Which Fork Do I Use?

Dear Tiffany,

When I sit down for dinner I typically eat my salad first. This is a popular style of dining in America.  I was taught to use the fork farthest from my dinner plate to eat my salad. In the book, The Power of Civility, your co-author’s formal place setting illustration suggests the complete opposite. Can you please clarify because I like to stand out-not stick out while dining! Thanks!

Dear Savvy Diner,

In the chapter, “Dining with Civility,” found in the book, The Power of Civility, Co-Author Nonnie Cameron Owens provides a beautiful illustration of the most formal place setting. I use a similar illustration when teaching dining etiquette to my clients because of its insightful presentation of formal dining.

Note that in her illustration found in the book, the salad fork is placed closest to the dinner plate. This means the salad will be served following the entrée, as seen in the photo below.

You are right that in America the salad is typically served before the main meal, in which case the salad fork will be placed farthest left of the plate.  Mrs. Owens illustrates a formal meal where fish, rather than salad, will be the diner’s first course that is to be eaten with a fork.

If you look closely at the photo I’ve included in this blog post, are you able to pick out the dessert setting?  It’s the fork and spoon setting resting directly above the plate. Is the setting placed correctly? Not quite. The dessert fork is placed correctly on the table, however the handle of the spoon needs to face the bread plate instead of the wine glasses.

The most important rule for navigating a place setting is to always work from the outside in. Remember this and you will always know you are using the right fork -and also the right spoon- during a meal.

Copyright 2011 Tiffany Nielsen. All Rights Reserved.  To reprint, please contact Tiffany Nielsen at tiffany@tiffanynielsen.com for permission. www.tiffanyynielsen.com


    • Tiffany Nielsen says

      Hi Dawn,
      It should be placed in the direction you are referring to. Maybe the graphic designer missed my etiquette class?

  1. Nicola Maragh says

    this is great information. for many young people who will now find themselves at internship/ networking conferences or being invited to business lunches/ Dinners this is very useful information. Great job!

    • says

      Thank you, Nicola for your comment; it’s great to hear from you! Your words are inspiring and I’m very grateful that you recognize the value in educating young people in the art of dining etiquette. It’s a fun subject that I see more people gravitating to.
      Stay in touch!

  2. Tim McLaughlin says

    Just to confirm Tiffany, if I am setting the table for a dinner party, I align the proper forks in the order of the courses, correct?

    E.g.- If my courses run in this order…
    seafood app
    then my forks starting from the far left would be set like this…
    salad fork
    cocktail/seafood fork
    entree fork
    And if I choose to swap the salad and seafood app then I would need to swap the respective forks as well, right?

    • Tiffany Nielsen says

      Dear Tim,

      I am happy to read that you are having a dinner party- how fun! 

      You are correct by placing the utensils according to service. If salad is being served first, place the salad fork farthest from the plate, followed by a fish then an entree fork until you’ve reached the plate/charger. 

      The dessert setting in the above photo is half correct. The fork tines should face to the right,  rather than to the left (as illustrated above). I borrowed the photo, my good friend, Dawn caught the mistake and I have yet to find a replacement.  I’m on the hunt now!

      Happy New Year and thank you very much for your message.



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