High on the list of topics for any seminar I deliver is dining etiquette. That makes sense—after all the business meal is a place where people take the measure of each other. “Is this someone I want to be with again?” “Is this a person I really want to work with?”
Companies know how important the business dinner is. A manager once confided in me that his company had lost business because his employee(s) did not know the basics of dining etiquette.
One of the most sought after pieces of information is how to decode the place setting: “What are all those utensils for, and which do I use when?” Of course, most people think they know the answer to the question, but they appreciate hearing the solution because it removes any doubt. That means they can act confidently at the business meal. And it is through acting confidently that trust and relationships are built.
Specific knives, forks, and spoons are used for different dishes served during a meal. Those items are placed at the table to make it easy to know which utensil to use when. “From the outside in” is the governing rule.
In this picture of a typical four-course meal, the spoon on the right indicates that soup will be served first. After the soupspoon is removed, the smaller fork and knife are now on the outside indicating that salad is next. Once they are removed, the larger fork and knife remain to be used with the main course. The spoon and fork at the top of the setting are the last to be used, and they go with the dessert.
If you are setting the table, how do you know which utensils go on the right and which on the left of the plate? It’s easy. Remember the mnemonic FOrKS. The “O” stands for your plate. The “F” indicates the forks, which go to the left of the place setting. The “r” indicates that knives (“K”) and spoons (“S”) go next, in that order, to the right of the plate.
At a crowded table, the place settings may be so close to each other that it may be difficult to determine what is yours and what belongs to your neighbors.
Check out the picture. Here’s another easy trick: Remember “B” and “D.” Place the tip of your left hand thumb and forefinger together to make a circle. Straighten out your remaining fingers, and you’ll see your hand forms a small letter “b.” Do the same with your right hand, and it looks like a small letter “d.” The “b” stands for the “b” in bread and indicates your bread plate is on the left. The “d” stands for drinks and indicates your drink glasses are on the right of your place setting.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.