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Table Settings – Does this bug anyone else?

I keep seeing pictures everywhere of beautifully prepared and plated food, and then the table is set wrong! In magazines, on TV, on the web, all over the place and it’s happening more and more lately. Does this bug anyone else? Drives me nuts.

So I’ve been wondering about it. Where do people learn this stuff? Maybe they don’t teach it in school any more. I’ve even wondered whether they teach it in culinary schools, because I’ve seen some major goofs on their websites too. All of this started me thinking about all of the people here who cook great food, but it may never have occurred to them to go any farther than to emulate what they see in one of these gorgeous pictures of gorgeous food with the table set wrong. So for anyone interested, I offer the following:

I’ve Googled the web thoroughly for "place settings", "place covers", and “how to set a table properly”. The amount of misinformation available on the web today is mind boggling, but the URL below is pretty close to being spot on. Just don’t think your table isn’t properly set if you don’t have sterling water goblets. These folks are just trying to sell more of what they sell. So I offer a bit more useful information based on U.S. tradition. Since we have so many travelers and people who live in other countries with us, remember that traditions and customs vary from country to country so this may not apply to you. For the sake of a common language, let’s start here:


1. As I said, the above URL is a starting point. The thing they forgot to mention about a formal place setting (they have it wrong!) is that a formal place setting NEVER properly includes a bread and butter plate or a butter spreader. Yup. It sounds really strange, but tradition dictates that you only get a b&b plate for informal occasions. If it's black tie for guests and the table, then you put your bread on the tablecloth. And now you know why God created crumb trays.

2. For formal occasions, the dinner napkin is always folded and placed down the center of the dinner plate unless the first course is to be in place when people are seated, in which case it goes to the left of the forks and no embellishment, such as napkin rings or fancy folds are used. The standard fold for a dinner napkin is spread it open (iron if necessary), then fold in half to form a rectangle, then fold that to form a square, and finally fold the square into a smaller rectangle. That’s it! The napkin is then placed down the center of the plate, folded side to the right, However, if the first course will be on the plate when guests are seated, then the napkin goes to the left of the forks, folded side toward the plate. Do not place the napkin on the plate and then the first course on top of it. This may look attractive, but guests should not be required to move china and food to retrieve napkins. And the same is true of placing forks on the napkin. Everything should be immediately accessible to guests without requiring them to disassemble and reassemble their place setting. Finally, never use a napkin ring for a formal dinner. Napkin rings are for family dinner tables when the napkins may be washed only after several uses.

For informal meals you're free to be as creative with napkin folding as you like. Fan folds. origami folds, blossom folds in the water goblet. Whatever appeals to you.

3. Both wine glasses and silverware should be placed in their order of use, with the exception of the salad fork. Forks always go to the left of the dinner plate, and when the smaller salad fork is to the left of the larger dinner fork, that indicates it is to be used for the starter course. When it is between the dinner fork and the dinner plate that indicates it is a salad fork even though many Americans, unlike Europeans, serve salad before the main course.

4. If a desert spoon and fork are part of the place cover, they should go above the plate. But today's for-the-home dining tables are getting smaller and smaller -- along with the size of dining rooms -- so it will probably mean a less crowded table if you just bring in the dessert silver in with the desert. It’s the same with cups and saucers. While it is proper in some circumstances to include them in a place cover, unless you live in Hearst Castle with dining tables the size of a small ice skating rink, chances are you'll be really crowding your table.

5. FYI: There is a difference between "luncheon size" and "dinner size" (larger) flatware. There is also a difference between European dinner size (larger still) and American dinner size. If you are investing in sterling, be sure you clarify what size you want. It is always best to buy the larger dinner size as it's acceptable on all occasions, whereas the smaller luncheon size is frowned upon for a formal dinner. There was a time (about a century ago) when a “proper” home included sterling service of luncheon and dinner size, as well as every specialized piece of individual utensils known to man. The Victorians thrived on such things. In today's world, starting with a five piece place setting is pretty much the norm for flatware. In those times, twenty piece sterling silver place settings were not uncommon. But they had butlers to polish it!

6. Before you buy your "good" flatware, think about what pieces you want so you can choose a pattern that has them all available. Also think realistically about how you cook and entertain. Flatware pieces still in common use for formal/informal occasions today (in their most frequent placement) include:
Hors d'ouvre ("starter") fork
Fish fork
Salad fork (also doubles as dessert fork except in formal sterling services where there will be a slight difference between the two)
Dinner fork
Dinner plate separates forks on the left from knives and spoons on the right
Dinner knife
Fish knife
Butter spreader
Ice tea spoon
Cream soup spoon (round bowl)
Bouillon spoon (oval bowl, also doubles as dessert spoon except in formal sterling services)
Tea spoon
Demitasse spoon.
Cocktail/oyster fork

A teaspoon is not normally part of a place cover, except at family meals when coffee or tea will be served. For formal and informal non-family occasions they are brought in with the coffee/tea service. The cocktail/oyster fork is the only fork that is ever placed on the right side of the dinner plate, and then it is the last utensil farthest from the plate. While you see it in photographs frequently, desert forks and spoons are best left to be brought in with dessert rather than placed above the dinner plate. And anytime you feel confused as to what fork to use or what to do with something, just follow whatever the hostess does.

Things a formal sterling service may include that I've never seen available in stainless steel patterns are grapefruit spoons, ice cream forks, and other fancy things that are seldom used today. Some things that are available and fun to have and that don't normally match your flatware pattern are escargot tongs and forks, lobster/crab crackers, lobster/crab picks, etc. Dime store nut crackers and nut picks work just fine on both lobsters and crabs. And then there are special caviar spoons, usually made out of mother of pearl, and rarely available with silver hollowware handles to match a sterling pattern. In today's world, there are stainless steel patterns that are available in the larger European size, as well as patterns that offer butter spreaders, cocktail forks, iced tea spoons, and other special service flatware pieces. There is also gold finished flatware available today that is dishwasher safe, though none of the patterns I've seen to date offer butter spreaders or cocktail forks and such.

7. Dinner knives. If you've checked out the diagram at the website above, you know the dinner knife goes immediately to the right of the dinner plate, sharp edge toward the plate. I know. It looks more symmetrical and better balanced aesthetically with the sharp edge away from the plate, but unbreakable tradition says you don't want to do that. Knife edge toward the plate is an unspoken pledge by the host to his guests that no knives will be drawn or blood let during the meal. It's a tradition worth keeping.

8. In European place settings, and this is strictly an FYI thing, the flatware is usually placed "face down," especially in France, and the wine glasses are spread in a straight line above the plate in order of use from left to right, even if there will be nine wines with dinner. If you have a table big enough, it makes a lovely display.

9. Glasses: In the U.S., the water goblet is placed above the dinner knife, and wine glasses go to the right of it in order of use. There's a general rule of thumb in this country that you never place more than three of anything on the table at one time, including forks, spoons, and wine goblets. If you’re serving both a white and red wine with dinner, that makes three glasses counting the water goblet. However, it is acceptable to put the champagne glass above and between the water goblet and red wine goblet where it will be in easy reach after previous courses are cleared.

10. China service. It's always smart to buy an "open stock" pattern, which means the company doesn’t plan on discontinuing it any time soon (but it never hurts to ask if any plans are in the works before you buy your first place setting). Open stock also means you can buy just one saucer or plate if one gets broken. About the only tricky thing it helps to know about in fine china is in regard to soup bowls. There are two styles. The rimmed shallow type often called a “soup plate,” and a cream soup bowl, which is shaped more like a cup with little feet under it and handles on each side. Some even come with a lid and saucer.

11. Place cards are hand lettered and placed on top of the napkin or in a place card holder above the dinner plate.

12. Salts and Peppers. For formal and formally informal meals, small salt and pepper shakers or cellars may be placed individually above each place setting, but in the interest of less cluttered tabletops, it's more usual to set a pair to be shared by each two diners.

And finally, a word about centerpieces and candles. There is nothing more annoying than getting up from the table after a nice conversation with the person seated across from you and not having a clue as to what he looks like! Keep centerpieces low enough that guests can see each other clearly, and the same for candles. Five arm candelabras may be lovely, but if they prevent people from seeing each other comfortably, use another candleholder.

If you're interested in learning more about the subject, my favorite book is "Table Settings, Entertaining, and Etiquette" by Patricia Easterbrook Roberts. The book is unfortunately out of print, but you can order used copies here: http://tinyurl.com/28rfla. They range in price from $4.20 to over $150. Go for the $4.20 copies! It's a small coffee table book with lots of interesting facts and drop dead gorgeous photographs. There are lots of other books on table setting available too. And I sincerely hope I haven't stepped on anyone's toes by posting this. My intent is to share the joy of presenting hard work in the kitchen with all the love and respect it deserves in the dining room.


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  1. Very interesting - good stuff! Thanks for posting. I am a big fan of buying old old hospitality or etiquette books off of Ebay and reading about how things used to be - different types of service, etc. It makes a meal all the better to have it presently nicely (not necessarily the squiggle on the plate thing or stacked food). Let's bring elegance back!

    1. Sorry, but I must say that I am ever so thankful that I grew up in a Chinese household. Chopsticks, soup spoons, that's it for the most part. Communal eating/family style. I think that when eating, the most important thing, besides the food, is the company/conversation.

      11 Replies
        1. re: justagthing

          =) Me, too. But there are some unbelievably convoluted rules about chopsticks placement, how to pass and accept food, and all that good stuff, too. No culture is immune.

          1. re: justagthing

            Try being left-handed and holding your chopsticks crossed, which is apparently taboo for some Asians. My mother used to be slightly embarrassed, but really, I need to eat somehow. A Japanese-American buddy of mine was nagged about it so much that he avoids chopsticks whenever possible.

            It goes back to the whole "hold one stick like you would a pen" thing. I hold my pens differently than righties, so my chopstick-holding ends up different, too. The food gets into my mouth with a minimum of mess, so I'm happy.

            Cimui's right: no culture is immune. With that said, I found Caroline's post interesting. I haven't a clue on how to set a Western table properly and I do believe that that kind of information is important. No, we're not going to have a formally set table every single day, but at least we'll know how it's supposed to look like if the occasion ever requires it.

            Edited to add: I meant to reply to cimui, not justathing... sorry!

            1. re: geekyfoodie

              Oh, good Lord! Who sets a formal table every day? That's not the way anyone lives. But within your culture - Asian, Western, etc. - you have to lay out the utensils you're going to eat with and it's not any harder to place them properly than it is to slap them on the table any old way. Then it becomes automatic to do the simple things properly. Adding anything more complicated when you have guests isn't so challenging.
              My kids were responsible for setting the table from the time they could reach it. We had some pretty creative place settings for a few years but they got the basics right and enjoyed the time in the kitchen with us, participating in meal prep. This was just plates, knives and forks, glasses for milk and napkins, but they knew where they were supposed to go - the same places that formal things go at a fancy dinner.
              They really loved it if we let them light candles. Calmed down the whole dinner scene. No arguing.

              1. re: MakingSense

                Sorry, MakingSense, but perhaps you misunderstood my post? I did say that we're *not* going to have a formal table everyday, but the info is good to know when we do need it.

                Anyhoo, it is true that it doesn't require any more effort to neatly lay out utensils vs. tossing them on the table. For Asians, at least, Justathing has a point in that there's much fewer utensils to work with, so there isn't as much to remember when it comes to what goes where.

                1. re: geekyfoodie

                  You open another interesting question: how do you set a table for dinner menu that includes some dishes that would be eaten with chopsticks (maybe an appetizer) and others using Western flatware? Perhaps sushi followed by chicken served with an Asian-inspired glaze.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Interesting, indeed! I haven't a clue, but I can tell you what we'd do at home. If we're having a formal meal, we'll do the whole set-up Chinese-style and include the necessary Western flatware next to the chopsticks. For your example, the absolute minimum would be a fork and a knife, so they would be neatly placed next to the chopsticks.

              2. re: geekyfoodie

                FWIW, my husband (left handed) holds his chopsticks properly, as does my son (right handed) It was just me holding them wrong.

              3. re: justagthing

                Yeah, I like the chopsticks and sometimes the soup spoons, too, along with the whole family-style thing. It makes so much sense to me. I recently (in the past year) realized that I had been holding the chopsticks wrong all these years, and have been relearning many years of chopstick-using to the right way, which is much better once you get used to it. 8^)
                I know there are rules I don't know about using chopsticks, though, and want to learn them so as not to be thought a jerk. I saw a guy at dim sum this morning that had stuck his chopsticks vertically into a pile of (what looked like) fried rice. I knew it was rude but didn't know why.

                1. re: EWSflash

                  It's inappropriate because they resemble funerary incense sticks in a pile of ash.

                  1. re: ricepad

                    Oh my- then my instincts were correct for a change. Thank you.

                1. I wouldn't want any friends who would lose their appetite if I didn't toss the bread directly on the tablecloth.

                  1. My god, if I sat at a table so meticulously set with a host(ess) to whom this kind of thing is important (to the point that a misstep would drive him/her nuts), I'd be afraid to move anything! My table manners are better than the average bear's, but this is way, way, WAY over the top IMHO. It doesn't look like I'll ever be hosting a truly formal affair...

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: ricepad

                      Where did I say it would drive me nuts if a GUEST in my house used the wrong fork or blew his nose in the dinner napkin? I might throw the napkin away later, but I would NEVER comment on a guest's table manners, unless he or she was doing something terribly offensive to another guest.

                      What I did say is that it drives me nuts when I see photos published by entities that SHOULD know better in which the table is set wrong, such as cooking schools. That's a whole different thing than an individual who has never had or taken the opportunity to learn current formal and informal table setting. My (failed) intention was to offer information for anyone who might be interested simply because there seems to be so much misinformation around.

                      You know, like it or not, we are all judged every day. You guys are being just as judgemental of me as you think I am being of anyone who doesn't set the table according to tradition. We are all judged/evaluated every time we meet a new person; everytime we make a loan or mortgage application; every time we go for a job interview; every time we meet a friend's family. And whether we like it or not, in many of those situations we are judged by whether (or not) we slurp when we eat soup or use the wrong spoon. That's life. But I do regret the number of you who are taking offense. That was never my intent.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        relax caroline. i am always amazed at the number of people who did not sit down to dinner as a family with even a minimally set table (knife and spoon on the right, one fork on the left, whatever glass(es) above the knife and spoon, and (paper) napkin on the left. for those whom dinner was grab it all out of the cupbord and drawer, pile on the food and go sit in front of the TV, all the info above is overwhelming.

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          Seems to me that as Caroline explained, she's not talking about people eating at home particularly, but seeing photos of table settings in magazines etc. - presumably done by professionals - that are done incorrectly - and then provides us all with information that may be interesting and useful to some, and not to others of us, which as far as I can tell is true of many threads on the boards.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            also, we are many years past the time when only one family member worked and the other one spent much of her time fretting about the "right" way to do this and that and the other thing.

                            i think that scrap booking and the like has taken the place of such concerns, which is ok with me. at least scrap booking memorializes real human connections and emotionally meaningful experiences.

                            at the end of the day, what is the import of having absolutely correct table settings?

