Get a Handle on Your Cutlery Etiquette
Get a Handle on Your Cutlery Etiquette

Now that we’ve given you the low down on how to host a dinner party with perfect etiquette and we’ve filled you in on proper UK and US table settings as well as general dining etiquette, it’s time to consider the question of cutlery etiquette.

Cutlery Matters

When it comes to formal dining, whether a business dinner, dinner party or at a top restaurant, the way you handle your cutlery is more important than you might think. According to the Protocol School of Washington, these skills, or the lack of them, send out a message about you:

“... it can be more damaging than you would think, especially for people in high positions. If you haven’t learnt to eat correctly, what else did you miss learning on the way to growing into the position you are in?”

If the thought of all those knives, forks and spoons lined up and waiting to be used for the right course is enough to make you gulp, don’t worry. You are not alone! The good news is that the finer points of cutlery use are both very easy to learn and well worth learning. And once you have mastered the art, you may very well find formal dining is so much fun that you want to introduce it at home – at least occasionally.

The Rules
‘The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.’
- Oscar Wilde

Rule number one: follow your host’s lead

When in doubt watch your host and follow his or her lead. Whether he or she reaches for the right or the wrong utensil, doing the same demonstrates respect. So whatever they do, you will be correct in doing the same thing. (As the signal to begin is the host unfolding his or her napkin, you should be watching in any case!)

Rule number two: use the right utensils for each course

Generally, you begin with the utensils farthest from the plate and progress to those closest to the plate. Most forks are to the left and knives to the right. For a five or six course meal, a spoon and fork are liable to be included. This is what you will see and in this order (from outer to inner):

To the left of the plate:
Salad fork
Fish fork
Dinner/meat fork

To the right of the plate:
Oyster/seafood fork
Soup spoon
Salad knife
Fish knife
Dinner/meat knife

The position of the salad knife and fork may vary. Opinions differ about whether the salad should be served towards the beginning or end of the meal, so the salad knife and fork may be closest or furthest from the plate. By selecting the cutlery that ‘comes next’ as each course is served you should be quite safe. But do remember rule number one: watch your host!

Above the plate:
Dessert fork
Desert Spoon

Always use both fork and spoon for the dessert. The fork should be used with prongs downwards either to push the dessert into the spoon or hold the dessert while you cut it with the spoon.

Above and to the left of the plate:
Bread plate with butter knife

Rule number three: hold and use the utensils correctly

Soup spoon - When eating soup, the spoon should be placed in your right hand, (or left if that is your dominant hand), with the handle resting on the middle finger while held steady and manoeuvred by the thumb and index finger. The spoon should be held horizontally so that you drink from the side of the spoon. It should be used to scoop the liquid away from you, starting at the centre of the bowl. Tilt the soup from the spoon into your mouth and drink from the edge. Never put the spoon into your mouth and do not either tilt or lift the soup bowl; the bowl stays firmly on the table!
Knife and Fork - It is customary to place the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right but, again, it is also correct to place the knife in the dominant hand; i.e. for left-handed people, the knife may properly be placed in the left hand.


Before you can hold and use your cutlery with poise, you will need the correct posture. Sit straight at the table with your feet flat on the floor and if you must cross your legs, do so at the ankles.