Mnemonics Make Decoding a Table Setting Easy

How do mnemonics help decode table settings? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines mnemonics as: a technique of improving the memory.

When I teach business dining etiquette, I am always fascinated by how many people want to know how to decode a table setting. Whether for a simple meal or a multicourse one, at home or at a restaurant, the way the table is set follows a norm. Your fork, knife, spoon, glassware and plate are always in the same place. Imagine how confusing it would be if the table were set differently each time. Knowing the standard for your place setting eliminates confusion and allows you to proceed through your meal or set your table with confidence.


Here are some simple mnemonics to help you remember which glass and butter plate are yours and which are your neighbor’s and where to set the fork, knife, and spoon. Follow them, and you’ll always know what’s yours, what isn’t and where to put it.

  1. b and d. With the back of your left hand facing you, touch the tip of your forefinger to the tip of your thumb and observe the resulting circle. Then extend the rest of your fingers as straight as possible. Now do the same with your right hand. As you look at your hands either in front of you or, if you are sitting at a dinner table, as your hands are in your lap, you’ll notice the left hand looks like a small letter b and your right hand looks like a small letter d. The b stands for bread and the d stands for drinks. Your bread plate is on the left of your place setting, and your drink glasses are on the right side of your place setting.
  2. Another way to identify which bread plate and glassware are yours is to remember BMW. You’ve probably already figured it out: B for bread on the left; M for meal in the middle; and W for water on the right of your place setting.
  3. If you’re hosting a business dinner at your home and want to be sure to set your table correctly (i.e. as your guests expect it to be set so they aren’t confused). Remember the mnemonic FOrKS. It will help you place the utensils in the correct order and on the proper side of the plate. Starting from the left:
  • F stands for forks.
  • O stands for the plate. (Just as the F is to the left of the O, so too are the forks placed to the left of the plate).
  • r is a reminder that all the remaining utensils, represented by K and S, go to the right of the plate.
  • K stands for knife, so any knives are set immediately to the right of the plate.
  • S is for spoons, so spoons are to the right of the knife or knives.
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