Etiquette Q&A: Table Manners

Table Manners - Southern Lady Magazine

Since Southern Lady launched in 1999, we have endeavored to serve as a resource on hospitality and gracious living. Part of that effort has been to hone basic principles we find more valuable than ever, especially since questions about the fundamentals of etiquette abound in our modern age. To help provide answers, we return to a favorite column from our inaugural issue: May I Ask a Question?

We examine tried-and-true table manners, and will continue to offer advice on additional topics in future posts. We hope these words of instruction will be a helpful refresher on the everyday practices so important to a genteel life.

Q: When a fork is placed horizontally above the plate, what is its use?

A: Forks to the left of the plate are used from the outside in, meaning the salad fork is farthest from the plate, and the dinner fork is closest. The fork (or spoon) above the plate is used for dessert. It is placed there when the table is set. Many times the dessert fork is brought in with the dessert.

Q: Cloth napkins add lovely touches to dining. What are the rules for napkin use during and after the meal?

A: The use of the napkin seems a simple thing, but opinions vary. After consulting several etiquette books, we find there are common guidelines for all to follow.

Place the napkin in your lap after you are seated. (If a blessing or prayer precedes the meal, place the napkin in your lap afterward.) A napkin is used for blotting your mouth, not wiping, and should never be used as a substitute handkerchief.

Should you need to leave the table during the meal, simply place the napkin in the seat of your chair until you return. Do not put the napkin on the table during the meal. After the meal, place the napkin loosely on the left side of the plate. It should never be placed on the plate or refolded.

Q: After the fork, knife, or spoon has been used during the meal, is it ever placed on the table?

A: The flatware should never return to the table after it is used. A fork should rest on the dinner plate during the meal. The dinner knife should be placed across the top of the dinner plate once it has been used. The salad fork, spoon, dessert fork, and butter knife should rest on their respective plates.

At the end of the meal, the knife and the fork are placed diagonally across the middle of the plate. Never leave a piece of flatware in a cup, glass, or bowl. Always return it to the service plate.

When in doubt, always do as the hostess does.

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Table Manners - Southern Lady Magazine