setting cutlery on the dining table

Setting Cutlery 4 Rules: How To Place Fork, Knife, & Spoon On The Table​

Who this micro-class is for

* Waiters and restaurant staff

* Restaurant guests

* House-party hosts and guests

What you’ll learn

* How to place forks, knives, and spoons on the dining table

* The correct order to place and use cutlery


* Less than 5 minutes to complete

About this micro-class

Setting cutlery etiquette is the set of rules to correctly place forks, knives, and spoons on the dining table.

1. General rules for placing forks, knives, and spoons

Cutlery includes forks, knives, spoons, and special utensils. Cutlery is sometimes referred to as flatware, silverware, or utensils.

To avoid leaving fingerprints on the utensils when placing them on the table, hold them by the area between the handle and the eating end or by the thin edge of the handle.

Place cutlery on the dining table. Do not place any utensils on the napkin.

Choose the right types of utensils for the occasion

On formal occasions, it is best to choose elegant utensils. If silverware is not available, choose heavy forks, knives, and spoons if possible. Heavy utensils make your guests perceive the food as of higher quality.

Plastic utensils are appropriate only on very informal occasions, such as a barbecue or picnic.

Place forks left, knives & spoons right

Place knives and spoons to the right of each setting, and forks to the left. Place the soup spoon to the right of the outermost knife.

Set cutlery in the order of use

the correct order for placing forks, knives, and spoons on the dining table and using them during the meal

Place forks, knives, and spoons on the table in the order of use. The order starts from the outside of the place setting and moves inward toward the plate.

Forks and knives should be in equal numbers, even if some courses will require only the fork.

Guests should use a pair of clean utensils for each course and follow the order from the outside in. Thus, you should place closest to the plate the utensils that guests will use last. After each course, guests should rest the pair of utensils on the plate and wait for the host or the staff to clear them.

Set forks knives and spoons facing the right direction

Place forks with the prongs facing upward. Spoons should face upward too. Place knives with the sharp side of the blade facing the plate.

2. Etiquette for setting the fish or meat cutlery

Setting the fish fork and knife

Fish requires dedicated forks and knives. You should place the fish forks and knives on the table in the order of use.

Fish utensils are usually made of silver. Steel would taint the flavor of the fish. Furthermore, the condiments of the fish, such as sauces, lemon, or vinegar, are usually acidic and risk corroding the steel.

Setting the meat knife

Some meat courses, such as filet or steak, require a dedicated meat knife. Such a knife is usually sharper and has a heavier blade compared to regular knives.

You can either place the meat knife on the table in the order of use, or present it to the guest when the meat is served.

3. Etiquette for setting dessert utensils

Placing the dessert fork, knife, and spoon

There are two appropriate ways for setting the dessert utensils.

You can place the dessert spoons, forks, and knives in line with the other forks and spoons. Place them closest to the place setting, as they will be the last utensils to be used.

The other option is to place the dessert utensils above the place setting.

Lay the dessert spoon or dessert knife above the dinner plate in a horizontal position, the handle facing right. The blade of the knife should face down toward the plate. Lay the dessert fork beneath the dessert spoon or dessert knife, the handle facing left.

Presenting the dessert cutlery when you serve dessert

Another option is to present the dessert utensils when you serve dessert, instead of setting them on the table before the meal.

In such cases, present the dessert utensils on the individual dessert plates.

Placing or presenting the fruit fork, knife, and spoon

To place or present the fruit cutlery, follow the same etiquette rules for the dessert utensils.

If you serve both fruit and dessert, it is best to place the fruit utensils on the table, and then present the dessert utensils when you serve dessert.

4. Etiquette for placing any special utensils

When to present special utensils

In general, the etiquette for special utensils follows the same rules as regular cutlery. You can either place the special utensils on the table before the meal or present them as you serve the course that requires such special utensils.

For instance, follow these rules for caviar, oysters, lobster, crab, shellfish, and snail utensils.

How to set the butter spreader

Place the butter spreader or knife on the bread plate, in a horizontal or vertical position.

How to set the teaspoons and coffee spoons

Present the teaspoons when you serve tea. Similarly, present the coffee spoons when you serve coffee. Do not place them on the dining table before the meal.

Place teaspoons and coffee spoons on the saucer, behind the cup handle. The spoon should face up. The spoon handle should face the guest.

Setting cutlery on the table: the worst etiquette mistakes

When placing cutlery on the dining table, the most common etiquette mistakes are the ones that risk confusing your guests or damaging the tablecloth.

It is best to avoid:

  • Setting forks, knives, and spoons in the wrong order of use.
  • Setting forks with the forks facing down.
  • Placing teaspoons or coffee spoons on the dining table.

Additional resources & links