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Cutlery etiquette: a guide to the perfect mise en place

Some rules for setting and arranging cutlery at the table according to the rules of etiquette.


Cutlery etiquette: a guide to the perfect mise en place

A well-set table is an indication of refinement and bon ton, confirmation of the attention and care with which hosts like to receive their guests. Harmony is the peculiarity that etiquette requires of a well laid table, but between cutlery, plates, glasses, tablecloth and napkins, but also centrepieces, place cards and bread holders, every element contributes to the ritual.


Cutlery is placed in the order in which it will be used, starting from the outside towards the inside. For example, the fork for the first course is placed to the left of the plate, followed by the fork for the main course. From the right-hand side of the plate, the spoon for the main course is placed, followed by the knife for the first course. The position of the spoon depends on the menu. If the menu includes a soup dish or a course that requires the use of a spoon, the spoon is positioned to the right of the knife for the main course.


For subsequent courses such as dessert or fruit, the cutlery should be placed on top of the plate, with the fork with the tips pointing to the left and the spoon to the right. If several pieces of cutlery are served on the same plate, they should be placed from the outside inwards, following the order of use.


The flat plates, placed on under plates or directly on the tablecloth, are placed at an equal distance from each other and, if decorated, oriented towards the outside of the table and the guest to be read correctly. This is followed by the soup plate or cup for the consommé or hors d'oeuvre plate. The plate bread plate to the left and above the flat plate. You can set up to three plates at the same time as the others, such as the salad plate, follow the courses placed on a small table or on a trolley. Plates for hot dishes should always be served lukewarm.


The glasses, at least two and never more than four including water and champagne, slightly to the right of the plate in front of the knife. The larger one for water dominates the composition, then the one for red wine and the one for white wine to the right. If the number of glasses increases, to serve more wines, they should be placed on the right. To serve only champagne, set the table with the water glass in addition to the one dedicated to 'bubbles'.


Linen, cotton, patterned or plain, the secret is that it should blend perfectly with the tones of the occasion and the other protagonists on the table. For a trendy table, only if there is a beautiful table, replace the tablecloth with American placemats, runners or fine underplates for each guest. Although extremely pleasant, these solutions are recommended for informal occasions and only for lunch, never for dinner. The napkin is to the left of the plate.


A centerpiece is the star of any table decor, but figuring out the right dimensions and where to position it can be overwhelming. First things first, consider the size of your table: your centerpiece should not be too small (making the decorative element useless) nor too large (to avoid being in the way of diners), and it must never hide the faces of the diners, who are the main characters of the meal. So to be functional it must be very low, or very high so as not to be a visual distraction. When it comes to where to position your centerpiece, the possibilities are endless: it should be positioned at the center of the table, but you can also try to create an off-center and perfect asymmetrical effect, placing the centerpierce closer to an end of the table.
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