When you sit down at a fancy dinner party and are faced with a maze of knives, forks, spoons, piles of plates, an endless river of glasses, and small talk bombarding your ears, it can be easy to panic, to start drinking from someone else’s glass, eat your neighbor’s bread roll, use your dessert spoon to spread butter, and start eating using your oyster fork to eat your steak. But honestly, fine dining shouldn’t be so stressful. Here’s how to at least get your fork usage under control at even the most formal dinner parties.
There is one simple rule you need to remember, which is key to using the correct fork at every extravagant place setting: Work from the outside in. Your place setting may look intensely complicated, but when you break it down, it’s really not so bad. Your forks will always be laid out so that you start with the one on the outside, and end with the one on the inside. Don’t stress about the size or the shape, just follow this rule, and everything will be fine.
Obviously, there is an exception. If your dinner party is supremely fancy then you may have been provided with an oyster fork. This will sit on the right side of your plate, on the far side of the knives. If oysters are being served, check to see whether there is an oyster fork sitting next to the soup spoon and the knives before you dig in.
Also, never be tempted to begin the first course with the dessert fork. Although this fork is often the smallest, and sits either closest to the dinner plate on the left, or above the dinner plate separated from the majority of the utensils, remember the “outside-in” rule. Override your instincts, and leave this small fork where it is: It’s intended for dessert, not the appetizer.
If, when the food is served, you panic and forget this supremely simple rule, or if you’re served soup first and start panicking because that obviously doesn’t require a fork, then just look to your host and copy his or her moves carefully. You can’t go wrong with this solution.