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With the holidays fast approaching and the Thanksgiving feast in the forefronts of all of our minds, I thought it would be fun to review some of Emily Post‘s official guidelines for table settings and manners! Oh, how my mother will be proud….


(This video makes me giggle, so I just HAD to share it with all of you! SOOOO formal!)


For a basic table setting, here are two great tips to help you — or your kids — remember the order of plates and utensils:

  1. Picture the word “FORKS.” The order, left to right, is: F for Fork, O for the Plate (the shape!), K for Knives and S for Spoons. (Okay — you have to forget the R, but you get the idea!)
  2. Holding your hands in front of you, touch the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your forefingers to make a lowercase ‘b’ with your left hand and a lowercase ‘d’ with your right hand. This reminds you that “bread and butter” go to the left of the place setting and “drinks” go on the right. Emily Post could have used that trick — she was often confused about which bread and butter belonged to her — and sometimes she used her neighbor’s! In which case, when it was called to her attention, she would say to the dismayed lady or gentleman, “Oh, I am always mixing them up. Here, please take mine!”

Some other things to know:

  • Knife blades always face the plate
  • The napkin goes to the left of the fork, or on the plate
  • The bread and butter knife are optional

OR… if you are planning a more formal affair for the holidays, here is the place setting that Emily suggests…


The one rule for a formal table is for everything to be geometrically spaced: the centerpiece at the exact center; the place settings at equal distances; and the utensils balanced. Beyond these placemats, you can vary flower arrangements and decorations as you like.


The placement of utensils is guided by the menu, the idea being that you use utensils in an “outside in” order. For the illustrated place setting here, the order of the menu is:

  • Appetizer: Shellfish
  • First Course: Soup or fruit
  • Fish Course
  • Entree
  • Salad

(a) Service Plate: This large plate, also called a charger, serves as an underplate for the plate holding the first course, which will be brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the service plate remains until the plate holding the entree is served, at which point the two plates are exhcnaged. The charger may serve as the underplate for several courses which precede the entree.

(b) Butter Plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting.

(c) Dinner Fork: The largest of the forks, also called the place fork, is placed on the left of the plate. Other smaller forks for other courses are arranged to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when they will be used.

(d) Fish Fork: If there is a fish course, this small fork is placed farthest to the left of the dinner fork because it is the first fork used.

(e) Salad Fork: If the salad is served after the entree, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork.

(f) Dinner Knife: The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate.

(g) Fish Knife: The specially shaped fish knife goes to the right of the dinner knife.

(h) Salad Knife (Note: there is no salad knife in the illustration): If used, according to the above menu, it would be placed to the left of the dinner knife, next to the dinner plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the knives would be arranged (left to right): dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife.

(i) Soup Spoon or Fruit Spoon: If soup or fruit is served as a first course, then the accompanying spoon goes to the right of the knives.

(j) Oyster Fork: If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork goes to the right of the spoons. Note: it is the only fork ever placed on the right of the plate.

(k) Butter Knife: The small spreader is paced diagonally on top of the butter plate, handle on the right and blade down.

(l) Glasses: These can number up to five and are placed so that the smaller ones are up front. The water goblet (la) is placed directly above the knives. Just to the right goes a champagne flute (lb); in front of these are placed a red (lc) or white (ld) wine glass and a sherry glass (le).

(m) Napkin: The napkin is placed on top of the charger (if one is used) or in the space for the plate.

In General:

  • Knife blades are always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate.
  • No more than three of any implement is ever placed on the table, except when an oyster fork is used in addition to three other forks. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then the utensil for the fourth course is broght in with the food; likewise the salad fork and knife may be brought in when the salad course is served.
  • Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.


Here are some Emily Post recommendations for general table manners and etiquette….




Technically, food is passed around the table in a counterclockwise direction, or to the right. The reason there’s even a guideline for this is to provide some sense of order when passing food. Common sense comes into play, too. If someone only a few places away from you on your left asks for something to be passed, by all means just pass it to the left instead of sending it all the way around to the right. In general, what’s important is that when several dishes are being passed at the same time, they all go in the same direction.


…Cut my food?

One bit at a time. Always.

…Pass Food Around the Table?

The whole pass-to-the-right thing is really just to ensure that there is some type of order. Food is always passed in one direction to avoid having someone end up with two dishes at once. You can either hold the platter for the person you are passing to while she takes her food or, if the platter seems easy to hold and serve from, you may simply pass it to the guest next to you once you’ve taken your share. Remember to take a small enough portion so that there’s plenty left for everyone else. When you pass something with a handle, like a gravy boat, pass it with the handle side toward the person you are passing to, so that she can take it easily.

…Deal with an Unpleasant Experience in the Mouth?

If something that tastes funky or foul ends up in your mouth, you can raise your fork to your mouth and subtly use your tongue to remove the object from your mouth and place it on your fork. (Easy rule: if it went in with a utensil, it comes out on a utensil; if it went in with your fingers, it comes out with your fingers.) Then place the item to the side of your plate. Never place the item in your napkin—it’s too easy for it to fall out, and stain your clothes or end up on the chair. The idea is to try to keep your actions unnoticed, and let your conversation and company take center stage. And as a former busperson in a restaurant, I can tell you from painful experience that it’s gross to clear a table and squeeze someone’s chewed up unpleasant experience in your hand as you gather the napkins or have it stain your work clothes when it comes tumbling out.

….Let the Waiter Know There’s Something in my Soup?

If you discover an insect or a hair in your food, try not to make a big deal of it (especially if you’re eating at someone’s house). Instead, put your fork or glass down, and wait to signal the server to get you a fresh plate or glass. If you are in someone’s home, simply remove the foreign object, set it to the side of your plate, and (if you aren’t overly grossed out), continue eating. You do not mention to your host in the middle of a dinner party that you found something gross in the food. No siree.

….Signal That I’m Finished?

Imagining your plate as a clock, set your utensils on the plate so that both handles are resting on the numeral 4. Then leave your plate exactly where it is. Pushing it away is not considered polite.



  1. Chew with your mouth shut.
  2. Avoid slurping, smacking, blowing your nose, or other gross noises. (If necessary, excuse yourself to take care of whatever it is you need to take care of.)
  3. Don’t use your utensils like a shovel or as if you’ve just stabbed the food you’re about to eat.
  4. Don’t pick your teeth at the table.
  5. Remember to use your napkin at all times.
  6. Wait until you’re done chewing to sip or swallow a drink. (The exception is if you’re choking.)
  7. Cut only one piece of food at a time.
  8. Avoid slouching and don’t place your elbows on the table while eating (though it is okay to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses.)
  9. Instead of reaching across the table for something, ask for it to be passed to you.
  10. Always say ‘excuse me’ whenever you leave the table.

And now that you have gotten your dose of holiday manners and etiquette, let the feast planning begin…

NOW, GO HAVE AN “It’s So Fabulous!” DAY!




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