Lessons in Etiquette

Q: I recently went to dinner at an upscale restaurant with my parents and their friends.  I was nervous about making a faux pas while eating.  I know the different pieces of silverware pretty well, but I get lost on what to use and how to use everything else on the table.  Please help.

A: Congratulations on mastering the silverware.  That can be quite a feat, especially for a formal place setting.  The rest will just take a little practice.
Let’s begin identifying the plates.  You should have a main plate in front of you.  You may have a salad plate to your left, or it may be on top of your main plate.  If soup is being served, the bowl may be placed on top of your main plate as well.  A small bread plate will be to the upper left corner of the main plate.  Your glassware will be placed directly above the knives, at the upper right corner of the main plate.  The water goblet is first, to its right is the red wine glass, and to its right is the white wine glass.
Most people know that food is passed counter-clockwise, or to the right.  However, most people do not pass tableware correctly.  They pass plates of food, or salt and pepper shakers hand-to-hand.  This is incorrect.  Tableware, whether it is a plate of food, a breadbasket, or salt and pepper shakers, is passed from hand to table, then table to hand.  Let’s say you are passing a breadbasket.  You would take a roll or piece of bread from the basket and place it on your bread plate.  Then, you would set the basket down as near to the place setting of the person sitting to your right as you can.  Then, that person would take a piece of bread and place it on their bread plate, pick up the basket, and set it near the place setting of the person sitting to their right.
When the butter plate is being passed, take only one or two pats of butter and place them on your bread plate, then continue passing the butter plate counter-clockwise.  You may then butter your bread or roll from the pats of butter on your bread plate.
If someone asks for the salt, and the salt and pepper shakers are nearest your place setting, always pass both at the same time, regardless of whether or not both were requested.
Sometimes, people are confused as to which pieces of the place setting belong to them, and they mistakenly use something belonging to the person sitting next to them.  Do not ever point out their mistake.  It was not done as an insult to you, so do not insult them in return.  Simply use your main plate as an alternative, or ask your server for a replacement piece.  Happy dining!

Keep up with Carolyn at www.AGraciousYou.com.