Today I'm going to start with the place setting and what all those utensils are for and when to use them. It can be a little overwhelming to sit down to a formal dinner and see 5 to 11 or more pieces of silverware in front of you. Where do you start and what's the proper one to use for each course of dinner?
First, I should start with what you do immediately after sitting down. Once you have been seated, remove the napkin from the table and put it in your lap. Next, don't play with your table setting. If you have glasses with a beverage it's alright to have a drink. If the beverage is one that you add sugar or some other condiment to, that is alright to do as well. If you use a utensil with that condiment, remember what you read in the second paragraph following this one.
The standard rule of thumb on silverware in front of you is to use them from the outside and work your way in towards the plate. Usual setups have forks on the left and knives and spoons on the right. Dessert forks and/or spoons are above the plate normally. If you have a bread plate at the table setting, it may or may not have a butter knife laid across it.
If you have concerns about using the correct utensil, wait and follow the lead of the host/hostess or others at your table. You don't need to be the first to pick up a utensil. However, once you do pick up a utensil never let it touch the table again. By that I mean the end of the utensil that you use (blade of knife, prongs of fork or bowl of spoon). Either place the entire utensil on a dish or lean it so the handle only touches the table.
Of all the utensils, only the soup spoon has a required way of use. When you use a soup spoon it should be entered into the soup moving away from you. You just skim the soup and be sure to run the bottom of the spoon over the back of the soup bowl. This helps remove soup that could drip on you as you move the spoon to your mouth. Please remember not to slurp your soup. Noises while you eat are normally not a good thing.
When you have finished a course, what you do with your utensil can signal to the serve that you are done. Put your utensil face down on the plate or in the bowl with the handle facing 4 or 5 o'clock. Use your plate as the clock with 12 at the top and 6 closest to you. The reason you put the handle that way is because servers usually clear from the right. This lets them have some control over the utensil so it doesn't end up in your lap or on the floor.
Going back to the beginning of your meal, I have a few more points to make. First, don't start eating until one of the following happens. It depends on the size of your event. If you are at the table with the host/hostess, you don't start eating until they take their first bite. They lead the table in what is happening throughout the meal. At a larger function, it is proper to wait until everyone at your table has been served a course before anyone starts eating. I would wait again for the host/hostess to start if there are only 2 or 3 tables at the dinner.
While enjoying the meal, it is again proper to taste everything served. It is an insult to the host/hostess not to. That doesn't mean you have to finish it or that it has to be a large amount you taste. It is also not proper to have more than three bites of the same food before tasting another item on the plate. If a food item requires cutting to a bite-size to eat, only cut one piece at a time and eat it before cutting another.
A question I always get when I do an etiquette dinner is: "What do I do if I can't swallow something in my mouth?" It may happen that there is a piece of gristle or bone in a bite or something is causing a gag reflex. If you have one of these experiences, just use your napkin. Take a corner of the napkin and bring it to your mouth as if you were going to blot your lips because of food or something on them. As you blot carefully push the item from your mouth into the napkin and roll the napkin a little and replace in your lap. Be sure to be careful the rest of the meal with your napkin. By doing this most if not all others at your table will never know you had a problem.
I could go on for days on the subject of dinner etiquette but yesterday and today's comments should give you a good start. Please use the comment section of the blog to ask questions if some of this has been confusing. If it creates more questions on other aspects of etiquette, be sure to ask those as well. I hope this has helped some of you and refreshed others of their knowledge.
Tomorrow's blog is a recipe for Freezing Fresh Corn and then on Friday the recipe is for Baked Stuffed Tomatoes. Enjoy!