What You Need to Know About Table Settings

The difference between a soup spoon and a dessert spoon, and why you shouldn’t use a fish fork to comb your hair

I recently went to dinner at a friend's home where the place setting seemed off. The fork was on the right, and the wine and water glasses on the left, above the knife and spoon. Was anything wrong? Indeed — it was all backwards. "But I'm right-handed!" he quipped when I corrected his utensil error.

Dining with a full, formal place setting is becoming less common today, even if you’re the kind of person who is always dining out. It is thus no surprise that even some of the most seasoned business people get confused when dining out, or setting the table at home.

Whether you’ve been the person who’s reached for the bread plate to your right, or taken a sip of the wine glass to your left (After all, that is where you left it, right…?), we are here to help. Click through for tips on navigating a place setting to ensure that you never embarass yourself when setting the table, mistakenly use your dessert spoon for soup, or ask, in a moment of utter confusion, what on earth that dull knife with a pointy tip is for after you ordered a tender fillet of sole.

A bit of history before we begin. In general, how a place is set at the table and where the various implements are placed is based on the traditional European order of courses. We’ll walk through where each utensil belongs — and what it’s used for, starting at the very left.

Click here for the What You Need to Know About Table Settings Slideshow.

Click here for 5 Tips for Setting the Table.

*Note: There are, of course, many variations based on what you are eating and your courses. Many American meals do not have a fish course and we start with a salad rather than end with it. In this case, you can use the following order from left to right: salad fork, dinner fork, plate, dinner knife, soup spoon (or no soup spoon if there is not a soup course). As well, feel free to follow the more formal custom of leaving off the dessert spoon and fork if you’d rather reset silverware between the dinner and dessert courses.