Toast and Tables talked about the art of table setting yesterday. Sarah Dennis made the point that formal entertaining is a disappearing act. Sadly, I must agree with her.
I feel there are times that call for strict etiquette and beautiful table manners. It is one way to clearly state that an event is out of ordinary. All this made me realized that I was overdue for a post on table etiquette. I will review a few rules in well mannered eating customs.
Napkins and Flatware
The napkin at a formal dinner sits at the center of the plate. The fold must be simple. The place card is put on top of the napkin. Place cards are a must at a formal dinner party.
Silverware is used for formal dinner. Stainless steel cutlery is reserved for less formal events. Some people prefer eating the fish course with fish utensils made of stainless steel to avoid the metal reaction with lemon.
Soup and Fish Utensils
In a formal dinner, there can be from 6 to 12 courses. The rule is that you cannot put more than 3 utensils on each side. The idea is to leave comfortable space between each place setting.
The solution is to bring the extra utensils during the meal. Based on the menu, the soup spoon and the fish utensils are often brought to the table before serving. If you bring utensils at the table, the servers will put them in a tray for carrying.
British versus French Formal Table Setting
The formal table chart is set according to the British rule. One huge difference between the two cultures is that no butter knife and bread plate appears on the French table. In fact, the sales director at Arthur Quentin explained to me the other day that old French dinnerware ceramists adjusted their production for the North American market. Now they make the bread plate and butter dish.
Butter is never served at a formal dinner. Bread is optional and it only serves with certain dishes. In fact, bread cannot be served before the meal has begun. You put the bread on the tablecloth in France.
The dessert utensils are allowed on the table at the top of the plate. It is a common method but it is not the most elegant one. If the dessert utensils are already on the table, the server must then move the fork on the left and the spoon on the right of the place setting before serving the cheese or dessert course.
In the ultimate formal table setting, dessert utensils are brought at the table just before serving the cheese or dessert course. It feels so much more sophisticated. Visually, it also makes a better tabletop from the start.
Before serving cheese or dessert, the table should be cleared of everything except the centerpieces. The serving staff will clean the tablecloth with a crumb collector and carry the crumbs with a small plate. You probably have seen this practice in high end restaurants. Cheese and dessert silverware is then placed on the table.
Casual Luxury Table Accessory
Knife rests are a stylish table accessory if you plan to reuse the knives for more than one course. Do not put the knife on the knife rest when you are setting the table. The guests will deposit the knife on the knife rest between the courses to avoid spoiling the tablecloth. The knife rests signal to your guests that they should keep their knife. Knife rests are used exclusively in casual dinner.
There is no need for knife rests at a formal dinner. The utensils intended for the course are always removed at the end of each course at a formal dinner.
Stylish Tableware Accessories
If you are looking for items to set a formal table for yourself or as a wedding gift, check out these luxurious items.
- Butter Dish by Ercuis at Bloomingdales – price: $87 USD
- Fish fork and knife from Isatis Flatware Collection by Guy Degrenne – designed by Agnes Descamps
- Silverplated Galet Knife Rests by Christofle at artedona – price: $210.60 for a set of 4
- Vertigo Individual Butter Dish by Christofle designed by Andree Putman at Bloomingdales – price: $215 USD
- Vertigo Knife Rests by Christofle designed by Andree Putman, set of 4 available at Bloomingdales
- Crumb Collector Ramasse-miettes inox de poche at MeilleurDuChef.com – price: 4.60 ?
- Alessi Ala Crumb Collector by Achille Castiglioni at All Modern – price: $30 USD
Have a look at the top picture that Sarah published on Toast and Tables. It is fine example of a formal place setting. It showcased China by Lenox, Stemware by Waterford/Wedgwood, Flatware by Vera Wang and a Tablecloth by Sferra.
Via: Disappearing Act: In this casual world, is formal passé? [Toast and Tables]
francescaMay 5, 2008 at 14:46
It’s a very interesting article, i really love to discover the difference between other countries expecially when we talk about table setting and decoration.
thanks for sharing
MitchellJanuary 10, 2012 at 13:29
I am plesaed to learn quite a bit more on table seeting especially a formal setting………..but it is tue that the true etiquecy on table manners and table setting is slowly wearing out of our culture!
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