                          2. re: Caroline1

                            When you wrote your OP, you knew that you would get postings that may be negative. Now, you can call it judging, but at the same time, it is just another one's opinion, just as the post is of your opinion. I do not agree with your opinion myself, but you are allowed to have your opinion and own ideas as we each are. So relax, your post is interesting and people are reading it, wasn't that your point?

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              I think your post read as an interesting, informative look at table setting. It did not sound judgmental, etc. There is a tendency on boards for folks to skim postings & quickly offer opinions without reading with discernment. Often those responses are inappropriate & harsh. Civil difference of opinion & debate is good. Judgmental condemnation is not helpful. I always enjoy your thoughtful & well written posts - please keep participating!

                              1. re: meatn3

                                Thanks to you and all for the words of encouragement. Last night I was stunned (and in a bit of pain) over the totally unexpected reactions. I never meant it as judgemental, but only to try to compensate in some small way for the misinformation coming from presumably reliable sources. So glad some of you did understnad my intent. Thank you!

                            2. re: ricepad

                              I'm with Caroline.

                              All rules of etiquette, including the proper setting a tables is based on what would make people feel most comfortable (e.g. placing the knife sharp-side in toward the plate to avoid cutting the diner ... or folding the napkin with the folded side to the left so that the majority of guests who are right-handed can take a loose corner and easily unfold it and put it on their laps).

                              Once you begin to really read those "rules" and the reasons behind them, it all makes perfect sense and are based on consideration for others.

                              I guess, like Caroline, I do think that a properly set table, among other things, says a lot about who we are. Most people will never notice, but I know I have done the right thing.

                              What my guests do at my table is their business and not for me to judge.

                              1. re: chicgail

                                Yes, and clods will reveal themselves to non-clods, but not vice versa.

                                1. re: chicgail

                                  And the minority of left-handed people (I'm one of them), will once again be made to look ungainly...

                                  1. re: lagatta

                                    A quality host will reverse the settling for a left handed guest.


                                    1. re: law_doc89

                                      What good will that do? That's a superficial accommodation.

                                      Lefties are used to finding the utensils in the same places as everyone else. There is tendency for lefties to eat European style, with fork in left, knife right, and not do the American switch. The normal left right placement is actually better for me.

                                      I try to sit on a corner so that my left elbow is not bumping into someone else's right. A 'quality host' will have plenty of room at the table, so that shouldn't be an issue.

                                      I'm glad I live in these informal 'uneducated' times. A century ago I would have been forced to conform to the manners of the right-handed world, using the 'right' hand, not the gauche one.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        Agree. I was talking about the napkin, but even when I set the table for myself, I do it the standard way. I always eat "European" style (I live in Québec, where both ways are seen).

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          Or sit at a card table outside the kitchen! You certainly missed the point.

                                        2. re: law_doc89

                                          Never heard or done thie and I'm left handed (and old enough to also have been taught table setting in Home Ec classes in jr high).

                                          1. re: masha

                                            Can't address that those above have never encountered the truly gracious host.

                                              1. re: law_doc89

                                                Yes, back in the day. Not a la-di-da prep school but rigorous enough that there was a graded exam on the table setting instruction . And I was far from the only leftie in the class.

                                                And I assure you I am blessed with friends and family who are truly gracious hosts, and aware I am a leftie. It's not like we are disabled. Having learned to shift a transmission (auto or manual) with my right hand, I can surely manage to adapt to a table set with the napkin to the left.

                                                1. re: masha

                                                  Nothing la di daH about any private school, where learning how to accommodate difference as good manners is always important, and as the basis of true empathy, rather than contrived trendiness.

                                                  I can cut with leftie scissors, but a poor host who would provide me with same.

                                                  The proper host knows to sit the leftie in the right place; the gauche, fails.

                                    2. No, it doesn't bug me. But it is a subject that always interests me first, because it was of interest to my mother who taught me how to set a table as soon as I was tall enough to be able to reach it and second, because it tells me something about the history of food and dining. I have a small dining table and modern stainless and dinnerware, so I do what works for me and don’t worry about it. But I enjoy reading about it nonetheless.

                                      A few things my mother taught me: The folded napkin is placed not only so that the fold is to the right, but also so that the loose, unfolded corners are to the upper left, making it easier to pick up the napkin and unfold it onto your lap with your right hand.

                                      If you have individual salt and peppers, and I do because my parents (amateur silversmiths) made a set for me, they are placed above the forks and plates and centered between them. The pepper shaker goes on the left and the salt cellar on the right with the salt spoon placed horizontally in front of them with the handle to the left and the bowl to the right.

                                      The dessert service is brought to the table with the finger bowl, which is always placed on a doily. The diner removes the dessert service from the finger-bowl plate and places the utensils on either side of the plate.

                                      If you place a dessert fork and spoon above the dinner plate, which, by the way, indicates that a finger bowl will not be presented, the fork is above, handle to the left, with the spoon below, handle to the right.

                                      I’m not here to argue any of this or even to pretend that I slavishly follow it. I just find it all very entertaining, in the same way I find the menu of a formal 19th century meal entertaining despite the fact that I’m never, ever, going to try to reproduce it.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: JoanN

                                        Interesting! MY mother taught me the same thing about the napkin EXCEPT she insisted that the unfolded corners be to the LOWER left. I think the reasoning is the same, but I think Mom felt the lower corner was closer and easier to reach (by one napkin length). I still comment on that to my wife, who is really not into that level of detail, and then listen to the 'anal, anal, anal' thing. It's funny..... she's right, but it's something I know I'll always be aware of.

                                        In our house there's also an automatic reference to my Mom every time anyone even suggests the idea of bringing a condiment, salad dressing, milk, or whatever to the table in it's original container..... at ANY meal. She always insisted on transferring to a piece of tableware. We don't really enforce that one since Mom passed away, but we always think of her when it happens.

                                        1. re: Midlife

                                          I intentionally glossed over the part about where the open corner of the napkin should go because all I could remember from my home economics classes was that the diner should be able to pick up the napkin corner and have the napkin fall naturally across his lap. When I tried to check it out on the web, few places mentioned it, and those that did were in conflict. Ah well. I guess people can tell I'm old enough that when I was young, I used to have to worry about whether my seams were straight. '-)

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            My HomeEx teachers (in early 60s) said unfolded corners on the lower left also.

                                            1. re: Stephanie Wong

                                              Mine, a few years later, actually hated me because I was left-handed.

                                          2. re: Midlife

                                            I was also taught that the unfolded corners be to the lower left. I've been puzzling as to who taught me this, though. My grandmother wouldn't have cared. I was raised by a variety of relatives, and I'm really puzzled now!

                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              So strange, our unfolded corners were always placed in the lower right.

                                          3. While I cna't bring myself to go to the extremes above, I have to admit to an OCD like obsession with having things match. I have enough table and glassware to cover the max I can seat in my dining room. It may only get used once or twice a year but I don't have to fill out my placesettings with Flintstone jelly jar glasses.

                                            None of my guests would be freaked by a fork or napkin out of place, most of them wouldn't notice.

                                            1. As jfood has stated many times, meals are about the company first and the food second. These "rules" do not even move the meter in jfood-land. Jfood likes a well set table, and has some guidance when setting a table, but these seem way over the top.

                                              And to the OP question does it bug jfood when he sees this in a print ad? nope. jfood barely looks at print ads.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: jfood

                                                Jay, of course dinner companions are always formost! Who has said otherwise? I really feel like I have done a good job as cook and hostess when the afterdinner conversation goes on until two or three in the morning. Love it! And a fun way to learn a lot of new things.

                                              2. I thought this post was fascinating. It's interesting to learn about rituals (and their rules) which have fallen almost completely out of use. I'm curious to know more about the type of people who are able to keep such things alive. I have a hard enough time trying to get a timely RSVP out of most of my friends. All of this detail would be completely lost on them. To the OP, on what kinds of occasions do you set a table (and cook a meal!) this formally?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: keslacye

                                                  Interesting questions, and I can only answer for myself. I do think much of my love for detail comes from my lifelong involvement in art. I won my first art competition at age five, and studied formally and informally for about the next... Well, I guess you never really stop studying things that interest you. It just becomes "second nature."

                                                  And this plays into my lifelong interest in table settings. My mother, bless her heart, was a "slap it on any old way" cook. Yet all of the rest of the family -- aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends -- all set their tables with care and proper placement. And it looked so lovely! But at home, I would get knots in my stomach when my mother would put out five different china patterns, much of it chipped pottery, and mismatched silverware when we had really lovely china and silver she refused to use! Bugged me. But in another thread somewhere on these boards, I have also relayed the true tale of my mother kidnapping my lovely Christmas goose stuffed with hand peeled chestnuts and Grand Marnier dressing, and taking it to her house to make goose tacos! Yup! That's my mom! Or was, RIP.

                                                  When I was in junior high, it was required that we take one semester of cooking and one semester of sewing as "home economics." Not a bad plan. At least people learned how to feed themselves. And as part of those classes, we were taught how to set a table. My teacher's favorite mantra was, "It doesn't take any longer to set a table properly than it does to do it wrong." That stuck with me. Setting the table became as natural as putting oil in a frying pan.

                                                  Then, when my first husband and I lived in Turkey, my first housekeeper vanished, absconding with two pieces of incredible jewelry and my best designer "little black dress." Happened while I was out of town for two weeks. In those days, you had to have a housekeeper because there was no commissary on base, and I was warned when I first arrived that the housekeeper had to go to the Turkish butcher shops for me if I ever wanted to eat meat again. LOL! We raised our own beef on occasion when I was growing up, but having a housekeeper is not an unattractive thing!

                                                  So a dear Turkish friend who owned the three finest restaurant/supper clubs in town heard of my plight, and brought me his chef de cuisine as a housekeeper. Fatma had been with Sureya for about twenty years, and for the last three had been hounding him she was tired of cooking for the public and wanted to go into private service where she could cook more creatively. Have I mentioned that I have lived a charmed life? Fatma Ucal was fantastic! At the time, the only woman chef in all of Turkey. She was a master of French and Byzantine/Ottoman cuisine. And for three years she taught me how to cook! And she taught me that the table was the setting the food was presented in, so if you take pride in what you cook, you must also take pride in how you set your table. Made sense to me.

                                                  Besides teaching me many classic dishes of both cuisines, Fatma also taught me how to create original dishes using basic techniques and premises from the classics. Consequently I don't use many recipes today. But I do still just automatically set the table the way I've been setting it all of my life. After so many years, some things just become second nature, like not wearing a sweater inside out, or brushing your teeth before you go to bed.... Or setting the table!

                                                  As to what occasions I cook and set a meal "this formally?" I don't think of it as formal. But I do love using an egg cup if I have soft boiled eggs for breakfast for example, and placemats are always just a cupbaord away. There's an old saying, I think it originated in Japan, "You eat first with your eyes." I guess that appeals to the artist in me.

                                                  Edit Note: But I am always hurt if guests misinterpret me doing my thing my way as a "competition." It just never occurs to me to judge or evaluate how other people do things, including setting their table. I'm always grateful and flattered that they think enough of me to invite me over and make a meal for me! I've had several chef friends in my life, and that's a common plight. None judge others based on how they cook or serve, but because they are good cooks, people rarely invite them for dinner. If people only knew! I guess in this case, it's "Always the bride and never the bridesmaid."

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    Yup Caroline1, you have mentioned that you have a blessed life and I am sure most of us on this board have wonderful lives too, however, there are those, like myself who live quite differently than you do.
                                                    See, after spending many years as a kayak instructor/fitness professional/wilderness guide, I have really downsized my life (and now many of my friends have all my beautiful table settings and other formal dining goodies) and I no longer have traditional place settings-and I don't miss my formal ones AT ALL!!!
                                                    Now, you'll find my tables set with small, beautiful cutting boards as plates for each guest, some lovingly handmade from people I've met on my travels, and strange little place settings and usually chopsticks since I have tons of chopsticks but not enough flatware to host more than 4 (and there are usually welcomed "unexpected guests".)
                                                    SInce I've started hosting these informal "formal" sit down dinners, I have gotten the greatest honor of having some friends call and say: "I've stolen your idea for a beautiful table setting and got some little boards and my guests loved it".
                                                    Y'a know, I've dinned at some of the finest restaurants and I do love all the attention to detail of a formal table setting, but a well thought out, considerately arranged table with great food and friends can be as awe inspiring as one who bought the whole package deal and followed the directions to the T.

                                                    1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                      You know, tatertotsrock, I'm amused at how many people, like you, assume that I live that way! Yes, I do put the fork on the left of a plate and knives and spoons on the right, but I don't have a cream soup spoon or footed cream soup bowl in the house! No sterling silver! And the closest thing I own to an oyster fork is a stainless steel pickle fork. I think I still remember how to play a tune or two on a piano (haven't tried in years!), but there is no piano in the house either.

                                                      I do like your style of table setting and practice it myself on occasion. Creative table setting is a joy to behold, but I've run out of storage space so don't have as much on hand as I probably would if room wasn't an issue. I just don't feel I can freely dispose of much fine china and other family heirlooms. My grandson can do that someday, if he wishes, but there are things I feel I'm holding in trust. Assuming they don't get broken!

                                                      When you cook creatively, creative table setting is just a natural progression.

                                                2. My guess is that the reason we don't see formal settings in media is the mainstreaming of food and cooking. Magazines and cooking shows have an interest in making sure that they appeal to the widest possible audience rather than turn potential buyers off by traditions that may be intimidating to a wide swath of the population.

                                                  Besides, this particular table setting tradition came out of the Victorian era. Wouldn't I be equally traditional if I choose to eat with just a knife and my fingers, ala Elizabethan England? Or chopsticks and soup spoons, as mentioned above? Why do we chose to honor (and perpetuate) one system over another? Personally, I appreciate a minimally set table that highlights the food and drink and experience.

                                                  I learned all sorts of rules about table setting, both from my mother and from a cooking class I took in high school. I enjoy them more as a matter of trivia (and that slightly snooty satisfaction of knowing that I could set a formal table if I wanted). It doesn't bother me at all if all the table settings I see are either casual or non-traditional. In fact, if I went to a dinner with that much cutlery around me, I would wonder about the waste of water and resources to clean all the extra dishes when a much simpler setting would have sufficed.

                                                  At a certain level, it's a matter of taste and social trend. Kudos to you for having such a wealth of knowledge on the topic. At a certain point, though, I'm afraid this knowledge will be more relevant to a historian than to an average diner.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: assorted

                                                    The table and its manners are more and more relevant to the average diner than they used to be because more of them are being asked to the table.
                                                    In our upwardly mobile society, anyone can make it to the top and needs to know how to act once they get there. Bill Gates was a college drop-out and look where he is. Corporations and law firms are hiring etiquette consultants for young associates who have to be taught what they haven't learned as they grew up.
                                                    Many years ago, it's unlikely that most of us would have been invited to a formal meal, but increasingly, ordinary people are invited, not only to the White House, but to official functions at all levels.
                                                    I can't tell you how often I see people at these events unsure of which bread plate is theirs, the direction to pass the salad dressing, how to hold their knife and fork, or even how to cut their food. They start eating while the speaker is still addressing the audience, stack their plates when they finish, and commit all sorts of egregious faux pas. I'm sure in some business settings it costs them jobs or promotions.

                                                    It may seem a senseless ritual but it's one you must follow out of respect for the occasion. These same people would probably take offense at someone not following the rules in a soccer match.

