Etiquette Q&A: Table Setting Troubleshooting

A photo of a china set

Since Southern Lady launched in 1999, we have endeavored to serve as a resource for 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 You a Question?

We began our etiquette series with several questions related to basic table manners. If there is one section of Southern Lady that has received more comments than any other, this is it! Even the men in our lives tell us they learned something from our last post on the proper handling of the napkin. Apparently as a result, the new questions we received also pertain to the table—the proper table setting. We hope you find them informative, as well as a reminder that first impressions are lasting ones.

A photo of china in a proper table setting

By Phyllis Hoffman DePiano

Q: Could you please tell me the difference between a charger and a service plate?

A: A charger, also called a place plate, is placed on the table before guests are seated. The standard size for a charger is 12 inches, and it is placed 1 inch from the edge of the table with the motif facing the diner. The dinner plate is placed on top of the charger.

A service plate, also called a liner, is used under soup cups or bowls and under dessert bowls. A service plate is smaller than a charger and has no standard size.

Q: I have been to restaurants and hotels where I have seen people remove the centerpiece from the table in order to better converse with people across the table from them. Is this appropriate?

A: I am amazed that people who decorate tables do not know the No. 1 rule for centerpieces: These should never obstruct the view of guests. The length of a centerpiece usually is not a problem, but the height can become one when it blocks the view of those seated across the table. It is very inappropriate to place a tall arrangement or plant in the center of the table. When I have found myself in this situation, I simply ask the waiter to remove the centerpiece, and he is usually happy to do so. When dinner is in a home, however, it is not appropriate for a guest to remove or adjust the position of the centerpiece, so you will just have to cope with the situation.

Q: I am left-handed, and I find that having the stemware on the right makes it very awkward for me to use. Is it rude to move the glasses to the left of my plate?

A: It is better to use your right hand for the stemware. Moving your glass to the left will cause a problem for the person on your left. If possible, left-handed people should sit at the end of the table to avoid obvious collisions. I have two left-handed sons who would always move the glass to the left at home, but they had to learn how to use stemware on the right when dining away from home.

If you have etiquette questions, concerns, or success stories you would like to share, please send them to us using our contact page.