Which Fork Should You Use?

Posted by Tommye Johnson on February 14, 2013

During dining etiquette sessions, people often ask, “With which fork do I begin eating?” This comes as no surprise, considering that forks in a formal table setting can number as many as three, and on rare occasions four, and can appear on the left of the plate, on the right, and sometimes even at the top of the plate, depending on just how formal the event really is. With this many forks, and this many potential locations, choosing the appropriate fork can, at times, become overwhelming.

So what is a well-meaning diner to do? The most seasoned formal diners understand that a formal place-setting is set up based on the menu. We could get technical, recognizing that the largest fork will always be the dinner fork – or the one meant for your entrée, and that this is the fork around which the rest of the forks are arranged – but a simpler way to think about it is to understand that each fork has a pre-determined purpose, and if a diner simply works their way from the outside-in with each course, he or she will remain in good etiquette standing.

Forks are placed to the left of the centerpiece of a place-setting. Typically, there will not be more than three of any implement on the table at a given time. The fork, however, breaks this rule in the case of the oyster fork (this oyster fork is also set to the right of the centerpiece, as opposed to the left) which is used when and if there is a shellfish course.

If you see a fork placed at the top of a plate (this is more typical in a semi-formal situation when dessert is pre-set), know that it will be the final fork used for your dessert course.

If you run out of forks, do not despair: your waiter or waitress will bring the appropriate fork to you with any remaining courses, or, in a simpler case, your meal may be finished.

With so many forks from which to choose, it is easy to lose your confidence – but understanding the mechanics behind a place-setting can certainly ease your mind when trying to comport yourself at the table.

What are your experiences with silverware challenges? Let us know in the comments below or tweet your replies using the hashtag #mcgblog.