Your Knife and Fork Skill Set

Last week I explained how three tips—BMW, b and d, and FOrKS—could help you decode the table setting at a business lunch or dinner. In addition to the table setting, the other big issue that is at the heart of all our dining etiquette seminars is how to hold a fork and knife when you are cutting food.

Grasp your fork in your fist like a weapon, as if you are going to stab someone, and all the other diners around you will quietly note that you don’t know how to hold a fork, much less a knife, correctly.


So, here’s how to do it so you don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself:

  1. Place the butt of the handle of the fork in the palm of your non-dominant hand with the tines facing down away from your palm.
  2. Next, grasp the butt of the handle with your, little finger, ring finger and middle finger.
  3. Place your forefinger along the back of the fork.
  4. Use your thumb to grasp the handle.

You now have the fork grasped firmly in your non-dominant hand. In this position it is easy to hold down whatever you are cutting and not have it slip off the plate.

The interesting thing about the way you hold utensils for cutting is that you hold the knife in exactly the same way as the fork.

Why hold the fork in the left hand if you’re right handed? Because, you want to do the cutting with the knife in your dominant hand, the hand with which you have the most control.

I’m invariably asked, “Is it okay for me to hold my fork in my right hand if I’m left-handed?” Short answer: Yes. A left-handed person wants to do the cutting with his or her dominant left hand, so the fork goes in the right hand.

And then there’s the issue of whether, after cutting a piece of food, is it okay to lift the fork to your mouth (continental style of eating) or do you put the knife down switch the fork to your dominant hand, and then raise the food to your mouth (American style of eating)? In the very first edition of Etiquette, Emily Post referred to the American style of eating as “zig-zag” eating, and she preferred the continental style for herself. Today’s answer: Either way is okay. Do what seems to be the easiest way for you to get the food from your plate to your mouth without dropping it, spilling it, making a mess, or otherwise calling unnecessary attention to yourself.


Remember, the real goal of eating is to raise the food to your mouth without drawing attention to what you are doing. You do that by being comfortable in your actions. That way you keep the focus of the meal on enjoying the company of the people you are with. And that’s the real goal of a successful meal with business associates.

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