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      Othere may have mentioned this further along, but Making Sense, you JUST beat me to the punch. I have watched colleagues and juniors stumble over simple etiquette rules in business dinner settings. They feel uncomfortable and they ARE judged and jobs and promotions ARE lost over such things. It may all be old-fashioned, but it does happen.

                                                      In our town, there is a discrete (and very expensive) service available to teach corporate execs and wannabe's how to manage the formal dinner party, the cocktail networking opportunity and all that. It does still matter.

                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                        <<In our upwardly mobile society, anyone can make it to the top and needs to know how to act once they get there>>

                                                        have you ever watched donald trump actually eat food?
                                                        my mutts had better table manners when they first came from the pound.
                                                        apparently knowing <<how to act>>.. is not something that <<needs>> to be done once a person gets there.
                                                        since trump was born into money, it doesn't even seem to be something that is deemed to be required training for rich kids.
                                                        do you think warren buffet knows squat about table settings?
                                                        how about jerry buss? do you think he would have recognized silverware misplacement at all?

                                                        maybe all the rich people didn't get your memo about what they <<need>> to know?

                                                    2. As a contrast take a look at this site for a Korean Girls Middle School. The bottom right is a link to the way Korean girls are taught to set traditional Korean tables.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: hannaone

                                                        What a *great* link! It would never have occurred to me that each dish would be specifically placed. But I particularly loved Natural Dyeing as an extracurriclar activity. Now why wasn't that available when I was in school!

                                                        1. re: hannaone

                                                          Thank you, Hannaone. What a great website! I'm now smiling to myself over someone's earlier remark on of how much easier it is to set a (presumably Korean) table with "just" a pair of chopsticks and a spoon. True, the eating utensiles are greatly simplified, but oh my word, the number of dishes! And all those centuries without dishwashers! '-)

                                                          The photography at the website is beautiful, especially of the different table settings of food. Again, that raises my curiosity. WHO des all the cooking? The website makes it clear that some tables are set for two diners, but are the five dish and nine dish tables examples of an individual table for one person? They each have chopsticks and a spoon for one. And if that much food is presented for just one person, does anyone ever eat it all?

                                                          I have a shortcut to the website on file and will be spending more time looking it over. But for the moment, cooking and setting a table for a full western style formal dinner seems like a walk in the park by comparison!

                                                          And the big nosey question.... How often do you cook like that? It's amazing. Just amazing. I think I would be an instant convert to corn dogs. Only requires one chopstick and no dishes! '-)

                                                          Thank you!


                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            The five and nine dish can be for 1 to 4 diners. The small dishes are refilled as needed. For one person the amount in each dish is small, with larger amounts added for additional persons.
                                                            In a private home without hired help, the main dish cooking is usually done by the eldest able woman, assisted by by the senior daughter/daughter in law, then other women in the household work on the small dishes (There can be up to 4 generations in a traditional family home).
                                                            It helps that many of the ban chan (the pickled/preserved) dishes are prepared in larger quantities, then used over the course of quite a few meals. The Namul portion (Fresher, usually wild, vegetables) are prepared one day ahead or on the same day.
                                                            Most Koreans in Korea (can't say what is common in Korean/American households) eat this way, although not with strict attention to placement, and will probably use the smaller 5 dish setting for most meals.
                                                            As far as my family, we eat this way only on the holidays, Korean and American both, and our daily meals are a blend of Korean and American.

                                                        2. No, it doesn't bother me.
                                                          Keep in mind, many cultures have completely different traditions for setting a table that are absolutley acceptable.
                                                          Also, when a photographer gets to a location, sometimes not everything is available for the shoot, or too many bits of shiny sparly faltware can mess with lightling, and most importantly, most of the photographers are photographers and not Emily Post or a trained butler/housekeeper so how can you fault them for having no clue.
                                                          Some people jsut set the table the only way they've seen it done.
                                                          I can say that about 75% of the people I know have never experienced a traditional formal table setting.
                                                          On another note...
                                                          We must also put some of these table setting tradtions into perspective.
                                                          "Back in the day" ladies of the house had nothing else to do but "manage a home". Now, I mean no disrespect by the way that sounds, but the times were different and women had no choice but to keep a home and manage "the help"...imagine, if any woman took any pride in their only job (keeping house) she would for sure hold herself to some pretty strict traditional codes to show her peers her expertise in keeping a home in order and hosting any functions revolving around a meal.
                                                          When one has nothing else to do but fixate on table settings, they sure as hell better have a perfectly set table.
                                                          In this day and age, thing are not so formal and golly, I am sure happy about that.When I want and ulimate formal dining experience, I will head back to Joel Robuchon and put my bread on the table cloth....they have very pretty table cloths,

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                            Have you ever browsed "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management"? I have an 1861 copy of the "new" edition, re-edited by her husband. Very handy if I need to know what a footman's or a scullery maid's duties were. Some of the recipes are still very good. Just none call for a KitchenAid or a Cuisinart. Life was strenuous back then, which is probably why they could sock away all that food. They burned calories like a freight train burns coal!

                                                            I can still remember a couple of Thanksgivings at my great grandmother's house when I was three and four. She was a tiny little thing. I loved her dearly and was fascinated by her because she was the adult closest to my size. We would arrive at her house early in the morning so my mother could "help." Mom did things like peel potatoes and a few carrots. My great grandmother made applesauce from scratch, caught, killed, plucked and dressed the turkey all by herself, made the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the pumpkin pies, the mince pies, and every "trimming' known to man basically by herself and all on Thanksgiving day because her ice box was only big enough to hold a couple of quarts of milk, a bowl of gelatin and a block of ice. And every Monday, did all of the laundry with a washboard in a tub by herself. They could afford help, but she liked doing things herself so she knew they were "done right!" That lady worked! But that was the standard of her day. I'm sure your great grandmother (and everyone else's) did the same.

                                                            My god, I love electricity! '-)

                                                            1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                              Published misinformation does bother me. If someone is paid to do a professional job, ignorance is no excuse for flubbing. He should either turn the job down, or turn to a knowledgeable consultant for expertise.

                                                            2. Just a note to make sure it is understood that all of the silverware defined is never placed on the table at the same time! I can see it now: a 20 foot long dining table to seat eight! The "rule of three" is always followed. Yup. A "rule." Never more than three of anything on the table at one time. But anyone who has all that stuff would decide what was to go on the table after the menu was finalized. No sense setting out an oyster fork if you're serving pate!

                                                              36 Replies
                                                              1. re: Fru

                                                                Put me down as someone who isn't bothered. Since I don't hold to any strict rules in my table settings for guests, I wouldn't know a proper setting in the media if my life depended on it.

                                                                Rules are made to be broken. Life is made to be lived.

                                                                No, I couldn't care less about table settings. Now the food! That's another story altogether.

                                                                  1. re: dolores

                                                                    That's a very slippery slope.
                                                                    What if you went to an expensive restaurant and none of the tableware matched? Just cheap stuff from the restaurant supply house in the wholesale market? Plastic tumblers. Jelly glasses for the wine. Paper napkins? Ahhh! But the food! Worth every penny?

                                                                    You have to know the rules before you can break them creatively or appreciate that skill.

                                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                                      why? people 'break' rules all the time w/out even knowing there are rules. I see people playing with chopsticks like they are playing the drums, or worse yet, they stick their chopsticks in the rice bowl, straight up. Do they know the rules or the meaning of this, probably not, but I don't go around telling them otherwise, unless I am dining with them, I just let them know the meaning of their faux pais (sp?). But still, not a big deal to me, just and fyi as I would like others to tell me, but I don't expect them to change unless they choose to.

                                                                      1. re: justagthing

                                                                        but you would not expect a magazine in Japan to have a picture of a table set with chopsticks sticking out of the bowl, or four place settings.

                                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                          a mistake is ok, but the chopsticks sticking up is actually taboo in culture, whereas a mistake in placement in western place setting is not, i am assuming. please let me know if there are any taboos or what as I don't know and have never been told. btw, chopsticks up represent death.

                                                                          1. re: justagthing

                                                                            exactly why i picked the chopsticks example. As far as strong taboos, we have largely forgotten them in "the west", but as mentioned in one of the posts, a knife is set with the cutting edge facing the plate, makes it hard to casually slash the person sitting next to you. The hostess eats first, indicating that the food is safe to eat and not poisoned. As table stabbings and poisoined dinners are somewhat of a rarity these days..... nuf said.

                                                                        2. re: justagthing

                                                                          Actually the chopsticks in the rice bowl should be brought to peoples attention - at least if they do business with Asian companies.
                                                                          An American businessman lost a multi million dollar deal with a Korean company while dining at my former restaurant because he "didn't know the rules".

                                                                          1. re: justagthing

                                                                            Sorry, but Jfood has to state a position contrary to the "rules are meant to be broken." Rules are NOT meant to be broken, and if broken consequences ensue. That's one of the major issues facing us, people are so self-centered it's "me first, others be damned."

                                                                            Jfood likes the decorum and surroundings at a good restaurant. If jfood is spending hard earned money, the restaurant is a mid- to high- price point (let's call it $25-40 entrees), jfood expects certain items from both the restaurant and fellow patrons.

                                                                            The restaurant should have nice dishes, utensils and glasses; trained and pleasant staff and of course good food. The patrons should have respect for the staff and the other patrons, dress appropriately and understand they are in a social setting with others. They are not in their family room or a locker room, this is a restaurant,please respect the environment and others.

                                                                            Last night (a saturday night) the jfoods were eating at a nice $25-35 entree restaurant. More than half the people showed up wearing sneakers (this is New England, not California). The lady at the next table had a running suit and sneakers. This is a saturday night out. Come on people show some decorum.

                                                                            This may get a bunch of "come on jfood relax a little" and that's OK, he fully expects that. But there are many of us who would like people to remember "restaurant manners" that the jfoods taught the little jfoods.

                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                              so was there a dress code at this place? if not, then what is wrong with wearing sneakers? ok, from CA here, so it does not seem so unusual. Heck, shorts and flip flops aren't unusual for us here near the beach. I mean, I will respect a dress code, but if there is not one or it is not stated, then I see no problem. I suppose I usually don't let others bother me in that regards. Now, if they were in my face or so loud as to be disturbing the ambiance, that is another issue altogether.

                                                                              1. re: justagthing

                                                                                Yup, as jfood stated east coast.

                                                                                But here's the issue and jfood realizes that he is a bit old-school here. We have five senses, sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Let's leave the last out because if the food does not taste good then everyone agrees the restaurant experience is bad.

                                                                                Now onto the others. As you mentioned boisterous is not appealing and jfood agrees, likewise jfood thinks you would agree that smelly is also not an acceptable form of presence in a restaurant. But for some reason, eye-appeal gets a free pass. Why? When someone shows up with dirty sneakers and less than dressy clothes on a saturday night dinner, why the free pass?

                                                                                Yup, it bothers jfood, absolutely not to the level of the noise and the smell, since he can basically ignore the dress but not the latter two. But sloppy should have a standard as well.

                                                                                Curious on any input.

                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                  ah, now sloppy is another issue, kinda sounds like dirty and disheveled clothes. Here by the beach, it is CA casual and usually the flip flops and shorts are very much a look that still is put together. When someone wears jeans and sneakers, we're usually talking $200 pair of jeans and shoes that match or surpass that price. So it is not off putting in regards to 'sight' so not really a free pass, I just guess out here the look is still put together.

                                                                                  1. re: justagthing

                                                                                    Understood the "designer ripped" jeans and the like.

                                                                                    Jfood is speaking to Big Box running suit and dirty Nikes on a couple that has never seen the inside of a gym. Just strikes me as a bit disrespectful to the environ. Not put together but thrown together.

                                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                                      we don't really see that much of that type of 'look' here by the beach, but then again it is OC/LA beaches. LOL on the Nikes that have never seen a gym.

                                                                                      1. re: justagthing

                                                                                        When I lived in Del Mar (CA beach city), it used to crack me up to see a group of ten or twelve young (presumably) wives come into a nice restaurant for lunch and half of them would be dressed in VERY expensive "tennis togs." But if you were seated close enough to hear any of the conversation (and it was often unavoidable), you knew they didn't have a clue which end of a racquet has strings in it.

                                                                                        There have been a couple of guys in jeans and a tuxedo jacket at the Oscars. Gotta confess I sit and hope they trip and break their Oscar if they win. '-)

                                                                                        And for the record, I'm a fifth generation Californian.

                                                                                      2. re: jfood

                                                                                        jfood, I couldn't agree more. Nothing chaps me more than dressing for a nice evening out at an upper-end eatery, and having people come in wearing cutoffs and flip flops. Believe me, I'm far from the Fashion Police, but I agree with how you put it - it's disrespectful to the environment.

                                                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                                                          I have had many meals in many restaurants in every New England state for a very long time, and I have never seen any one dressed in sneaks & sweats in any upper end restaurant. Now, in the summer, at various beaches, out of doors, dress is a little more casual. But not to the extent of 200$ ripped jeans and Air Jordans.

                                                                                          1. re: Gio

                                                                                            This is getting more and more common in big cities that are also tourist destinations. People don't even bring clothes that are suitable for changing into for supper at upper end restaurants and then are surprised when they are required to wear a jacket or feel under-dressed. They are on vacation, after all.
                                                                                            In Washington, the National Mall from the Capital through the Museum area, White House, etc. is also the business district and tourists go to many of the top restaurants in shorts and sneakers. It used to be an insult to say somebody was dressed like a tourist but now half the world thinks it's OK to go out to eat like that.

                                                                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                              heh...trying dining in Orlando.

                                                                                              Husband had a conference there last year. We decided to give Jiko a try...it's on Disney property....South African place with lots of accolades.

                                                                                              The meal was wonderful, the room comfortable yet elegant, the service impeccable...and the bill reflected the quality and setting. ...except for all the patrons in sandals, disney tshirts and ball caps having just come from the parks. Apparenlty no one could be bothered to shower and change before a high end dinner...

                                                                                              I'm not one to really get uptight about dress codes, particularly in a resort environment but we were REALLY thrown seeing others in the restaurant.

                                                                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                Yikes! I have not seen that here in Boston. The Ritz Carleton here had a very strict dress code. NO jeans. Period.
                                                                                                That was relaxed a bit when so-called designer jeans came into being, but still a shirt, tie and blazer/jacket had to be worn.
                                                                                                What's the point of going to a nice up scale restaurant if other diners look as if they just came in from the gym.....Bah!

                                                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                  I will now be looking at those who dress even more casually than I do in restaurants with a much more forgiving eye.

                                                                                                  1. re: dolores

                                                                                                    Orthodoxy is a powerful psychological driver for most people. I really could not care less how others are dressed when I go out to eat. I also really don't care what strangers think of me when I go out to dinner when it comes to my choice of attire.

                                                                                                    The problem is that there is an overwhelming urge for some to try and dictate "taste" to others. You either fall for it, or you recognize it for what it is, an attempt to exert control over our freedom to choose for ourselves.

                                                                                                      1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                        Gee, I usually agree with you, Servorg, but on this one I think you're way off base. The problem is further complicated by the fact that many people today may not have a clue as to what the impact is of their disregard for tradition.

