Small cutlery etiquette – set the table properly

If you’re hosting a meal, there’s a lot to keep in mind. Especially when setting the table. How knives, forks and spoons are arranged correctly according to cutlery etiquette, we show here.

Organizing a festive dinner is a beautiful thing, but it also requires a lot of effort. The menu must be chosen, prepared and cooked, the room – especially the table – must be attractively decorated and of course you want to make everything perfect when setting the table. After all, you want to show your guests not only that you make an effort, but also that you have the necessary etiquette know-how! Our cutlery etiquette guide will help you get started.

Because setting the right place settings is often a headache. Which spoon belongs where? Do you need a separate knife for everything? Which was again the fish fork? has put together some pointers and helpful tips for you:

The right cutlery – arrangement and order in cutlery etiquette

In principle, the arrangement of the cutlery is relatively logically structured. Three obvious principles can already simplify the first steps:

  • Cutlery held in the right hand lies to the right of the plate, those held to the left lie to the left
  • What you need first is on the outside, so you can get closer to the plate course by course
  • Small pieces of cutlery that are not needed until later, such as dessert and cheese servers, lie above the plate

No special rules for left-handed people

Spoon and knife should be placed to the right of the plate, because they are best held with the right hand. By the way, for left-handers, the following applies: The cutlery should be left like this. However, you can change them inconspicuously when you pick them up.

Dessert spoons and forks are placed crosswise above the plate so that the handle points to the hand with which it is picked up: that of the spoon to the right and that of the fork to the left.

Cutlery etiquette: arranging cutlery

Cutlery etiquette: Arrange cutlery

The arrangement of the cutlery depends on its use

The following exceptions should be noted in the basic arrangement:

1. In the case of a spaghetti dish, the spoon can exceptionally be placed on the left and the fork on the right, since spaghetti rolled up in the spoon can be eaten with the fork in the right hand.

2. If a separate bread plate is set with a bread or butter knife – in this case, the plate is to the left of the row of forks – the bread knife is not placed with the other knives, but lies directly on the bread plate, vertically on the right edge.

The subtle difference: details when setting the cutlery

The mere arrangement of the cutlery is, so to speak, the compulsory discipline in cutlery etiquette. But small details are what make the table a festive table.

Of course, you should make sure that all knives are placed with the cutting edge to the left. Only in this way you have the knife also directly right in the hand and also minimizes the risk of injury.

For many different courses, people have come to place no more than four pieces of cutlery to the right of the plate, and no more than three to the left. If you still need more, these pieces are served together with the plate during the respective course.

Correct arrangement of the forks

Offset forks according to cutlery etiquette guide

Offset forks according to cutlery etiquette guide

The exact positioning of the cutlery starts with the innermost cutlery set. This is placed directly next to the plate with a thumb’s width distance to the edge of the table.

Nowadays, additional knives and spoons are usually placed on a level with the innermost knife.
On the left side of the plate, however, the second fork is positioned slightly offset upwards. The tines of this fork should start at about the same height where the last fork ends. The next following fork is then placed back in exactly the same way as the innermost one.

Which cutlery for which dish?

The specific arrangement of the cutlery pieces depends, of course, on the respective courses. As already mentioned in the Cutlery Knigge, the first required forks, spoons and knives are on the outside. Often there is still uncertainty, which cutlery is now intended for which dish. Therefore, we have put together a small overview for you:

Salad or fish is often served as an appetizer. The salad fork is relatively small and usually four-pronged. Tip: If you cool the salad fork, the salad remains particularly crisp and tastes very fresh. The fish fork also has four tines, but they are relatively short, creating a larger surface area.

The main course is taken with a table fork or a menu fork. Both have four long tines. The menu fork is a little smaller than the table fork.

For dessert, a cake fork or dessert fork (also called a center fork) is often needed. The dessert fork, which can also be used for hors d’oeuvres, is four-pronged and slightly smaller. The cake fork is also small, but has only three prongs.

In addition to the everyday forks, there are also a number of special forks. This includes, for example, the snail fork. It is easy to recognize because it has only two long prongs. The oyster fork, with its three very short tines and large surface area, looks very much like a fish fork. Finally, there is the jacket potato fork, which has three spatially spaced, very narrow tines perfect for a secure grip while peeling.

The fish knife often used for appetizers has a sharp tip and a toothless surface. This makes it easy to cut the fish without the muscle meat falling apart.

Butter knives, often served with small appetizers, are rather blunt at the front, often even round and have a wide stroking surface.

The main course is cut with the table or menu knife. Both are slightly round in the front and have a serration on the cutting surface.
Often a special steak knife is also served. This is very pointed at the front and has a sharp blade.

Very different knives can be used for dessert: The general dessert knife is relatively small and rounded at the front. If necessary, the dessert knife can also be used for appetizers. It is suitable for cutting egg dishes, for example.

For a mixed cheese platter, a special cheese knife is used. This is small and sharp-edged. There are often two implied prongs on the tip, which can be used to spear the cut cheese. In addition, the cutting surface is often provided with large holes, so that soft cheeses stick less when cut.

Often feared, but easy to spot: Fish cutlery

Fish fork and fish knife

A caviar knife rather reminds of a spoon, because it has a blunt, round widening at the front. Fruit knives, on the other hand, are very pointed, sharp and relatively small. This is the ideal way to peel and chop the fruit.

Soup is a popular appetizer. The soup spoon used for this purpose has a large, oval face. In contrast, a stock spoon is smaller and has a circular surface, making it easier to spoon the liquid out of the soup cup. A dessert spoon, which is a little smaller, is often used for stewed fruit.

If a spoon is needed for the main course, it has a large, oval surface like the soup spoon.

For dessert, in most cases long-handled ice cream spoons with small surfaces are used, which can be oval or slightly flattened at the front. The already mentioned dessert spoon, on the other hand, is used for fruit salad, for example. There is a special spoon for kiwi. This has a pointed prong on the side, which allows cutting into the skin.

© Andrejs Nikiforovs / Fotolia (1), © Eventimages21 / Fotolia (2), © Robynmac / Fotolia (3, 4, 6), © knirzporz / Fotolia (5)

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