I Know, Dad – Dining Etiquette

Last night I had the pleasure of eating at one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Da Greco.  Da Greco is a phenomenal Italian restaurant located on Barcelona’s bustling Passeig de Gracia.  Considering the quality of the food, the size of the portions, and the friendliness of the staff, the menu prices are quite reasonable.  It is not a cheap meal, but you don’t need to be royalty to dine at Da Greco.  My favorite entree,  the “variety of pasta,”  is selected by the chef each night and is typically around 12 Euros.  That being said, you are treated to a fine dining experience at Da Greco and that includes all the bells and whistles of a fancy restaurant.  When I sat down last night there was a spoon, three forks, two knives, two glasses, and two plates set in front of me.  While multi-course meals can feature even more utensils than that, Da Greco definitely provided enough utensils to confuse some less experienced diners.  I immediately thought of my dad and his constant table etiquette reminders throughout my childhood, and I thought it might be a nice opportunity to write a refresher/lesson for my blog.  Below you will find a list of some of some, but not all, table etiquette rules.  I included some more obvious ones that Dad has drilled into my brain over the years, but also a few obscure ones I have found valuable.

I’ll start off with some rapid fire for some of the more common ones I used to hear pretty much every meal.  Keep your elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, don’t speak with food in your mouth, keep your napkin on your lap, wait until everyone is served to begin eating, don’t reach across the table, don’t play with your food, etc..

But the more complicated tips relate to silverware use and placement.  It is easy to get confused because there are two different, proper ways (if you exclude Asian dining, which includes chopsticks and other different utensils and is a whole different story entirely).  The reason is that there are two major styles of etiquette: American and Continental.  American is clearly used in the United States while Continental is a European style (and is sometimes simply called European style) and is more globally accepted.  Both are correct as long as used consistently, although many argue that the Continental style is more efficient and sophisticated than the American style.

The reason American style (also called the Zig-Zag Method) is considered inefficient is is because it requires diners to cut a piece of food with the knife in the right hand and fork in the left, set the knife down on the plate, transfer the fork to the right hand to eat, and then transfer it back to the left in order to cut another piece.  The Continental method allows you to use your fork in your left hand, eliminating the need to switch hands.  Again, both are acceptable as long as you stick to just one method.

In both American and Continental styles, though,  it is improper to eat your soup by scooping towards your body.  It is correct to scoop away, thus preventing the possibility of splashing any soup on yourself.  Also, when finished eating your soup, you ought to set your spoon down on the service plate (the plate underneath the bowl), rather than leaving it in the bowl itself.

When setting knives and forks down the American and Continental styles differ slightly if you intend to indicate that you have completed your meal.  In the American way, the knife is typically set at the top right corner of the plate,  while the fork is placed with the handle at about 4 o’clock.  The Continental way has both the knife and fork handles parallel at the 4 o’clock mark, however this is also considered proper in the American style, though the reverse is not true (knife at the top right corner would be incorrect under the Continental rules).

Utensil placement when done eating for the American style

Utensil placement when done eating for the Continental Style (although this is also accepted in the American Style)

Utensil placement when not done eating for both the American and Continental Styles

If you are still eating your meal, though, the two styles are identical.  The knife handle should be placed at around 4 o’clock and should crisscross the fork which should be placed with the handle at approximately 8 o’clock.  Note that in all of these placements, the blade of the knife should be facing inwards towards you and not the rest of the table.

However, the fork placement varies in American and Continental style as in the American style it should be placed tines up, while in the Continental style it should be placed tines down.  Remember, also, that once a utensil has been used it should not touch the tablecloth again and should always rest on whichever plate you are using or have finished using.

Lastly, a good general tip if you are confused which utensil to use is to eat inward.  That is, if there are 2 knives and 2 forks, use the outer knife and fork for your salad/appetizer and the inner knife and fork for your main course.  If it is a multi-course meal with, say, a salad and an appetizer, there ought to be three knives and forks on the table OR the waiter or waitress should bring you a second set of appetizer utensils after removing the first set.  There is a good graphic below that identifies all the different types of basic utensils and their purposes, including which glasses are used for which kinds of drinks.  While there are definitely other types of utensils, especially for various seafood dishes, there are quite a few and for the brevity of this post I will not include them.  I hope you learned something!

PS. For more information you can go to this website here, called Etiquette Scholar.  It has an abundance of information and I often use it for reference.

Utensil placement for both formal and informal place settings



  1. Donna Sonageri · · Reply

    very good blog i printed out the table setting cause even i did not know the placement of everything

  2. […] etiquette styles. If you enjoyed the article and would like to read the original, please use this link. I even mention one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Barcelona, Da Greco, which surprisingly […]

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