                                                                                                        I'll share a true story in order to offer an example. A neighbor of my mother's was complaining loudly about how rude Italians had been on her recent visit to Italy with her two young boys. I asked her how they had been rude. She said that she was traveling on a limited budget, and put together a picnic lunch for her and her boys, then had gone to an outdoor restaurant in San Marco's Square, where she had seated herself and the boys at a white clothed table in a roped off section. She was righteously indignant that the "rude waiter" told her that she and the boys could not eat there. "It's not like we were stopping anyone else from eating at that table. That section was closed!" Talk about an Ugly American! I have an American friend who wears tee shirts overseas with a Canadian mapleleaf on them. She says it saves her a lot of guilt by association.

                                                                                                        When you disregard the dress code for high end restaurants, you are showing total disregard for other's enjoyment of their evening out. If you're only willing to dress for Pizza Hut, for God's sake, GO to Pizza Hut!

                                                                                                        But I will also add that I fault the restaurants for not enforcing the dress code as much as I fault the diners who disregard it. If the diners were refused seating a time or two, they'd either dress properly or go somewhere else. In either case, the diners who do follow dress code would be happier. It's not all that difficult.

                                                                                        2. re: jfood

                                                                                          More than half the people showed up wearing sneakers (this is New England, not California)
                                                                                          Aha! so that only happens here? I thought so.
                                                                                          Just exactly what does that mean?
                                                                                          This is New England, not California....because some showed up improperly dressed at the restaurant you dined, does not make California at fault for her inappropriate dress or lack of wardrobe. Unless she was indeed from CA, then maybe you can say that. I was wondering about why this restaurant allowed such dress, if the attire of said persons was that offensive and noticeable, was there not a dress code?

                                                                                          I don't have to be in California to observe people that wear clothing that is out of place for the restaurant or setting. Dining in San Francisco, Napa, and around the lower penninsula at some rather nice places for the past 35 years, I've noticed that there are tourists that frequent our area and sure, they will decide to eat at a nice restaurant dressed in the attire for which they wore that day while site seeing. I really don't think that just because I spend a certain dollar amount for my meal has anything to do with what another person decides to wear.

                                                                                          I can say that I have never worn a sweat suit or running suit to any restaurant out dining or getting cocktails ever.

                                                                                          1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                                            Sorry if the syntax gave that impression, but California, nor any other state, was at fault for this attire.This would be sloppy and disrespectful in all 50 states.

                                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                                              Ok. I feel better. Thank you.

                                                                                              Intentions would have to come into play before you could label it "disrespectful" but yes perhaps sloppy. But you should discuss that with the restaurant. I don't know what policies that restaurant has, but I know the nicer restaurants would not allow dirty clothing, bagging and sagging, bare midriffs, or tee shirts. Most of them clearly post it or host will say something. The rest, well I just don't think other than tourists that get caught up in their day of fun, do it on purpose.Maybe the lady had a chemo treatment, or physical therapy.

                                                                                              I remember I did have to wear tennis shoes and sweats after lower back surgery for quite some time...like months. Gosh, maybe I did wear them out to a restaurant after all....

                                                                                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                                                In her later years (mid-90's) my grandmother had pretty bad arthritis on some days depending on the weather. Sometimes a (nice) sweatsuit and slip on tennis shoes was the most she could manage. Because she also had balance issues, sport/tennis shoes were what she wore pretty much everywhere., and she was NOT apologetic about it.

                                                                                                I have a feeling that is not what is being discussed here, and is pretty far from the OP's posting. The most important of manners is forgiveness and accommodation.

                                                                                              2. re: jfood

                                                                                                I can only hope that maybe these people who show up "underdressed" were from out of town and had lost their luggage.
                                                                                                I have had my luggage show up on the day of my departure from Florida 2x...thank goodness it was Florida because my pretty cotton skirt in my carry on worked with my pretty black flip flops and luckily the tank tops I wear to kayak in look pretty snazzy and worked with the skirt for 5 days...uggg! Had I been in NY and lost my luggage, I don't know what I would have done because I do not have enough money to buy a new outfit after spending money on a trip and most of my trips involve a knock down drag out fine dining evening and a lot of outdoor activities...I usually only bring 1 pretty evening outfit.
                                                                                                After the Florida issues, I've made it a point to bring my 1 nice outfit in my carryone since it's less expensive to replace fitness/outdoor clothing than an outfit for dinner.

                                                                                        3. re: MakingSense

                                                                                          I wouldn't expect an expensive restaurant to have non-matching silverware. But would I care? Unless it were dirty, no.

                                                                                          Would it influence how I felt about the food if the food were outstanding and I was happy with the food and drink? No.

                                                                                          As a sidenote, my deal breakers are bad and/or rushed service, so I honestly don't care about the table settings.

                                                                                          1. re: dolores

                                                                                            Slippery slope if you don't care...
                                                                                            What if the very efficient waiter just brought a basketful of clean flatware and said, "Here's some knives and forks and stuff. There's some napkins in there too. Since everybody ordered different things, you can use what makes you happy. Enjoy."

                                                                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                              If I got my drink made to my specifications on my timetable and the food was delivered in the same manner and I enjoyed every morsel and the parking was free and the server was reasonably friendly and the prices were not outrageous -- I wouldn't care if the cutlery were wrapped in a paper napkin with a paper napkin ring. Oh, as long as I were able to get a second napkin. Another of my deal breakers, I have to have a second napkin.

                                                                                              I am finding it interesting that this is something of such importance to others.

                                                                                              1. re: dolores

                                                                                                An excellent explanation of why McDonald's 2007 net income is up by 12.7%. Free parking. Good value. On the customer's timetable - almost 35% are open 24 hours a day.
                                                                                                They give everybody all the napkins they want.

                                                                                                1. re: MakingSense


                                                                                                  Not quite true. McDonald's will announce their earnings on January 28th, eight days from today.

                                                                                                  Your numbers are correct but are not for 2007 or the first nine-months of 2007 but are only 3Q07 (~90 days) as compared to only 3Q06 (~90 days), if you compare full nine months of 2007 versus full nine months of 2006 you will see net income is actually down from $2.3Bn in 2006 to $1.1Bn. in 2007 a 50% decrease.

                                                                                                  Their five key drivers are "people, products, place, price and promotion"

                                                                                                  Just wanted to set the record correct. Hope that helps.

                                                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                    Sounds good to me.

                                                                                                    I find nothing wrong with McDonald's, or Burger King. They discovered a 'need' and fulfilled it. Good for them.

                                                                                                    Yes, aren't free parking and all the napkins you want wonderful????

                                                                                        4. re: Caroline1

                                                                                          That works fine, if one has a domestic staff of servers handy. Some people do not.


                                                                                        5. i have to say, if anything, these table setting rules become less relevant with time. i remember recently reading a new york times article about how more and more formal black tie dining in washington d.c. is being replaced with casual dinners or even buffets. there was a comment somewhere above about how with an upwardly mobile society we all need to learn these rules, but i would argue that the result of this in general seems to be that once "formal" occasions tend to take on a more casual tone.

                                                                                          on the other hand, a few months ago i was at a formal dinner as part of a conference, and about half the people at my table didn't know what to do with the fish knife. people don't know what to do with the plethora of flatware, and i can only assume that in another hundred years they will no longer be used.

                                                                                          40 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: nzach

                                                                                            What do you do with a fish knife?

                                                                                            1. re: ddavis

                                                                                              Um. You use it to 'cut' fish. It's got a very blunt edge, because most fish doesn't need a serrated or sharp knife. You use it together with the fish fork.

                                                                                              Hey, don't look at me funny. My godfather thought it to be a great idea to present me with parts of an entire set of silver tableware for 8 over the years, on birthdays and Xmases. Needless to say, as a child and later, teenager, I wasn't exactly stoked about having matching silverware.

                                                                                              Now, at the ripe age of *X* :-D I've really come to appreciate my silver set of 8:
                                                                                              - 'regular' forks, knives and spoons
                                                                                              - fish forks & knives
                                                                                              - dessert spoons
                                                                                              - icecream spoons
                                                                                              - coffee spoons
                                                                                              - cake forks
                                                                                              - mocca spoons (very tiny, never use 'em... till I get that really expensive espresso machine... anyone??)

                                                                                              Now if I only had a dining table/room that fit 8 people, the world would be perfect.

                                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                Well, since it's obvious you use a fish knife on fish, perhaps I should have said "what's the point?" Is it to give "the help" more to do? Seems to me a set of 8 "regular" forks, knives and spoons is perfectly sufficient. But then when one is from the sticks and knows no better, why should anyone else care what one thinks?

                                                                                                1. re: ddavis

                                                                                                  '8 "regular" forks, knives and spoons is perfectly sufficient.'

                                                                                                  It is. You are absolutely correct.

                                                                                                  'why should anyone else care what one thinks?'

                                                                                                  One shouldn't.

                                                                                                  1. re: ddavis

                                                                                                    There often is a point. Granted, much of Victorian silver took the point to the extreme, but much of that age was extreme. Our accoutrement's, or lack of, are constantly changing reflections of our lifestyles & societies norms & fads. Things change much more rapidly now - hence (IMHO) much of the differing views expressed on this thread.
                                                                                                    That said, there are several "points" which you may find relevant regardless of the formality or lack of in your personal style. Often the implement is designed to do a better job than a standard fork/knife/spoon. A quick example is a grapefruit spoon - makes the job quicker, easier & much less messy. Ditto for an iced tea spoon. There is also an intrinsic satisfaction in a well designed object. It feels better to use, it is easier to use since it is "balanced" to fit the body in conjunction with use, and the visual & tactile aesthetics further the delight. Even if a person is not cognitive of the nuances, they all contribute to the gestalt of the experience. A clunker and a roadster will both get you there, but the experience in the rides vary quite a bit. Both have their time & place - but being aware & appreciative of the differences heightens your experience.

                                                                                                    1. re: ddavis

                                                                                                      You neither need a fish knife nor do you *need* to care what anyone else thinks.

                                                                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                        hmmm... I'm uncomfortable when people tell other people what they need or don't need, but be that as it may, let me give some examples of situiations in which it may be extremely useful to know which fork to use or how to use a fish knife.

                                                                                                        At ceretain levels and in certain sectors of the job market, "social graces" are critical. Think about it a minute. If you owned a very large company, and the success of your business depended on pleasant social interactions by your employees with prospective clients, are you going to hire someone to work directly with those clients who doesn't have a clue about which fork to use in a restaurant, or who opens the door for whom, then hand that prospective employee an expense account and a company credit card? Or are you going to try to find employees who are able to handle themselves with grace and charm in any situation?

                                                                                                        Most bosses in today's world do check out prospective and even current employees. Maybe take them to lunch. Find out about them first hand. Do they drink too much when the tab goes on the expense account? Do they know their way around a menu? Do they know which fork to use? Are they gracious and thoughtful of the people they're dining with?

                                                                                                        These things may not be important when you're hiring a stock boy, or a fork lift operator for the warehouse, but when you're hiring a sales representative or any other employee who will be representing your company by entertaining and interacting with prospective customers it's quite a different picture. These are critical social skills that you, as the owner of the company, are going to go out of your way to make sure your company representatives posess. It's just good business practice.

                                                                                                        There are a lot of other times when one's "social graces" are the key to gaining a desired goal that we don't think much about, but where "the wrong fork" can result in not gaining the goal we're after. It could be membership in a club. It could be your child's acceptance into a specific school. It could even be something as basic and simple as making friends with someone you would like to get to know better.

                                                                                                        People who refuse to recognize these contingencies are locking themselves out. Why do that to yourself?

                                                                                                        1. re: Caroline1


                                                                                                          How true, how true. Jfood interviews and hires from top graduate schools and you would be amazed at the sheer lack of social grace from some of these "best and brightest." Many have lost the opportunity in the "interview lunch."

                                                                                                          Likewise jfood had mentored many on how to act in meetings, lunches, even at corporate outings. Frightening is a good word. Then when you travel overseas, you see the vast difference.

                                                                                                          So it is important to know which fork, which knife, etc. and please do not take your bread and start scooping the soup from the dish because it's thick. Yes jfood has even seen that.

                                                                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                                                                            I do many "etiquette" dinners and lunches for colleges and universities in the Southeast, and jfood, I couldn't agree more about the lack of social graces present in many people today. What frightens me more than a lack of purely table manners, though, is a lack of *any* manners, period.

                                                                                                            Back to the topic at hand, though, the PhD candidate who dipped his half-eaten biscuit into the gravy boat comes to mind...he then used his teaspoon (which he had already used to stir sugar into his iced tea, licking the spoon afterward) to fish out the crumbs that he left behind.

                                                                                                          2. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                            Somebody I used to date told about a dinner with a prospective consultant at an exclusive Italian restaurant (in Italy), that included shaved fresh truffles over the dishes, something I'd just about kill to experience. Anyway, the prospective consultant insisted on ketchup to top off his dish, on top of the truffles. He didn't get the job, needless to say, and I don't even know how he used the place settings but I think he was probably wrong a lot of the time.

                                                                                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                              <<the prospective consultant insisted on ketchup to top off his dish, on top of the truffles.>>

                                                                                                              Oops! Even I, from the Deep South, would reconsider that option.

                                                                                                              Not that long ago, as a "comp'ed dish," to make up for a little mis-step, we got a wonderful Risotto, with freshly shaved Black Truffle, and it was excellent. [I will not comment on the size of that Black Truffle, as some on CH pounce on the size, and decry that as not being indicative of quality.]

                                                                                                              For us, Truffles CAN be a great addition to many dishes, and can change things to a high degree.


                                                                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                  Those are the "formal" non squeeze bottles, so I'd have to say absolutely! ;-D>

                                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                    That's hysterical . . .especially the napkin service.

                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                      Some art director's notion of a casual "classy" dinner service.

                                                                                                                      1. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                        It's actually a very rich guy's idea of informal dinning. It's from Hearst Castle maintained by the California Parks.


                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                          One of the stories about Hearst and his proclivity for collecting things revolves around an English silver service he came across in a catalog. He liked what he saw and decided to buy it, but the collection had vanished.

                                                                                                                          So Hearst hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to search for the service. After 2 years of full time searching the head detective reported to Hearst that they had tracked down the service.

                                                                                                                          It seems that Hearst had owned it all the time and it was in one of his warehouses, still in its original packing crates.

                                                                                                                2. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                  Quite correct, linguafood.

                                                                                                                  The OP asked and one of the 'permitted' answers, I believe, is that I have a laissez faire attitude towards rules when it comes to table settings. I don't believe this attitude defines a person.

                                                                                                                  I may know how to set a proper table and may be able to use all the knives and forks at a proper table setting, but I am not particularly interested in either. Who is to say those who do either are more correct?

                                                                                                                3. re: ddavis

                                                                                                                  People who ask "what's the point" and refer to "the help," rarely get the chance to leave the "sticks" very often. You may not care what anyone thinks, but the world gets tired of that attitude pretty quickly. Even those actually from the backwoods, without formal education, understand respect and that there are situations requiring different types of behaviors. When you don't know what they are, you learn them, just as you learn other skills needed to get along with others.

                                                                                                                  You may never need more than a plastic spork to eat your carry-out or you may end up working for the World Health Organizations and have to wield a fish knife at a stuffy dinner you'd rather not attend.
                                                                                                                  I hope the success of a poverty project never depends on what someone thinks of someone who doesn't care about that.

