Guide to Silverware Placement

Prior to the 19th century, only the wealthy used forks and knives at the dinner table, while the proletariat relied on portions of bread to transport food from the plate to their mouths. Since then, flatware has become more widely utilized. Once these basic utensils became popular, the elite quickly developed a wider variety of flatware for different foods and occasions.

Around the same time, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin published The Physiology of Taste: or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, which outlined the culture of dining. Topics covered in the book include hors d’oeuvres, guest list creation, and even appropriate room temperature. The book contributed to the elevation of dining from a means of survival to one of life’s greatest pleasures. One of the results of this shift was the creation of extravagant silverware. Once the items were created, the proper placement of silverware became important. Where each utensil lays is dictated by what food is served when.

In the visual below you can see examples of popular types of flatware, from everyday items such as the dinner fork to fine-dining necessities like an oyster fork. The guide also explains the importance of silverware placement in casual and formal dining situations.

Rules for Silverware Placement

  1. Place utensils in the order of use, going from the outermost layer working inward. This means that the salad fork is placed to the left (or outside) of the dinner fork because salad is eaten before dinner.
  2. Forks go to the left of the plate with only a few exceptions: the dessert fork is placed above the plate and the snail and oyster forks are both placed on the right side.
  3. Spoons are laid on the right side of the plate, aside from the dessert spoon which, similar to the dessert fork, is placed above the dinner plate.
  4. Only the silverware that will be used to eat the meal should be placed on the table. If you are not serving dessert, do not lay out a dessert fork (this would be a mean trick!).
  5. Knife blades always face the plate, aside from the butter knife which lays on top of the bread plate pointing down and left.
  6. The napkin goes to the left of the fork or on the plate before service.
  7. Lay silverware starting about one inch from the plate, leaving room for service. Also, make sure you line up the bottom edge of the silverware for a neat appearance.

Now that you know the basics of silverware placement, explore a few different table settings below. When deciding which to implement for your event, first consider how formal the meal will be.

Basic Table Setting 

Opt for a basic table setting if you are hosting a meal at home or want a laid back yet refined environment. This look likely won’t require hunting down additional utensils and can instead be compiled from the cutlery and plates you have in your kitchen.

Formal Table Setting 

A formal table setting is best suited for elegant affairs with multiple courses. Close attention must be paid to the small details. Note details like the length of the overhang from your tablecloth and the number of candles on your table to ensure you’re not to overcrowding the setting.

Wedding Table Styling Tips

A person’s wedding is likely the most important event they will ever host. Every element reflects the tone of the day, including the reception tables where guests will spend a large portion of the evening. If you are having a buffet, a less formal setting may be a better option. If you opted for a dinner service and multiple courses, perhaps a more formal table setting would be better suited.

It is good for couples who are planning their wedding to familiarize themselves with flatware and take stock of what they both currently own so they have an idea of what needs to be added to their registry. This will also aid in deciding what they want their wedding tablescape to look like. Below, we explore a few popular wedding table layouts.

Sources: Slate | FTD | Emily Post | The Knot

Image credits: Yonder Design | Michael Radford | Kayla Barker