Flatware Etiquette for Formal Occasions: Do’s & Don’ts

Brief History of Flatware Etiquette

Forks were first presented in 16th-century Europe when touching food became a faux pas. This appreciation of following the rules created the rise in etiquette surrounding both food and dining. 

By the 1700s, King Louis XIV of France required all court members to use three-pronged forks to eat. Nearly 100 years later, most people in Europe were following suit and using flatware, and even using them the specified way, with a fork in the left hand and a knife in the right. 

Flatware use is still evolving, but many trends come and go built upon the patterns of behavior already set. 

The Difference Between Formal and Informal

Formal flatware refers to the silverware set used during a formal dining occasion and the etiquette surrounding its use. This typically requires the user to dine from the outer pieces toward the inside. There may also be additional pieces used for soups, desserts, and special foods. Informal flatware is less specific, with the utensils placed next to the plate as the main cutlery and easily switched between as needed. 

Formal dining is common at events such as weddings, galas, or high-end restaurants. If this is required, you should learn to use the flatware correctly, keep your elbows off the table, and be on your best behavior. Informal events, like family dinners, barbecues, or casual events, usually require only one pair of simple cutlery.

If you’re attending a formal event, make sure to remember basic dining etiquette. Don’t speak with your mouth full. Place your silverware on the plate and not the table when paused or finished. Also, don’t forget to cut your food into small bites and eat as you go, rather than all at once. 

The Do’s of Formal Flatware Etiquette

The proper use of flatware begins with properly holding your fork and knife. Your index finger should be on the top of each utensil with your thumb and index finger on the underside and the last two fingers resting towards your palm. The knife should be held in your dominant hand with the fork in the other. Hold the food you are cutting in place with the fork and cut using the knife in a firm, swift motions. 

Each course requires its own etiquette. For example, it is customary to eat soup by scooping it away from you, rather than towards you. Large pieces of salad can be cut with a knife, but don’t cut the entire salad all at once, but rather as you go.

The dessert spoon is typically resting above or below the dessert fork on the top of the plate. Dessert requires you to place the food onto your spoon by pushing it with a fork. You then leave the fork in your left hand while taking a bite with the spoon in your right. 

During the main course, it is sometimes customary in the United States to switch the fork between the dominant and opposite hand as needed for cutting and eating food. However, in Europe, the knife remains in the dominant hand and does not leave unless there is a pause in eating. Consider Christofle Malmaison Silverplate Flatware for your formal flatware needs.

The Don’ts of Formal Flatware Etiquette

Common mistakes people make when using formal silverware are choosing the wrong utensils for the course at hand, scooping food instead of cutting, cutting with the fork instead of the knife, forgetting the proper resting position for their cutlery, and applying too hard or light pressure when cutting. Refine these areas and you’ll look like a pro!

Which Utensils are Used for Which Courses?

A quick guide to formal flatware is the placement of each piece. The salad fork will be on the outer edge of the left side, with the dinner fork closest to the plate. The dessert fork will typically rest above the plate with the prongs facing right. 

The soup spoon will be furthest from the plate on the right side. A teaspoon may be placed closer to the plate, with the dessert spoon resting above or below the dessert fork. 

Lastly, the dinner knife will be closest to the plate, unless there is also a salad course. In this case, it will sit to the right of the salad knife, second place from the plate.