                                                                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                    For the record, I actually have been to stuffy WHO dinners, and have never ever seen a fish knife on the table. I also have full time "help" and have never set the table with more than five pieces of silver (2 forks, 2 spoons, a knife).

                                                                                                                  2. re: ddavis

                                                                                                                    Slightly an aside, but on topic of utensils used with fish, my husband and I just finished dinner and I, for once at home, actually wished that I had sauce spoons for our fish dish:


                                                                                                                    They were in the place settings at Bouley on Friday, and are a very useful shape - shallow enough to "pick up" sauce that is served on a plate.

                                                                                                                    By the way - from what I gather - and this may have been alluded to below, fish knives and forks are, among some, considered parvenu (or so I am told by friends who know some in the British aristocracy - yes far I field I know).

                                                                                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                      Some British consider them declassé, terribly bourgeois, etc., but then they're pretty commonly given to diners who order fish in France, even in pretty ordinary places which have stainless steel restaurant supply variety sets. The British vs. the French. What's new?
                                                                                                                      Of course, Mappin and Webb, (by Appt. to H.M. The Queen and H. R. H. The Prince of Wales), the British silver company and jeweler, have "fish eaters," as they call the set of fish knife and fork, with all their silver services. So who knows?

                                                                                                                  3. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                    Do you mean the small spoons meant for espresso? They're perfect for the tiny cups.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                      I think the mocha spoons are even smaller than the espresso/demitasse ones.

                                                                                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                        The smallest spoons I have are those used in old fashioned individual salt cellars. They're about 1/2 the size of a demitasse spoon.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                          Spoons, right? Yes, the ones I have are really bitty.

                                                                                                                        2. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                          You've got me wondering now. I always thought those small spoons I inherited from my great grandmother were demitasse spoons. But I'll bet they're not. I'll bet she had a chocolate pot and all the accoutrements. I'll have to ask my mother and see if she remembers.

                                                                                                                          1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                            And I meant that the bitty ones I have are salt spoons - but I seem to recall the mocha being smaller than demitasse - was looking online for the Christofle guide to the pieces, but can't find it.

                                                                                                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                              I just found out that Mocha spoons are 3 3/4" long. The salt spoons are smaller than that.
                                                                                                                              (Thanks Ruth, I edited that post... need more coffee, I guess.)

                                                                                                                              1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                                That makes sense then - my demitasse spoons are 4 inches.

                                                                                                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                  So I guess what I have are demitasse spoons as well. I wonder if there's any way to distinguish by the shape of the bowl, or is it just size?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                    I think they are otherwise the same - and I'm guessing that the sizes might differ w/ different manufacturers anyway.

                                                                                                                              2. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                Yes, understood. I have salt spoons. Just never heard of a mocha spoon so had no idea there was a difference between it and demitasse spoons. See, this is why it's kinda sad to lose this information. I have friends who collect silver flatware and are very knowledgeable about such esoterica. But for the most part it seems to have been my mother's generation (and she's 90) that was the last to have it at their fingertips (perhaps both literally and figuratively).

                                                                                                                                1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                  Oh yes, no one goes to that length to set The Perfect Table these days, and it's not surprising. Customs evolve just as language does. It's really a delight, however, to sit down at a beautiful table which the host or hostess has obviously made an effort to lay out in a pleasing way. It enhances the meal and relaxes the diners.

                                                                                                                                2. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                  Sometimes I find I can get more information from browsing replacements.com. Sometimes they have some very old silver patterns in the silver section. It's a satisfying method of procrastinating when there is something I really don't want to do.

                                                                                                                        3. re: ddavis

                                                                                                                          Actually, ddavis, back before Filet-o-fish, when people ate fish that hadn't been filleted and fixed up for them without skin and bones, like everybody expects now, fish was served with a fish knife and fork (or fish eaters as they are sometimes called in Britain.) You still get these routinely in France and some other countries.
                                                                                                                          The fish fork has narrow tines to make cutting the fish easier and the fish knife has a shaped blade with a sharp point used to work under any bones that the diner might find so that he might remove them. It makes it easier to remove the skin as well.
                                                                                                                          Here's what one looks like http://www.rubylane.com/shops/annwilh...
                                                                                                                          If you serve or get served whole fish or fish with bones, they are great to have. I have several sets and we use them all the time.

                                                                                                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                            I just returned from St. Barth where I had fish seven or eight times and each time I actually used a fish knife and fork. Seems a little pretentious when you're eating a filet.

                                                                                                                            1. re: ddavis

                                                                                                                              St. Barth = the FRENCH West Indies. I'm surprised they don't give you a fish knife and fork with a tuna sandwich.
                                                                                                                              Not pretentious. Just French.

                                                                                                                            2. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                              Oh how true. Last year jfood was in a country where the whole roasted fish for dinner was to die for. Only a knife, fork and spoon atthe table. jfood would have loved to see a fish knife. Would have saved numerous little bones in the mouth.

                                                                                                                          2. re: nzach

                                                                                                                            Nzach, that NYT article was referring to the changes in "entertaining" that have taken place recently in Washington since the passage of new ethics rules for both the House and Senate which just about outlawed sitdown dinners. Those haven't had any effect at all on the still quite formal diplomatic scene and private dinners. Even for large seated public dinners, especially charity events, there are clearances given by the Congressional Ethics committees and "ordinary" people attend these dinners, including young staff members from NGOs and non-profits. They are expected to dress properly and know how to conduct themselves well. Attendence is part of their jobs in many cases.
                                                                                                                            When I was much younger, I was sometimes clueless at a formal dinner over what to do with some odd utensil. Just watch the hostess or leader of the table. Do the same thing. Go slow, watch others and learn. It gets easier.

                                                                                                                          3. Caroline1. I was brought up learning proper table manners and I learned to set a formal table exactly how you have described it. We eat the "European" way. I was very lucky to inherit a complete set of sterling silver cutlery....lunch and dinner forks and knives,soup spoons, cream soup spoons etc. ....12 of each...and a set of Minton dishes....12 each of 4 different sizes of plates soup bowls, cream soup bowls etc.... I have enjoyed using these for 35 years and I do set a formal table for dinner parties. I also will mix and match these dishes with my contemporary ones for different courses. People not only appreciate good food but I think they like to see a nicely set table. I have never paid close attention to advertisements and magazine pictures showing set tables but I will now.

                                                                                                                            1. Caroline1, very interesting post, thank you. I don't generally get too caught up following rules of etiquette (except when it allows me to pick up asparagus with my fingers), but I do like to know which rules I'm breaking.

                                                                                                                              1. As I get older, i'm tending to notice details more and more. Also, my interest in tea- all aspects (including all the wonderful accoutrements) has me understanding the reasons behind why many things are done, setting-wise and ettiquette-wise.

                                                                                                                                But, with that same knowledge, we aren't living in Victorian England, circa 1889. Our modern lives are just that-more modern. Do we -need- the same things to live life well, gracefully or elegantly? Not in the least, but I consider it refined, and definately take notice when someone goes above and beyond, and sets a fantastic table. More importantly, good manners impress me highly; and I take notice of them as well. All it takes is to witness a serious faux-pas in manners to make you watch how you carry yourself! ^_^

                                                                                                                                Does seeing improper table-settings get under my skin? Slightly, but worrying about things like that will take years off my life. I'd rather be satisified with my own work, and enjoy myself and friends at our parties and tea.

                                                                                                                                Caroline, I get a slight feeling that people who know better and have the knowledge of proper manners and settings annoy alot of people..People who don't know, and just reply with a curt "who cares" response. Other people care, that's who! Proper settings, and proper manners show others that they care. Not about themselves, but the people around them. Perhaps, in our "me-me-me, now-now-now" world, the whole concept of taking the time to set a wonderful table, and know how to use all the times is just foreign to them.

                                                                                                                                I love reading Mrs. Beeton's Book of household Managment as well! It can be a bit of a dry, boring read every couple of chapters, but I still enjoy it emmensly!

                                                                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Honeychan

                                                                                                                                  In caroline1's original post, it was about:

                                                                                                                                  "I keep seeing pictures everywhere of beautifully prepared and plated food, and then the table is set wrong! In magazines, on TV, on the web, all over the place and it’s happening more and more lately. Does this bug anyone else? Drives me nuts."

                                                                                                                                  Most people don't give a hoot about the table settings in "pictures", however most of us on this thread do care about the settings in person...unfortunately, caroline1 prefers to overlook people's FULL posts and only tends to respond regarding bits and pieces that she chooses to digest.

                                                                                                                                  I will say it again for caroline's sake:

                                                                                                                                  "Also, when a photographer gets to a location, sometimes not everything is available for the shoot, or too many bits of shiny sparkle-y faltware can mess with lightling, and most importantly, most of the photographers are photographers and not Emily Post or a trained butler/housekeeper so how can you fault them for having no clue.
                                                                                                                                  Some people just set the table the only way they've seen it done."

                                                                                                                                  Context is everything...some people only choose to look at the pictures, some prefer to skip the pictures all together and only read what's printed, and some like it all...oh, and some people just don't have time to pour over little details. There is no "wrong" way as long as no one is being made to feel uncomfortable.

                                                                                                                                  People, let's enjoy our meals!!!

                                                                                                                                  I will admit, I do notice when models are wearing shoes that are too big for them....I guess it has to do with priorities..shoes over flateware/table settings for me...hmm, but I am secure with my table manners, place settings, dining companions and I suppose they are fine with me too or I wouldn't be invited to "dine" as often as I do.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                                                                                                    I'm wondering what bugs you so much about that first paragraph? You have completely ignored the second one. So for your benefit, here it is again:

                                                                                                                                    "So I’ve been wondering about it. Where do people learn this stuff? Maybe they don’t teach it in school any more. I’ve even wondered whether they teach it in culinary schools, because I’ve seen some major goofs on their websites too. All of this started me thinking about all of the people here who cook great food, but it may never have occurred to them to go any farther than to emulate what they see in one of these gorgeous pictures of gorgeous food with the table set wrong. So for anyone interested, I offer the following:"

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                      <Maybe they don't teach it in school any more.>

                                                                                                                                      When I was in 9th grade many many moons ago....we young girls were required to take Home-Ec. No boys allowed.
                                                                                                                                      We were taught, not only to cook and bake, but we were taught proper table setting. Of course there was the proper washing of clothes and linens and general household work.
                                                                                                                                      Everything we roasted, baked, boiled and braised was properly plated and set at a table with either formal or informal setting.
                                                                                                                                      I've never forgotten any of it and to this day I'm amused at many of my guests who can't believe I put as much work into my entertaining, especially the table setting, as I do.
                                                                                                                                      I value it as I would a beautiful painting.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                        Same here. i don't think my Home Ec education was as all-encompassing as yours, but then I'm thinking that you didn't get a chance to taste javelina BBQ at yours. I wish I'd had a littloe more education on serviettes and cutlery, however.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                          In the mid 90s Home EC did not include etiquette at all. We learned to sew on buttons, use a sewing machine, an bake plus a few things about family dynamics, nutrition and budgets. That was it. I cannot remember ever making a savory dish or discussing any sort of table setting (maybe the most basic casual one).

                                                                                                                                    2. re: tatertotsrock

                                                                                                                                      I have, for various reasons, spent some time at professional photo shoots of food. Neither the photographer nor any of his/her perhaps numerous assistants is responsible for acquiring the flatware or presentation dishes, setting the table, or preparing or styling the food. That's the job of stylists. Some food stylists will also determine and acquire the settings; sometimes there is a separate stylist in charge of the "look" of everything but the food. The photographer is in charge of taking the photograph, not deciding what goes in it. And it is very definitely the stylist's job to "have a clue." It's part of the job description.

                                                                                                                                  2. Caroline I love properly set tables, I own so much dinnerware stuff, its downright criminal.
                                                                                                                                    I am also amazed at the thought behind all the proper placement, and the uses. I have often shopped for antique silver, and amazed all the different spoons, forks and serving pieces. Fine with me.
                                                                                                                                    But to answer your question, no I guess I don't really notice like someone like yourself will. I am more into the food on the plate. I will now pay attention.
                                                                                                                                    Thanks for bringing up this very interesting topic, and yes I would not be very happy if I paid a pretty penney for dinner and they served my wine in a jelly glass.

                                                                                                                                    1. Thanks to previous generations that were not only more prosperous than I am, but who also set great store by the finer details of life, I’ve inherited not one, not two, not even three, but multiple sets of very good, very fine china. English and French and German, dinner services, luncheon services, dessert services, tea services. Throw in the odd set of Staffordshire transferware from the 1820s, a mélange of Canton dishes, and double everything with sets of silver flatware and table ware ranging from the handsome and plain to the genuinely hideous, you are describing the basement pantry.

                                                                                                                                      Then I had the misfortune to marry a woman in a similar set-up.

                                                                                                                                      As it is, our house is overflowing with silver and china and crystal, most of which we rarely, if ever, use. I’m mostly partial to the Staffordshire transferware as that was the dishes most used in my family over the generations as part of their everyday dishes-through remarkable good fortune only two plates and four soup bowls out of the original sixty piece setting broke in 180 years of regular use. We also regularly use two services my wife likes and a set of silver flatware for Sunday dinners or when we have guests. The rest of it is shelved in the basement, perhaps till better (or more formal) times come back. Part of it is logistics: the china is too valuable to use on a causal basis, and I don’t have the time to handwash all the dinner dishes after a meal. I can’t trust the kids’ friends with the china as most of them weren’t raised to know the difference between hand-painted English porcelain and the regular dishes from the Pottery Barn. Last but not least, it’s odd serving pizza and spaghetti, even if homemade or from Marcella Hazan, on fine Limoges.

                                                                                                                                      But once in a while it’s terrific fun to drag out a dusty set of bone china from the basement, and get out the hideous Victorian silver flatware, and my wife and I are inspired to recreate part of a Victorian meal with oysters and game and sherberts.

                                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                                        How fun - I am green with envy - especially the 1820s Staffordshire!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                                          May I be your heir? '-)

                                                                                                                                          Unfortunately for me, I'm sure I'm far too old, but what a joy! And bless your thoughtful ancestors. For both of you!

                                                                                                                                          A bit of trivia. When Martin Scorsese decided to make his movie version of "Age of Innocence," before he blocked a scene or did much of anything else, he spent four years collecting the china and silver he used in that movie. He shared that on a TV interview but never disclosed whether he took it all home with him when the movie was done. I would have!

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                                            R Parker, beg to disagree with you about Marcella Hazan. Italians are no less circumspect about etiquette and place settings than British or French, though the rules are slightly different per country - and in the "colonies".

                                                                                                                                            Painful though it is, do try to do a bit of battleground triage on your overabundant housewares, whether to set some aside for your children when they are older, sell some to someone who WILL use them, or give them to charity - to a charity who has people who know what they are worth, not throw them in a pile. It is a great relief to get rid of superfluous stuff.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                                                                I love that you love and cherish it. My mother would have glommed on to them and put them in the dishwasher when they were dirty. Eventual end of historical service collecon.

                                                                                                                                              2. Ah gee Ma, can't we just eat our ribs with our hands?

                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                1. re: chileheadmike

                                                                                                                                                  Of course, dear, that's how you're supposed to eat them. No sensible person would serve ribs at a formal dinner and expect you to use a knife and fork, silly child!

