Setting Cutlery Etiquette 4 Rules: How To Place Utensils The Right Way

Setting fork, knife, and spoon (cutlery) etiquette is simple but crucial. Make just one small mistake and your table setting is wrong. Avoid embarrassments. Be the ideal host or the perfect guest.

What setting cutlery etiquette is

Setting cutlery etiquette is the set of rules to properly set utensils on the dining table. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can make you look unsophisticated to your hosts or guests.

If you are hosting, follow setting cutlery etiquette to correctly set forks, knives, and spoons on your dining table.

If you are a guest, the rules of setting cutlery etiquette help you to properly use your utensils.

Setting cutlery etiquette rules

1) Basic etiquette for setting fork knife and spoon

Types of utensils

Cutlery includes forks, knives, and spoons. Cutlery is sometimes referred to as flatware, silverware, or utensils.

On formal occasions, choose elegant utensils. If silverware is not available, choose heavy forks, knives, and spoons if possible. Heavy utensils make guests perceive the food as of higher quality.

Plastic utensils are appropriate only on very informal occasions. Such as a barbecue or picnic.

Set forks to the left, knives and spoons to the right

Forks left, knives & spoon right

Place knives and spoons to the right of each setting, and forks to the left. Place the soup spoon on the right of the outside knife.

The right order to set cutlery on the table

Set cutlery in the order of use

Place forks, knives, and spoons on the table in the order of use. The order starts from the outside of the place setting and moves inward toward the plate. 

Cutlery setting etiquette requires that forks and knives should be in equal numbers, even if some courses will require only the fork. 

Guests should use a pair of clean utensils for each course and follow the order from the outside in. Place closest to the plate the utensils that guests will use last.

Set forks knives and spoons facing the right direction

Place forks with the prongs facing upward. Spoons should face upward too. Place knives with the sharp side of the blade facing the plate.

To avoid leaving fingerprints on the utensils when placing them on the table, hold them by the area between the handle and the eating end.

Do not place utensils on the napkin.

2) Setting fish cutlery etiquette

Place the fish knife and fish fork on the table in the order of use.

Fish utensils are usually made of silver. Steel would taint the flavor of the fish. Furthermore, the condiments of the fish, such as sauces, lemon, or vinegar, are usually acidic and risk corroding the steel. 

3) Setting dessert forks knives and spoons

There are two appropriate ways of setting dessert ut.

How to set dessert fork and knife in line

Setting dessert spoons, forks, and knives in line with the other forks and spoons. Place them closest to the place setting, as they will be the last utensils to be used. 

How to set dessert fork and knife above the setting

The other option is to place dessert utensils above the place setting.

If you place dessert utensils above the place setting, lay the dessert spoon or dessert knife above the dinner plate in a horizontal position, the handle facing right. Lay the dessert fork beneath the dessert spoon or dessert knife, the handle facing left.

Present dessert cutlery when you serve dessert

Another option is to present the dessert utensils on the individual dessert plates. 

This means that, instead of setting dessert cutlery on the table, you present it when you serve dessert.

Setting fruit fork knife and spoon

Setting fruit cutlery etiquette follows the same rules as dessert utensils.

4) How to place special utensils

How to set the butter spreader

Place the butter spreader (knife) on the bread plate, in a horizontal or vertical position. 

How to set the teaspoons and coffee spoons

Present teaspoons when you serve tea. Similarly, present coffee spoons when you serve coffee. Do not place them on the dining table before the meal.

Place teaspoons and coffee spoons on the saucer behind the cup handle. The spoon faces up. The spoon handle faces the guest.

setting cutlery etiquette mistakes

Setting cutlery etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst etiquette mistakes. 

  • 9/10. Setting forks knives & spoons in the wrong order.
  • 6/10. Setting forks facing down.
  • 4/10. Placing teaspoons on the dining table.