting about one inch over the edge of the plate, but in no case should the flatware be placed so as to fall when the plate is removed."
                    The copyright dates on these books span 60 years.

                    1. this maybe a very silly thing, but...

                      growing up in a chinese household, i was taught to never leave your chopsticks in your food, it invites bad spirits... and so i've noticed that it is rare to leave our spoons and forks facing up as well....