                                                                                                                                                2. I know my children have been taught how to properly set a formal table for dinner/lunch and I would hope they teach their children. People do love to be presented a beautifully set table when they enter the dinning room. I believe it is all part of the eating eperience... it prepares you and your palate for what is to come. I just hosted a brunch this past weekend and my nephew spend quite a bit of time checking out my table and settings and commented how nice it was that I took all that time to formally set it even though it was "just brunch" as he said... my thoughts, if you are taking the time to pick your menu and cook you have to take just as much time as to how you will present this food to your guests.

                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MeffaBabe

                                                                                                                                                    I agree. A beautifully set table is wonderful sight, partly because of the implications it holds. Graceful hospitality, fine foods, good manners: those are the things often missing in most people's harried everyday lives, and once in a while it's a wonderful treat to sit back and enjoy the finer things of life.

                                                                                                                                                  2. Wow, that was VERY detailed. I think dinners are a lot less informal these days. I've assumed that there are multiple "right" ways of setting up a table, depending on tastes. Since I pretty much only entertain close family and friends, I just set up the table to look nice. If my guest mistakenly uses the salad fork for the entire meal, that's fine with me.

                                                                                                                                                    1. For what it's worth, this book also has lots of good information:

                                                                                                                                                      Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson


                                                                                                                                                      I've used it for everything from checking out place setting diagrams to proper care of nice dinnerware/drinkware to tough stain removal (and I have my degree in costume design, so the usefulness of this book is saying something). She covers everything.

                                                                                                                                                      Just one editorial review:

                                                                                                                                                      From Library Journal
                                                                                                                                                      Unlike the shelves of short-cut manuals for people who don't enjoy housework, Mendelson's comprehensive book is for the person who wants detailed information on every aspect of setting up and maintaining a clean, well-functioning home. Building on the strong domestic skills she learned from her family, Mendelson, a lawyer, did careful research, incorporating current recommendations from experts. There are extensive sections on food, clothing, cleanliness, daily life, and safety, with information on negligence, domestic employment laws, insurance, and even the impact of clothing label laws on our laundry. Preferred methods are explained in detail, and some alternatives are offered for those who need to compromise. This is a valuable tool for today's masses, who aren't learning domestic skills from their elders. Readers with only a cursory interest or those wanting a highly illustrated guide may prefer Reader's Digest's Householder's Survival Manual (1999).

                                                                                                                                                      I don't love the editorial reviews that refer to feminism or a "woman's job"- I think this book is useful for ANYONE.

                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sfumato

                                                                                                                                                        I agree - that is a wonderful book. Her novels are quite fun, by the way.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                                          I had no idea she wrote novels- thanks for the tip! Fabulous!

                                                                                                                                                      2. O.K. so I just found this today while, of course, researching table settings. I understand your frustration Caroline, however, could it be that times have simply changed and along with them acceptable table settings? I went through my late mother's cookbooks and for over 50 years a bread plate has been expected at a formal table setting. An example for you could be the English language. Look in a high quality Dictionary and you will find the first and second preferred pronunciations for any given word, these change over the years to reflect the changes in our society. Could this not be the same for formal table settings?

                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: luvinfud

                                                                                                                                                          Great analogy. Many people these days don't even own formal dining sets or have formal dining rooms with tables large enough to accommodate the formal setting with any level of comfort. Even in restaurants, it's much more common to have your silverware/dishes switched out for each course instead of having everything laid out ahead of time.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: luvinfud

                                                                                                                                                            And, luvinfud, I bet that, when you researched in old books on how to give a dinner party, you also found that Bridget and Jenkins were hovering in the kitchen, just waiting to serve from one side of the guest and remove dirty dishes from the other. But Bridget now has her Master's and works as a librarian, and Jenkins long ago opened his own U-Haul franchise. And the hostess, who has to be at work at 8 tomorrow morning after getting four kids off to school, is stuck with hand-washing a carload of sterling silver (assuming she has sense enough not to put it in the dishwasher) along with seven pieces of crystal per guest, after which she has to iron the banquet-size linen tablecloth with filet insets. I'm not sure of much, but I'm pretty sure it ain't 1902.

                                                                                                                                                          2. No. I'm more interested in the quality of the food and companionship and I think table settings are trivial in comparison.

                                                                                                                                                            1. oh my god, who cares? as long as the food tastes good I could really care less whether my water glass was properly aligned or my napkin folded properly.

                                                                                                                                                              27 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: pcheard

                                                                                                                                                                  Thank you pecheard. Manners matter and they are designed, not arbitrarily, but because they work to achieve something. In most cases they work to keep people safe and comfortable around each other and to facilitate things working well. Can etiquette go "too far?" Sure. So can eating twinkies.

                                                                                                                                                                  I loved an old story about Jackie Kennedy when she was FLOTUS. At the time it was the convention that women wore white kid gloves at most proper occasions. Jackie was no exception. The wife of a head of state joined Jackie at an event. Jackie, noting that the other woman did not wear white gloves, quietly and discretely removed hers to make the other woman feel more comfortable.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                                                                    Elaborate manners and its co-conspirator, religious ritual, are inventions of man and are "most frequently" used to separate the upper class from those lower down on the rung, or to instill control over a group of other people to extract either money or obedience (or both at the same time).

                                                                                                                                                                    Manners obviously change, as observed by your story regarding the wearing of white gloves above. And things like the wearing of white gloves go away without endangering civilization or leading to a "Lord of the Flies" scenario as they are completely arbitrary and unnecessary.

                                                                                                                                                                    Civilized behavior such as respecting the property rights or physical well being of your neighbor have come about through the development of law and the application of a system of justice that works best when it is brought to bear on everyone with an equal hand.

                                                                                                                                                                    This is why, when justice is seen to favor the rich and powerful, our civilization is actually put at greater risk - and what eventually may lead to widespread civil unrest and armed revolution (exactly the sort of tensions that are faced in mainland China today due to the widespread corruption and lack of transparent and evenly applied laws going on there)

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                      The value of etiquette has little to do with "manners" such as calling someone "sir" or a convention that separates one class from another.

                                                                                                                                                                      I don't think that making people around me feel safe or at ease with one another or that having things work smoothly has the political implications you have given them.

                                                                                                                                                                      When social conventions stop being observed - such as when people become abusive or bullying when they are anonymous in an internet environment (and I am not accusing anyone on this board of that) - things don't work well. Etiquette is often nothing more than an institutionalized for of courtesy and thoughtfulness and concern for one another.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                                                                      When I say "manners" I am also referring to the manner in which people do things, anything. My honest thought is etiquette was initially a system of control but simply evolved into a way of doing things because it felt special and it brought enjoyment to others. Some people back then and still today, would see etiquette as a way of showing people up. That may be their truest intention and I feel they are the lesser for it. As with anything, etiquette, formal dining, decorum, etc. may go out the window all together as time goes on. Who knows what the world will look like thousands of years from now. It is curious to me that some people continue these traditions, no matter how antiquated. Again their must be a good reason some people don't want to let it go. Maybe it still works well. Caroline posted something earlier where she talked about a cook that had said "The table was the setting the food was presented in, so if you take pride in what you cook, you must also take pride in how you set your table." Maybe, it's that feeling of being entertained or entertaining on a level you don't get to frequent much so it becomes more of a treat. Isn't that what entertaining is all about anyway? It's the showiness, the sparkle, the shine that makes it fun.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: pcheard

                                                                                                                                                                        <etiquette was initially a system of control but simply evolved into a way of doing things because it felt special and it brought enjoyment to others. Some people back then and still today, would see etiquette as a way of showing people up. That may be their truest intention and I feel they are the lesser for it. As with anything, etiquette, formal dining, decorum, etc. may go out the window all together as time goes on. >>

                                                                                                                                                                        Interesting how we speculate about what people think or why they do one thing or another.

                                                                                                                                                                        Most of the people who have written about etiquette, like Emily Post, have a different view:
                                                                                                                                                                        "the principles of good manners remain constant. Above all, manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. Being considerate, respectful, and honest is more important than knowing which fork to use. Whether it's a handshake or a fist bump, it's the underlying sincerity and good intentions of the action that matter most."

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                                                                          I forget the name of the economics principle, but rich people seek luxuries, then the luxuries become more common as others seek to emulate the rich, so rich seek other luxuries, and it drives the economy.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                            That works for me too. Saw a lovely Bentley last night, and wanted one - not this quarter though.


                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                                                                        With your anecdote about Jackie Kennedy you have helped me identify why this thread is making me so uncomfortable. I spent my life collecting elegant table things but now that I am old I find that the reason that I seldom use them is not that they make a lot of work but that they make people uncomfortable. I can scarcely think of anything less kind than inviting friends to my home and then intimidating them with force-fed elegance. The tacit messages are awful: "I am showing off" and "I am giving you a much-needed lesson in table manners." Surely the most important "manner" is to be respectful to people.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                                                          That is such a shame that others can't enjoy them in the same spirit which you choose them . Start using them for you! A beautifully set table is such a nice way to eat a meal.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                                                            I am sorry for your discomfort. I have never seen such from our guests, but maybe I was blind, or perhaps "drunk" from tasting the wines?

                                                                                                                                                                            To me, serving pieces, flatware, stemware, et al, are to be enjoyed. I only hope that my guests HAVE enjoyed them.


                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                              And we know that it's the host's responsibility to make our guests comfortable. I remember the old story of the queen drinking from the fingerbowl after a guest did. You would always make one comfotable, I'm sure.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                I would try to do so.

                                                                                                                                                                                When our guests at an event dinner use the wrong bread plate, or water glass, I try to help the table adapt, and never make an issue of it. A few times, I have had the service staff, sort of "shuffle" things about, and as silently, as is possible.


                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                  Of course. The purpose of hosting is to make your guests comfortable.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                    And to introduce them to wines, that they would, otherwise, never have encountered.

                                                                                                                                                                                    For us, wines are much better, when shared.


                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                    My "service staff" (that's ME!) most often has to move water glasses around when the one to my right (MINE) gets taken by the person to my right.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                      Yeah, it just happens.

                                                                                                                                                                                      In a perfect world, a dinner for 20 would be served at a table, that can seat 40 easily. Then, there should be no confusion.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Unfortunately, my table can do 10 OK, but when we bump it up to 12, things DO get tight. Even I have to sort of "count," to make sure that I get the right bread plate, or water glass. I just need a larger formal dining room, and table.


                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                        You have to figure out how to slip in a demonstration of the hand reminder before someone seizes the glasses:

                                                                                                                                                                                        Put both your hands in front of you, palms down. Curl your thumb and pointer finger to meet in a circle. Straighten out your other fingers. Your left hand makes a "b" - that's the bread side. Your right hand makes a "d" - that's the drink side.

                                                                                                                                                                                        You can even do it under the table when you forget!

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: 512window

                                                                                                                                                                                          "You can even do it under the table when you forget!"

                                                                                                                                                                                          Best done that way so someone doesn't think you're flashing gang signs. ;-). I've never heard of that method. Pretty cool! Now you just have to hope the folks on either side of you have their act together.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                                                                  I have a friend who's a real traditionalist. Her dad was a career Marine, her mom was a perfect military officer's wife, and Susanne inherited that, which I respect her for. I remember one incredible Indian dinner she made that must have taken days to prepare, and in the morning I went out and saw this MOUNTAIN of crystal glassware and china that needed hand washing. Oh lordy, so I got down to it, despite my hostess's protestations. She really put on a memorable meal for us, and even though I felt like a hungover toad, the very least I could do was wash her good dinnerware. I have no memory of the place settings, but I have no doubt that it was correct. And to this day (it's been almost 20 years) she has a special place in my heart for that meal.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                                                                    When it comes to stemware, and washing, we still do it all by hand, regardless of the number of guests. I will schedule a dinner, based on what will be on TV the next day, as I know that I will be doing a hand-wash, hand-dry for every piece of stemware, and might at least have some good TV in front of me.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Before a dinner, either I, or one of the servers, if I went catered, will also polish each wine glass. That is just how it is.


                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                      " I will schedule a dinner, based on what will be on TV the next day, as I know that I will be doing a hand-wash, hand-dry for every piece of stemware, and might at least have some good TV in front of me."

                                                                                                                                                                                      Embrace DVR technology and you'll be able to schedule your dinners anytime you want...

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                        The TV in the kitchen is not hooked up to any of my DVR's, so I am at the mercy of the live feed. Maybe the renovation will change that?


                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                          Sounds like you should look into wireless HDTV and you won't be a slave to which T.V. has a box and which doesn't.

                                                                                                                                                                                          http://www.actiontec.com/MyWirelessTV/ (or other similar devices are just waiting for you)

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                            Yes, probably time to update the kitchen TV. If our renovation plans come true (debate is on-going, regarding that), then things WILL change, and in a big way.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Right now, the kitchen has a 20" SD TV, that migrated from the lower patio, which now has a 47" HD TV, with a DVR.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Unfortunately, our home is an existing structure, and built down the side of a mountain, so it's not easy to do some things. Were I to build (needed to win the Powerball), the AV aspect would be well-covered.


                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                                                                      My most memorable meal in India--a formal affair, mind you--was served off of banana leaves. Certainly new to me, but when in Rome (or Mumbai)... Guess it simplified the clean-up, too!

                                                                                                                                                                            2. Caroline, I'm w/you on this one. I've been reading this since the beginning of the year...and finally decided to reply. I think manners, table settings, etiquette, etc. matter as the occasion deems necessary. In my own home, I set an informal table setting. However, I appreciate a nicely (and appropriately) set table--formal or informal.

                                                                                                                                                                              I think the dangerous thing about incorrect table settings captured in magazines, tv, etc is that folks, like me, might use it as a reference and further propagate incorrect settings.

                                                                                                                                                                              When diners use the bread plate on the right--and this happens surprisingly more than I'd like to see--this creates a problem at a round table, b/c it throws everyone else off. The funnier thing is when there is no bread plate: most put the bread on the dinner plate (I learned in France to put it on the tablecloth).

                                                                                                                                                                              It's sad when people disdain respect, manners, etiquette and rules, claiming ignorance or inconvenience. Ignorance can be excused the first time; social responsibility, ideally, would remedy future gaffes.

                                                                                                                                                                              It would seem that those who don't care, don't know; my guess is that they probably don't appreciate a nicely set table, don't know what fork to use with which course and/or perpetuate the "ugly American" image abroad.

                                                                                                                                                                              To those who say it's about the gathering, the company, the food, I understand that...but there are wonderful social graces that are also at play.

                                                                                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: OCAnn

                                                                                                                                                                                really because I just thought I was a stupid american...not an ugly one.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. "So I’ve been wondering about it. Where do people learn this stuff? Maybe they don’t teach it in school any more."

                                                                                                                                                                                Dear Lord, I do hope you're kidding. Teachers are supposed to teach how to set the table in addition to the hundred other topics that people have now decided are to domain of the school and not the home?

                                                                                                                                                                                I inherited a huge selection of sterling from my grandmother, but aside from a couple of pull-out-all-the-stops dinners, it lives in it's box and we make due with a fork, knife and spoon.

