The fine dining etiquette can be a quite mouthful. Already the expression itself conjures images of grand dinners and gourmet food, where diners are sophisticated and impeccably dressed. But, it also generates associations with images of maze-like cutlery placements (why would one need so many forks?), too many wine glasses and awkward table conversations that ensue.
“Do the Lap and Dab”
Cloth napkins are meant to be placed and unfolded on your lap during the meal. They should not be tucked into your shirt collar nor draped over your chest. The napkin should be used to dab the sides of your mouth when eating. It definitely isn’t meant for wiping.
Should you need to leave the table for a while, place the napkin on your chair. This shows that you will be back. When the dinner is over, put the napkin on the table, on the right side of your plate, to be precise.
“Work from the Outside In”
The table setting of a standard Western formal dining table should consist of a plate in the middle, a series of forks on the left and a series of spoons and knives on the right. This cutlery will be used for the appetizers and main courses. The smaller fork and spoon, placed above the plate, are meant for the dessert. Above the dessert cutlery, one will normally find three differently-sized drinking glasses for the beverages enjoyed during the meal.
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Answering the question of “Where should I even begin?”, we have a simple rule. Always start with the outermost set of cutlery and work your way inwards throughout the later courses. So it goes from there.
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The cutlery arrangement will also tell you which hand is supposed to be holding what. The left hand will therefore always be holding the fork, which subsequently holds the food down while being cut. It also brings the cut food to your mouth. The right hand is the one that handles the knives and manoeuvres the spoon for soups.
Fine dining etiquette also dictates some actions, which one should not do while eating. When bringing cut food to your mouth, the fork’s tines should always be facing downwards. You should not use the fork to scoop food, when faced with more difficult foods like peas, for example. The fine dining etiquette advises to use your knife to support the peas, while pushing your fork firmly through the peas.
The placement of your cutlery during the meal is also important, as it communicates to the servers whether you are continuing with the course or not. Here are a few resting placements you should know for your fine dining etiquette:
When you still want to eat
- Between mouthfuls, rest your cutlery on the plate with their tips touching each other. If you are just using one piece of cutlery, then tilt it an angle. This communicates to the servers “I still want to continue eating”.
- Do not rest the cutlery on the table or half on the plate and half off the plate.
When you are finished eating the course
- Place your cutlery side by side in the centre of your plate vertically, with the tines of the fork facing down and the knife blade pointing towards the fork tines. This will indicate “I’m done”. Don’t forget that politeness is a top priority for your fine dining etiquette.
In order to be a smooth operator of forks, knives and spoons, just remember to follow the outside-in-rule, to rest them at an angle when you still want to eat and to place them vertically parallel when you are done.
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“Tear and Savour the Bread’s Wonderful Flavour”
At some formal dinners, bread rolls are presented on the table and often accompanied with a swirl of butter. As much as we would like to dip the entire piece in our soup appetiser, we have to (unfortunately) resist the urge. The fine dining etiquette forbids us to munch. These bread rolls are meant to satiate your hunger a little before the actual meal is served.
The proper way to indulge yourself with them is to tear bite-sized pieces of bread, butter them on the small plate that it was put on and then to gracefully savour each morsel.
“For Drinks – Just Wait to be Served”
There will normally be three differently-sized glasses, each for a different beverage.
The largest glass – will be your water goblet
The medium glass- will be for red wine
The smaller glass – will be for white wine
If you are lucky, you might find a thinner and narrower glass. This would be the champagne flute and obviously be filled with the sparkling delight and some happiness.
The good news is that usually the servers are the ones pouring the beverages in the correct glasses. When wanting to graciously request a refill, do not hold up your glass. You just have to let him know what exact wine you would like more of. Inform him politely, when he has poured enough.
“Raise your Glasses and Make Eye Contact”
Popular to contrary belief, you do not need to clink your glass with others. All you need to do is to raise your glass and make eye contact with each person you toast. If you are the one proposing the toast, you should never hit your cutlery against your glass to attract attention. Remember that you aren’t the only one in the room following the fine dining etiquette. A simple clearing of your throat and a “may I propose a toast” would suffice.