Navigating a formal place setting can be a chore in and of itself. Two or more glasses, two plates, three or more knives, two or more spoons, and three or more forks aren’t uncommon, and attempting to maintain proper etiquette, as old-fashioned as that may sound, is certainly something to strive for. At the very least, it’ll make you look sophisticated.
When faced with a bevy of flatware, the most important thing is to remember to work from the outside in. Your glassware will be to the right (above the knives), your bread plate and butter knife will be to the left (above the forks), and the utensils above the plate are for dessert (“Drink right, eat left,” is also a good phrase to keep in mind).
As for the forks, you’ll usually be faced with a dinner fork, a salad fork, a dessert fork, and occasionally a fish fork. The dinner fork will always be the largest; save that for the main course. Since you’ll most likely be served a salad first, the salad fork (which is smaller and occasionally has more prongs than the dinner fork) will most likely be on the outside. The fork that isn’t the dinner or salad fork is the fish fork, and the fork that’s above the plate should be saved for dessert. This Emily Post article sums it all up quite well.
All of this is actually pretty fascinating, and just the tip of the iceberg; if you were to attempt to set a table for, say, a Downton Abbey-style dinner, things would be about ten times more complicated.
This article was originally published March 18, 2015.