                                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: lulubelle

                                                                                                                                                                                  Teachers have a lot to teach, including the basics and computer skills and much more, but etiquette (not table setting!) does belong in schools, just as it belongs everywhere else. There is proper classroom etiquette and computer etiquette and etiquette in any social situation that makes others at ease with each other so that other things can happen more easily.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Etiquette is not some antiquated stuffy way of being that belongs on Downton Abbey, it's basic to how we interact with each other. When it is missing, everything else around us tends to break down.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. I would absolutely insist on this ... if I were eating with royalty. Otherwise, I'll put all my effort into enjoying the occasion.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. wow, a 5 year old thread still worth reading.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I think its apparent that not everyone is able to set a formal table, and many don't know the finer points. But I have to agree with Caroline that in a food magazine the table should be set correctly for the food being presented. And it doesn't hurt the rest of us to know that there is a 'correct' way, even if we never run up against it.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I'm an architect, I need to know the value of pi (3.14 is the commonly accepted number although there are an infinite number of digits after that) because I often need to know the area of a circle or arc. But most people don't need to know the number, but knowing that there is such a number can be useful.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. I don't know how I missed this thread back in 2008, would have loved it!

                                                                                                                                                                                      My mother taught me how to set the table, and it was one of my regular duties around the house as soon as I was old enough. She learned from her mother. My grandmother was warm and loving, but she also loved formality. She insisted that every meal be eaten at the table on real dishes, so even fast food was plated and served. She and my grandfather were the first generation of their families to leave the sharecropping/subsistence life, and they worked hard to put their daughters through college and to fill their modest house with dishes, silver, and linens worthy of passing on. My grandmother was proud of the things they achieved, and wanted to use/display them properly. I see the use of dishes and place settings appropriate for the occasion as a way of honoring my grandparents.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't pay that much attention to place settings in magazines, but it would bother me to see errors in an instructive article on formal place settings.

                                                                                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                                                                                                                        That sounds a lot like the ladies in my family, mostly far from prosperous. There is a Caribbean component to my family.

                                                                                                                                                                                        There are so many errors in magazines, films etc that it is best not to obsess over them, unless we really love nerdy pursuits!

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                                                                                                                          <I see the use of dishes and place settings appropriate for the occasion as a way of honoring my grandparents>

                                                                                                                                                                                          What a lovely story about your family, mpjmph.

                                                                                                                                                                                          I have a similar background and it's one of the reasons I decided to pass on the tradition with my children. They love it and hopefully they'll pass it on to theirs.
                                                                                                                                                                                          I have a few elderly relatives, who know I love to set a table beautifully, that are asking me to fly travel in order to allow them to give me their china, silver, etc.
                                                                                                                                                                                          It's an honor to take them and use them in their memory.
                                                                                                                                                                                          When I set the table and use what they've given me it's almost like they're alive and sitting there with us.
                                                                                                                                                                                          Great post.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                                                                                                                            I feel the same way. Many of my "fine" things were gifts from family members. Although I don't use them everyday, it does give me pleasure to pull them out and think of their origins - e.g., the silver sugar & creamer set that my father gave to his sister (my aunt) as a wedding gift, and that she gave me shortly before she passed away, more than 40 years later; and, the dish that my MIL gave me about 20 years ago, which her mother (my husband's grandmother) always used for cranberry sauce, after we had taken over the family role of hosting Thanksgiving.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. A common theme here is that the people who grew up in a place and time and around people with whom such things are taught and practiced strictly tend to be frustrated about how different things are now. But etiquette is precisely the sort of thing that changes over time and varies from society to society. Change is inevitable. And I think the internet, like right here on CH for example, accelerates and democratizes the change in a way. People are increasingly eating all kinds of food in all kinds of settings these days so flexibility is becoming the norm. The idea of how an affluent person behaves (the emulation of whom had traditionally been a significant basis for etiquette) is way less rigid nowadays. And there's less reliance on some etiquette authority which maybe published once every 10 years a century ago. These days people are asking each other on the internet, "what is proper?", and very likely will be happy with a democratic answer rather than one coming from some authority. After all, like many people have mentioned here, the point of etiquette is making people around you comfortable, not just to look elegant, whatever that means.

                                                                                                                                                                                            17 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Dio Seijuro

                                                                                                                                                                                              Hi, Dio: "Change [in etiquette] is inevitable."

                                                                                                                                                                                              Perhaps, but have you noticed how lately the changes (not just in table cover) generally seem to be in one certain, downward direction?

                                                                                                                                                                                              You may serve tea, but is it a tea ceremony? Can you have polite conversation via Tweet or without salutations? Would you ever be content with a spork, sippy cup and a wet wipe at a "formal" occasion?


                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                                                                                                                                Why do you describe it as 'downward'? Why not a term like 'simplicity'? Is the new Pope's choice of living quarters a downward move?

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                                                                                                                                  You might have to give more examples to help me understand what you mean by "changes in one certain, downward direction". If the point you are making is simply that people are not adhering to the traditional definition of a way to do something, then you've just described a universal thing that happens at all times throughout history, not something that's only happening "lately". Let me guess: the fact that silicon valley execs like Zuckerburg sport hoodies, jeans, and sneakers in the boardroom would be an example of a change in "proper executive attire" in a downward direction?

                                                                                                                                                                                                  "Tea ceremony", "polite conversation", and "formal occasion" are all evolving definitions. I totally understand that some people are taught one way when they are young and find it hard to accept change or flexibility. But I think fast communication and easy daily interactions between different cultures (never before a thing in human history) has moved flexibility to the norm. And I would venture to guess that people growing up today, when they grow older 40 years from now, may retain this flexible outlook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Dio Seijuro

                                                                                                                                                                                                    <And I would venture to guess that people growing up today, when they grow older 40 years from now, may retain this flexible outlook>

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I disagree. Generation to generation inflexibility is one of the traits/quirks of we humans.
                                                                                                                                                                                                    More often than not, when I speak to groups of 'over 30 year olds' who, for the most part, were not introduced to the internet until their teens, are bewildered and disgusted by the next generation. They speak of social skills, or lack of, produced by the technology that has happened over the last ten years....texting nonstop is one of the many components they're addressing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                                                                                      "bewildered and disgusted by the next generation."

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Bewildered? No more than my parents were in the late 60's and early 70's. Disgusted? Only when I see young people that choose to look like this guy/girl in the photo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: grampart

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I think that I was behind him in the TSA security line at IAD last week!


                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sure, they are as rigid and conformist as people generally tend to be, and proclaiming themselves "flexible" and "tolerant" changes not the truth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        This whole discussion is about table manners on the one part, but the psychology of a gustatory enjoyment on the other. Studied disdain is a narrowing of experience to the detriment of the disdainful. You can quote me!

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                          " Studied disdain is a narrowing of experience to the detriment of the disdainful."

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I look at it as the discarding of the meaningless. Function winning out over form, once again.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Zzzzzzzzzzzz What! Sorry, nodding off there...

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Wrote Z-28

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Or, as Zippy once said "World War Three can be averted by adherence to a strictly enforced dress code! "

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I am thinking "2001: A Space Odyssey" here. At least I hear the music...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt


                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Think literature and philosophy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Ah, "A Confederacy of Dunces," a la J K Toole?



                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Where his title came from, but the quote is Jonathan Swift's.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                              In my limited experience, formal table settings have little to do with 'gustatory enjoyment'.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              In the distant past I lived as a poor American in an even poorer Latin American country. As such I could afford to attend a few banquets and dinners at upscale hotels that served multi course meals in the continental fashion. While I remember the multi tiered place settings, I don't recall much about the food. Conversely when the food did impress me, the table settings were unmemorable, and some of the best meals were quite informal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Presentation is part of the judging criteria for food competitions like Iron Chef and Chopped. But the focus is on the appearance of the food itself, not the correctness of the table setting. The focus has shifted from gilded frame to the picture itself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Dining in the Gilded Age

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                                It seems that there is a presumption on the part of some to fantasize that those who either don't set a formal table, or really don't care about the practice, are somehow missing out on some sort of "enhanced" dining experience. That is what's known as "projection" and has nothing to do with reality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Thank you for such an informative post. I couldn't get the url to work for Western silver.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      I was raised in a home where we were expected to to learn how to properly set a table, but I see some things I was taught were incorrect. I will set a formal table for Easter just to teach my grandsons, 16 & 13 how to use it should they encounter it in the future. They will get a kick out of why the knife is placed with the sharp side to the plate too.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Great post.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. I understand a formal place setting NEVER properly includes a bread and butter plate or a butter spreader. The bread is placed on the tablecloth just above the dinner folk on the upper left side of the dinner plate. Which knife is used to put butter on the bread?

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Often in photographs, there is a stylist, who determines the location of everything in the shot, and that is based almost 100% on aesthetics - nothing more, and nothing less.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          You should have seen some of my sets in person. The plants were in all the wrong places, but looked great on camera.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Also, if the shoot is in Paris, or Rome, or Tokyo, or Istanbul, or London, things might look a tad different, than they would in Des Moines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          A lot to be considered.


                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Ah, do you know where to place the oyster fork? the marrow "spoon." the gelle? Should they all be laid out, or some brought with the course.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I have done 11 courses which was a hoot.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Once saw a Tiffany silver set for sale, with the original "box" with labeled inserts and wished I had taken photos. A complete set, with servers, for 18, had over 800 pieces!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I think that each of those should be provided by the servants, with the dishes. In lieu of servants, maybe just put them out for the guests, or tell them to head into the kitchen, to pick them up. Personally, I would place them out, and in the order that I anticipate their use, from the "outside," to the "inside," depending on the side. Others will quibble, as their domestics can easily just add them, as needed.


                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                The only problem I see with this is that you didn't purchase it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Original box and labeled inserts?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                A collector's dream.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. Don't forget it is both fun and a sign of respect to use good manners. But it is also a sign of aplomb, whereas militant disregard usually signifies deeper insecurities.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. I love the idea of tradition AND of beautifully set tables. Ditto for the occasional formal dining experience. I'm also saddened by "militant" informality, anti-intellectualism, etc. That being said, I am in awe of my daughter's approach. She has a demanding job, serves well prepared and nutritious food to a 6 and 3 year old and is lucky enough to have a husband who fully participates in all of it. They sit at the table for all meals, fresh flowers are usually present and the only background sound is soft music. Beyond that, I can't imagine that she wastes time worrying about "proper" settings. Real napkins are used, as are serving dishes unless food is plated in the kitchen. They don't own TV trays and dinner conversation is nurturing and controlled. I'd worry if there were more structure or attention paid to anything fussier than matching placemats.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Update: Re-reading...I ought to add that I know Caroline is not talking about harried, working mothers. We love to make a fuss for holidays and celebratory meals, often pooling our best dishes and linens. But I think that in this day and age it is highly unlikely that people give any thought to a separate set of footed, lidded cream soup bowls. It sounds lovely...but just keeping the cell phones turned off at dinner seems to be a major accomplishment. Perhaps that's why the referenced table setting and etiquette book is no longer in print. *sigh*

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ItalianNana

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes, and recruit them early in setting the table! Then they will be useful, feel useful, and learning from an early age.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: ItalianNana

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I love what you have to say.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I stayed home and raised our children the same way your daughter does. I was chastised by friends who thought my choice was old-fashioned and unnecessary. I was only carrying on traditions that were taught to me by my mother and grandmother. It worked for them and I loved it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My friends did not need to work, it was their choice. Ironically, it was their children who preferred eating meals at my home and asked their parents if one day *they* could sit at a table with place settings and flowers and background music and, more
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      importantly, conversation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Folks, this discussion about working mothers went off the rails really quickly, so we removed some posts from here. It's pretty far afield for Chowhound, and obviously something people are going to take pretty personally, so it might be best to let that subject go. Thanks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: ItalianNana

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        You can still find the proper table-setting protocol in one of Miss Manners' books.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I have Martha Stewart's Complete Guide to Housekeeping. It was a half joke/half serious Christmas gift a few years ago, and includes detailed information of table setting. I also have an American Girls cookbook from the early 1990's that includes a child-appropriate guide to Victorian table settings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      3. My biggest pet peeve are paper napkins. They are fine for every day use but not for a dinner party. I cannot Imagine any napkin that doesn't need to be ironed, besides of course polyester which is the worst kind of napkin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Gloriaa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I used to feel that cloth napkins were a PITA too. But, back in the day I probably had poor quality ones. My daughter has a few sets of beautiful (not just white) napkins that were wedding gifts and after many turns in the washer and dryer are soft and wrinkle free if folded nicely while still warm. They lack the knife edge folds of a formal service but are perfect for daily family use.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: ItalianNana

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I love beautiful linen napkins, soft and a bit wrinkled, but not so appropriate for formal setting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Gloriaa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yes, but that is shabby-genteel and can be very appealing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Gloriaa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                We send ours to the cleaners, and the job that they do, is worth the cost to us. Having a few dozen sets (for all sorts of occasions) is a plus.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Gloriaa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I finally bought a big bunch of nice brightly-colored cotton napkins for one of the big family dinners. Every once in a great while one will bob up to the top of the laundry, but I don't know where most of them went, I know my guests didn't take them. Oh, they're probably back in the far corner of the laundry room where Mr Mr threw them, with mouse holes in them where food was. I should just keep buying them until I get enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            3. Miss Manners is thanking you for your insight, I'm sure, me being a huge fan of hers. It's true that the rules have been horribly ignored or worse, modified and sold as the right thing to do. It doesn't bother me so much usually, unless i'm in a place that claims to follow the Rules and it's clear that they don't. I'm a speling and punctuation snob, too, much worse than a table setting snob, but if I'm in a very high end place, I expect the tableware service to be correct, whether or not I actually understand the reasons for it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. I guess the only thing about this that bugs me is the fact that it would bug anyone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. I break with the wine glass tradition, as I am most often serving from a side-board, so all glasses are available to me, in the order of their use - often 1-2 per each course. They are presented to the guests, in the order that I see fit, and none are initially set on the table.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Also, much has been made of bread plates, their utensils and such. I was cautioned that in Rome, Paris and London, bread would be placed onto the table's surface, and to not be alarmed. Interesting admonitions, as I have only observed that in various bistros. From a formal state-dinner in London, where the Queen granted my wife an appointment, to every level of Michelin "starred" restaurants, I have never observed any breads being placed on the table - always on a bread plate, and all with a proper utensil, though that placement varied from the bread plate to outside all other knives in the place setting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Now, in many (most?) restaurants, the proper, and necessary utensils are most often placed on the table, before the delivery of each course, by members of the service team. In situations, where there might be several utensils, that could properly be used on a particular dish, all (used, or unused), are usually removed with the dish, when the diner has finished. It is very nice to have a full service team for each table. At home, though I often hire servers, that potential aspect is often overlooked - maybe my bad.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The bread/ bread plate thing is funny, as there is bread serves, with plates at every formal dinner I have attended.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Interesting. IME in France, at high-end places, there is no bread plate at dinner, and no butter. Butter is for breakfast. You get a strange look if you ask for butter at lunch or dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I have never encountered that, though it has been mentioned several of times here. Just not what we experienced. Same for a UK State Dinner - there were bread plates, butter, and utensils for those. Not saying that it is universal, but maybe we have just never traveled to the exact restaurant?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Oh my goodness! I'm SOOOOOO amazed to see that this post has been revived! It was one of my very early posts to Chowhound, certainly no more than a few months after I first discovered Chowhound five or six years ago. But its reception then almost drove me away from Chowhound forever, it stirred up such a hornets nest of controversy! The Mods did some judicious "pruning" to the thread back then, as I see they have done once again. (Bless you, Chowhound Moderators!)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My reason for writing it originally was two fold. First off, I was so impressed then and have been ever since I first heard Martin Scorsese talk about the four years he personally spent collecting original and authentic china, crystal, and silver for his movie, "Age of Innocence." And that contrasted so sharply with a recent experience I had had when I wrote this five years ago. I'd been recently invited to a very special formal "sit down" dinner party for twelve. The host and hostess had truly "knocked themselves out" cooking a very special and complex set of formal dishes far beyond the ability of the average American home cook that were sooooo delicious, and they TRIED very hard to present the meal in a "proper formal manner," but they obviously didn't know how to place the flatware, used paper napkins, and no clue on wine glasses. But they TRIED! Bravo for that, but they also had a computer and the internet, and all of the information they needed was only a few keystrokes away.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Someone has mentioned that in the "here and now" of 2013, the link I provided in my original post no longer works, so here are a couple of fun ones that do work this week. On the firsgt one, don't miss the blue links to different pages for breakfast, luncheon, family, formal, and buffet table settings. The second (tinyurl) is a whole bunch of pictures from all over the web that I had fun looking through. :


