Cutlery Etiquette 8 Rules: How To Eat With Fork Knife & Spoon
Who this micro-class is for
* Waiters and restaurant staff
* Restaurant guests
* House-party hosts and guests
What you’ll learn
* How to appropriately use forks, knives, and spoons
* Less than 8 minutes to complete
About this micro-class
Cutlery etiquette is the set of rules to properly use and eat with forks, knives, spoons, and special utensils.
1. Use cutlery in the right order
Use cutlery out-to-in
Use cutlery from the outside in.
For each course, always use the last utensils to the exterior of your setting.
Use a clean pair of utensils for each course
For each course, you must use a pair of utensils. Pick the outermost one on your left and the one on your right. The exception is usually the soup, which you should eat with just a spoon.
At most restaurants and on formal occasions, used utensils are cleared after each course. You should rest the used utensils on your plate and wait for the host or the staff to clear them. Then, use a pair of clean utensils for the next course.
On informal occasions, the host or the waiter may ask you to keep your used utensils for the next course. If you prefer to have a clean pair, it is appropriate to ask for it.
2. Handle cutlery correctly
Keep your fingers as far as possible from the food
For hygienic reasons, when holding cutlery, the farther your fingers are from the food, the better.
Hold forks, knives, and spoons from the extremity of their handle, as far as possible from the food.
Do not gesticulate with utensils in your hands
Use cutlery only to bring food to your mouth. Do not gesticulate or make gestures with cutlery, such as pointing.
Use the fork or spoon to bring food to your mouth, not inside of it
Forks and spoons: Use a fork or a spoon only to bring food to your mouth. You should not push the fork or spoon inside your mouth.
Knives: Always keep knives far from your mouth and never use them to carry food.
Follow your host's lead
When you are a guest, it is best to follow the lead of your host regarding how to use the utensils.
3. How to appropriately handle forks
Hold the fork with your left hand. You can hold the fork with your right hand if you are eating food that is supposed to be eaten without a knife, like pasta.
Hold your fork like a pen, with the handle between your thumb and index and middle fingers. Extend your index finger along the back of the fork. Rest your fourth and fifth fingers in your hand. Do not lift the little finger.
The fork’s prongs must face downward. Do not turn it face up like a spoon and do not scoop food with it. Use your fork to spear small pieces of food and bring them to your mouth.
4. How to appropriately handle knives
Hold the knife with your right hand. Hold it with the handle cupped in the palm of your hand, along with your third finger. Extend your index finger along the back of the blade. Hold your thumb against the side of the handle.
Use the knife only to cut larger foods, like meat or poultry. Spear with the fork the piece of food that you are going to slice. Make gentle movements when cutting food. The plate and the food should not move.
Always cut your food into bite-sized pieces. It is generally considered impolite to cut all your food at once, so cut and eat one bite at a time.
5. How to appropriately handle spoons
Hold the spoon with your right hand. You can hold it in your left hand when you are left-handed. Use a spoon only to eat food that is not completely solid, such as soup or pudding.
Hold your spoon like a pen, with the handle between your thumb and index and middle fingers. Rest your fourth and fifth fingers in your hand. Do not lift the little finger.
The spoon must face up. Scoop food away from you. Do not fill the spoon completely to avoid spills. Use the spoon to bring the food to your mouth, then sip it from the side of the spoon.
6. Fish fork and knife etiquette
Use the fish knife to separate the soft flesh of the fish from the body. Do not use the fish knife to cut.
Since the fish knife is not sharp or used to cut, you need to hold it differently from a regular knife. Hold the handle of the fish knife with your right hand, between your thumb and index and middle fingers.
Hold the fish fork in your left hand and use it as a regular fork.
7. Dessert cutlery etiquette
Use dessert forks, knives, and spoons like regular utensils.
On formal occasions, always eat dessert with a pair of utensils, usually a fork and a knife. Exceptions are soft desserts that can be eaten with just a spoon, such as mascarpone.
When eating dessert with a fork and knife, use the knife to push the food onto the fork.
Use fruit forks, knives, and spoons in the same way as dessert cutlery.
8. Special cutlery etiquette
Some foods require special utensils. In general, you can use them as regular utensils.
How to use butter spreaders
On formal occasions, butter is presented with a butter spreader.
If there is one shared butter spreader, use it as a serving utensil. Thus, use the butter spreader only to serve yourself, then put it back.
If every guest has an individual butter spreader, use it only to spread the butter on the bread. Do not use the butter spreader for anything else. Also, do not use another knife to spread the butter.
How to use meat knives
Some cuts of meat require a meat knife. Meat knives are just sharper and thicker than regular knives. Use them as a regular knife.
How to use seafood or snail picks
Some seafood requires a pick, a special tool to extract the meat from the claws. It is common for crab or lobster, but also for other foods, such as escargots or snails.
Use the pick as you would use a fork. However, you should not use the pick with a knife. Instead, hold the claw or shell with one hand, and use the pick with the other.
How to use a caviar spoon
Caviar requires dedicated utensils. Caviar utensils are made of neutral material, such as bone, to preserve the flavor of the food. Use them like regular cutlery.
How to use a teaspoon or coffee spoon
Handle teaspoons or coffee spoons as regular spoons.
Use them only to stir the liquid, gently. Ideally, the teaspoon or coffee spoon should not touch the cup and tingle. Stir coffee from down to up.
Cutlery etiquette mistakes to avoid
When eating with forks, knives, and spoons, you should avoid the etiquette mistakes that can make you look impolite, disrupt the order of the meal, or are anti-hygienic.
Try to avoid the following behaviors:
- Using fork and knife with the wrong hand.
- Using cutlery in the wrong order.
- Holding cutlery in the wrong way or keeping your fingers too close to the food.
- Gesticulating with utensils in your hand.
Additional resources & links
- Etiquette references: how to set cutlery on the table, eating with your fingers, types of forks, types of knives, types of spoons, how to rest cutlery
- Etiquette for foods that require special utensils: butter, caviar, lobster, crab, tough foods
- Interesting reads and sources: Forks From Odd Byzantine Instruments to Modern Utensils nationalgeographic.com