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      For me personally, at age 79 I don't get around easily at all anymore, therefore I'm a pretty stay-at-home person these days. But when I did entertain when I was younger (God, when you stop and think about it, I was "younger" only yesterday! Time Marches On!) I always felt that if I took the time to prepare great food (I'm an "over the top" kind of person), then I wanted to present it in the best way possible, whether it was a formal holiday meal or a few friends for a swim and a wine and cheese tray in a not-too--hot jacuzzi.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      People eat with their eyes first! Why not present food appropriately? Which is NOT to say that ALL food requires damask linen and cocktail forks! Ain't nothin' more delicious than a natural casing dirty water hot dog on a paper towel! For me, "presentation" is part of the fun of cooking. And I DO love to cook...! '-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      51 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I am glad you are enjoying this, and glad you started the thread. The vociferous reactions seem to have surprised you, but go see the thread on foodies versus snobs. Too many people don't seem to realize that anti-intellectualism takes many forms, that militant ignorance and superficial understanding of form are two sides of the same coin!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Since dining, as opposed to re-fueling, is, as you say, part visual, presentation is very important.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I think those of us who enjoy cooking enjoy creating the presentation, and good friends and family appreciate the effort.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        There is a LOT of psychology to enjoying food and company; that seems to get missed around here often.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Questioning whether conspicuous consumption in the Imperial and Victorian style is relevant today is anti-intellectualism?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Victorain dinner etiquette

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          self test - are you a good Victorian man or woman?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            As I wrote above: "Elaborate manners and its co-conspirator, religious ritual, are inventions of man and are "most frequently" used to separate the upper class from those lower down on the rung, or to instill control over a group of other people to extract either money or obedience (or both at the same time)."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Many people in this thread have come at this question with good intentions. Some continue to set a "formal" table to honor their mothers or grandmothers. Obviously one can be attracted to the beauty and history of the china and utensils and see this as another form of art.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            But there continues to be a strong current of pejorative labeling and disparaging of those who don't see the need to be so in touch with (as you say) their "Victorian" side. The nice thing about living in the US is our freedom to choose for ourselves if we want to go formal or informal when it comes to things like "table dressing". All without worrying about whether we will be looked at as the "great unwashed" or not.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            America. What a country!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I agree.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Should I eat only with my fingers, because that is all that some have, or is all that some use, regardless of what they might have? I am not going to abide by that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Being "from" the US (many generations on both familial sides), I tend to do things, as my ancestors did. Also, as my mother was DAR, I picked up much from her. That is just the way that it is.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Forks are bourgeois. The "people" eat from bowls on the floor!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Actually having thoughts requires actually having to know something which means doing some actual work which means acknowledging that you aren't the cat's PJ's simply for being born.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Yes. If one ONLY wishes to dine in a purely utilitarian fashion, then certain conventions might go out the window.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  How does one set the table for a traditional Ethiopian meal? While I have enjoyed several, I do NOT know how I would approach that.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Judging from pictures of an Ethiopian mesob, I'd say most of the 'setting' occurs in the kitchen, when the food is 'plated', arranged on a platter covered with injera.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Societies that prefer eating with fingers tend to have strong preferences on how that is done. Which hand to use (usually only the right), how food is scooped from communal bowls, how drinking vessels are shared, etc. Fingers were used a lot in medieval Europe as well, since a sharp knife (your own) was the only utensil.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      That is true. They can spot an uneducated poseur who misuses his fingers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        You are correct. My reference was hyperbole, at the least.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        We have been very fortunate to do traditional Ethiopian dining with nationals, plus at a few more traditional restaurants. Great, and loads of fun, because of our host/hostess.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Of course, and I got your joke. But all cultures, including the fingered, have their mores.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        How DID you handle it then? There have certainly been no utensils present when I've had Ethiopian and I'd have been shocked to see any...and not known what to do with them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I was replying to Bill but in reply to YOU, I don't know how to set a table with F.I.N.G.E.R.S.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            BTW, C1, I'm glad to see this thread bumped. I wasn't around back then and you make many good points - as you always have. Thanks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I tried to get something to work...and I failed. Another day shot to hell. Hope you have a good night back there C Oliver. My wife wants Tommy's double chili cheese burgers for dinner, so my healthy day is out the window.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Wasn't S.M.U.R.F., or similar, one of James Bond's big nemeses?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Fingers, and even with the cous-cous, which I had to learn to eat with my finger tips. I almost wish that I had photographs for some of my earliest forays. Well, as it is dinner time, maybe I am glad that I do not...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Of course, Bill, some foods have utensils devised for pure function. A gelee cannot really be eaten without a gelee "server." Ice cream forks, orange spoons, etc. cannot do it right without the right one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I own some that replacements can't identify!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I do agree, and enjoy specialty utensils, just for the various courses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            My mother's silverware set had about 10 utensils per person, and some were very specialized. Unfortunately the pattern was very traditional, so we passed on it. Not sure that my brother, with that set, has ever served a meal, beyond burgers, or wings. Such is life.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Just got back from eating fried chicken at a nicer restaurant and used my fingers to eat every last piece. I did use my fork on the mashed potatoes and gravy. Whatever gets you through the night. Oh, and I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Waiter seemed happy with his tip.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            America. What a country!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Isn't that the way you're supposed to eat fried chicken? :).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  <Not according to some!>

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Well, in my humble opinion, 'those' border on insufferable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This youtube reminds me of the insufferable Noveau Riche I've met over the several years of my life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    One day they're eating KFC, licking their fingers and enjoying the hell out of it. The next thing I know they're eating fried chicken with a fork, name dropping like a bunch of fools and attempting to instruct everyone around them on how to eat 'properly'.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Money, now matter how it's accumulated, does NOT buy class.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I've found, in many cases, I'd rather be around the people who eat KFC in one hand and a beer in the other.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      How about avoiding both groups?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      On the other hand, so many utensils do serve a function. A fish fork has thin tines far apart so one can eat boney fish, for instance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      If one serves fried chicken at a formal diner, I suspect it would be a great time to bring out the chop holders!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        <How about avoiding both groups?>

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Now, why would I intentionally avoid entertainment, served on a silver platter, by one of these groups?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: latindancer


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I did not realize that you and I had dined together, in the past. I think that you are talking about me, except that KFC should be substituted for any of many family-owned restaurants, featuring chicken...


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          <I think that you are talking about me>

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I hope you don't think my thoughts and post was referring to you, Bill Hunt.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          It wasn't :).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Money, as my mother said, doesn't care who owns it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You screwed up again. You're supposed to use the knobby end of a drumstick bone to scoop up the mashed potatoes and gravy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I swear, you just can't take some people out in public.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        That sudden assertion startled me so very much that I dropped the handful of peas I was about to eat...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Perhaps some are genetically PEAsants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think it's possible to genetically be a pheasant, but not a peasant...(now a pissant may be a different deal).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              "PISSant" can only be from the South.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Last time I was in Southern France, our host invited us to go on a Peasant Hunt. Well, I declined.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            3. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Handful? HAND-ful? Surely you know that peas are properly eaten directly off a knife. With honey, of course, to keep them there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            4. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Attended a formal dinner, honoring Hodding Carter, and the fare WAS Fried Chicken. Maybe not the ultimate choice, as, unlike you, we were in formal attire.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I'd rather have a root canal, sans novocaine, than attend a state dinner. Now a beer in a courtyard near the Rose Garden at the White House (with Michelle) I could definitely get behind.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'd LOVE to go to a state dinner. Way more than a root canal. Way more than any beer anywhere.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    You can have my ticket (Hell, I saw the couple that got into one without a ticket so maybe you won't need one).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      For some it is not a choice, only one option.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Actually, the Whitehouse is very interesting. You go through security at east gate, then into parts one doesn't see on tour, then up to the ball room, which by European standards is quite modest, with modest furniture. Something about meeting the president, whether one you support of oppose, in the WH. None of the others there matter, as everyone is focused on only one person in the room.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I'm so jealous, I might be drooling. I've had a private tour of the WH during the Clinton administration (a colleague whose sister is/was the WH chef arranged it), but nothing as spectacular as that. I did get to meet Buddy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Bill, wouldn't it be boring if we all liked the same thing?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I wasn't raised quite as privileged as you, but in the South, and Mother always trained us to have manners so that we'd be comfortable in any setting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Oh, I agree about the boring aspect.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          While I grew up mostly poor, my mother was very set in her ways, and was prone to being more formal, when she could. Her greatest pleasure was the family taking the train to New Orleans, where she would shop, and my father would go to the Fairgrounds, to watch the horses. I split my time between them, but we always met up at one of the NOLA fine-dining locations, such as Antoine's, for dinner, before taking the train back to the MS Gulf Coast. She loved to dress up, and wear her gloves and hat, though that was certainly not an everyday occurrence. Still, it was a big, and positive part of her life. We might dine on leftovers for a few weeks, just to cover those trips.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Once, the family had plenty of money to make that happen often, but the muses of fate did not smile on the family. Still, it was something that my parents managed to find a way for, even later on, when money was very tight.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I might have inherited some of that, as I will save up for special dining experiences. Life is short, and there is no time for bad food (or wine).


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Your posts are always so interesting and wise and insightful, Caroline.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Your life experiences have continually given me 'food for thought' over the years.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Thank you for your participation :).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Where is that darn "Blush" icon when you need it...! '-)


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            You see, Ipo, this is why we love you...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          3. The March 18 New Yorker included a discussion of "Consider the Fork", a history of kitchens, utensils, and dining habits. www.amazon.com/Consider-Fork-History-...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Yes it does. I am surprised at how many people don't know the correct placement of flatware to say nothing about napkins, wine glasses etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am also frequently, actually outraged at stylists for photographs have no knowledge either. I was totally taken aback by a photo of Royal Crown Derby china paired (incorrectly-as in placement) with gold tipped stainless steel flatware. If you can afford that china then you can at least afford silver plate if not sterling flatware.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. I understand a formal place setting NEVER properly includes a bread and butter plate or a butter spreader. The bread is placed on the tablecloth just above the dinner folk on the upper left side of the dinner plate. Which knife is used to put butter on the bread?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: pcheard


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  "in a private residence in North America it is not laid on a formal dinner table because the menu is planned to provide sufficient tast and texture without the need for bread and butter"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. You have stirred up quite a pot here. It is interesting, isn't it that in a society, there has to be some sort of balance between rules and freedom of action to avoid chaos. Somehow, manners appear to be oppression to some, rather than manners.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I wonder how this discussion would have gone if the discussion were about whether to drive to the right of the double yellow line or not?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  What fascinates me, is that clearly, there is a huge component of what it is to be human, to enjoy food; that there has developed a body of techniques and forms that have been found to enhance the dining experience; too bad some would rather curse the darkness and disparage what they don't understand, rather than try to understand. Their loss.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  17 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "I wonder how this discussion would have gone if the discussion were about whether to drive to the right of the double yellow line or not?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    No one ever caused injury/death by using the wrong fork.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: grampart

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Not so. Fish forks, for instance, help one avoid swallowing a fish bone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      BTW, the line is "When ignorance is bliss..." ;~)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I think the resistance is more of a reaction to the propensity for some to try and jam the "rules" down the throats of those who aren't into the same (third?) degree of manners that they are. I think the danger of choking on those forced rules is much more dangerous than a stray fish bone will ever be to my life...but that's just me, cursing the random idiocy of life again.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Here's a though to ponder, a circle is all the points equidistant from a single point, but the center of a circle is a single point equidistant from the perimeter.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Do you have a point?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            dist((x1, y1), (x2, y2)) = ((x1 - x2)5/2 + (y1 - y2)5/2)2/5

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Are Eucliding me? Are Eu talking to me? Are EU talking to ME?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'll tell you one thing thinking about it has done. It's made me hungry for pie...but I can't find my pie fork so I guess it's no pie for me...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          True ignorance is needing a special fork to prevent choking to death on a fish bone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Of course, as this is a site about food, one assumes that people do come here not only to share, but to obtain information, among people whose inters is food. Waxing philosophically about food, it is useful to remember that a person has a finite number of gustatory experiences in life. While some people are incapable of appreciating flavor subtitles due to genetic factors, others simply miss the mark it seems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          For someone seeking sustenance but not dining pleasure go enjoy TGIF, by all means. But, if the purpose is something more, why disparage subtleties and complexities due to being unaware? People cannot see ultraviolet, but bees do. That we don’t see it doesn’t make the bees patronizing, rather enhanced, and it doesn’t mean that ultra violet is fiction.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I was bless early in my career, not food, by a mentor’s gift of dinner at a fine restaurant. The mentor was a well known gourmand, and there are still dishes served in the USA that bear his name. At the end of the meal, he treated me to 100 year old cognac. While knowing thing or two, I did not at that time have the knowledge to appreciate the 100 year old cognac. My mentor stopped me, and then he proceeded to show me why only a certain glass should be used, what and how it brought out subtleties, why a shot of cognac is consumed so slowly, how to taste it so as to elucidate various changes as it move about the tongue, is aerated, etc. It was not only a pleasure to learn about something I was missing, but to realize that I could have continued to miss for the rest of my life. It was also a pleasure to deal with someone who, have attained true expertise, was willing to share it, to spread the wealth, but also, only to those who could appreciate it. He had observed how I handled the meal, and assessed that it was worth his time, not as a condescending attitude, but the purely empathic understanding that not everyone is interested in better. How sad if they think they are, however. And here is a web site where much sharing is possible. The French board is a wonderful example of the great usefulness of this site to anyone inclined to travel to France.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Whether a person affects fake knowledge and experience, or affects low brow disdain, it is, in fact all the same. Shame if one squanders the finite possibilities available, and like Henri Charrière, is condemned to a “wasted life.” That is the harm, willfully limiting oneself in the pursuit of one’s own affinities for affectations. No wonder such angry and defensive “Cursing the darkness.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            "No wonder such angry and defensive “Cursing the darkness.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            And you think dragging the "life wasting" miscreants, kicking and screaming into the light, is working?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              No. Fingers work well with most dishes, except for a fine broth, but then one can just grasp the bowl, and pour it down the throat.