Never get hung up on the details - but it is always nice to know.

Table Setting

There are numerous resources on the web that provide information on manners and table setting.

Great dinners? Create a relaxed atmosphere and only put out the cutlery and dishes that will be used for that meal.

It is helpful if you leave yourself the room you need to serve and pick up plates. Dishes are removed from the table while you stand to the left of the person. New plates are served from the right.

Don't put out the teaspoons unless they are going to be used. For informal meals, put out the coffee cup and saucer. If it is a bit more formal then bring them to the table later at the appropriate time. Flowers, please whenever possible, but don't block the view of the guests. The illustration below shows the maximum potential.

When you are ready to serve dessert all wineglasses, except those for the dessert-wine, bread plates, and salt and pepper shakers should be cleared from the table. Water glasses remain on the table for the duration of the meal. 

Washington Post

Crowded table? Keep it simple.

Dinner napkins - they give important signs.


The Dinner Napkins

At the table, enjoy your company and the table setting and take the hints from the table setting. The role of the dinner napkin is especially important.

For the guests, as soon as the host unfolds his or her napkin you should follow.

Place your napkin on your lap. Either completely unfolded the napkin or lay it out in half lengthwise. (Here I have been making my napkin like a mini tablecloth across my lap!) There it remains for the meal.

Leaving the table? Place your napkin on your chair. This is the signal that you are returning.

Then again, the host signals, with his or her napkin, that the meal is over by placing their napkin on the table. You follow by placing your napkin on the table to the right of your plate. Not a refold and not a tight wad either just place it to the right of the plate.

As Margaret Visser notes, in her very interesting book The Rituals of Dinner ".. in most countries the unfolded napkin shows that you know your host will wash it, and not give it to someone else, and that you do not think you are to stay on for a second meal". The one exception is that napkin rings, for family meals, means that the napkin is returned to the ring as it is very appropriate to use a family napkin for another meal.

What about those napkin rings? Martha Stewart says that they impart a "ceremonious sense of opening the meal". We like them also.

Charger Plates

Charger plates.

Charger plates

Charger plate can be used for overall presentation of the meal to come.

Charger Plate

The charger plate is for decoration and not used to plate food.

Martha Stewart says that this is one of the only pieces of china that should be part of a table setting. She includes the bread plate as the other piece. According to her, a first-course soup bowl or salad plate can be set on top of it and then it is cleared from the table. You may notice in some restaurants the charger plate is on the table at the beginning of the meal, and then it is removed when your meals start to arrive.

Other references indicate the charger plate can remain for the meal.

So our take on it is, that after we have taken great care to get a charger plate for your china, why clear them away so soon? Leave the charger plate on the table with the entre. But, take it away when the dessert is served.

Wine glasses

Wine Folly is a good source of information.

Always have lots of wine glasses

Wine Glasses

The theme of a number of references I have read is that if you are going to select a single glass, go with a multi-purpose tulip shaped wine glasses. Generally one that is 8 to 10 inches in height should do. The tulip shape feature enables the wine aroma to rise to the top of the glass.

The notes on setting the table refer to red and white wine glasses. Red wine glasses have a wider bowl shape, and white wine glasses usually have a narrower bowl shape.

For champagne, a flute shape is often recommended. The flute shape has a narrow opening which allows for less surface for the bubbles (carbon dioxide) to escape.

In reading a number of sites on the Internet I came across an endless list of how to wash the glasses. Hand wash your glasses with hot water is consistent advice. Some references recommend not using soap as soap leaves a residue on the glassware that interferes with the aroma of the wine. Other sites list best soaps. I seem to break them no matter what method is used.

In filling the glass, fill the lower one-third of the glass. This leaves room in the glass for the aroma to work its way up the sides of the glass. Also less spilla swirling the wine in the glass.

Ready to try the wine? First look at the color and clarity of the wine. Does the colour have a brilliance?. Expect variance in intensity of color. Now the hard part. Swirl the wine in your glass by rotating your wrist - not your whole arm. The swirl releases the wine's aromas to the top edge of the glass. With your nose just over and the edge of the wine glass aromas will bounce off this edge of the glass.

Then, roll the wine over your tongue for several seconds before swallowing.

Holding the glass? I have been known to rest that large bowl of a red wine glass in my hand. No, No. Hold the wine glass by its stem. It keeps the bowl of the glass clean and sparkling and it prevents heat from the hand warming the wine.

Want to go all the way? The Reidel web site is fascinating. Here you can select the type of wine you want to drink and find the perfect shaped glass. Once into the site, select the "Wine and Glass Guide" from the left navigation link.

Ready to enjoy? Red wine is typically served at room temperature, but room temperatures are much higher than they used to be. From reading it seems that a red wine of full-body and tannic red wines are best, cool, not more than 64°F (18°C) and clarets, Pinot Noirs (including burgundies), and the modern reds — soft, light, fruity and relatively tannin-free for drinking young, at slightly cooler temperatures — down to about 54°F (12°C). White wines are best between 43°F (6°C) to 52°F (11°C). If in doubt, for both red wine or white wine, it seems it is best to cool as they will warm quickly on the table and in the glass.

The Knife & Fork

Start reading on this topic, and thre are lots of "rules".

There area two main styles: American and European/Continental.

The American custom is to use the three utensils primarily with the right hand. To cut foods there is a switching of the hands so that the knife is used by the right hand or the hand with which you write. When cutting, turn the tines of the fork so they point down. When finished cutting, set the knife down on the plate, transfer the fork to the right hand, and continue to eat.

The European, or Continental style does not involve the switching of hands. Don't be fooled by its name. This is very common in North America. Just hold the fork in the left hand and use for eating. To cut food the fork is used exactly as in the American style but with no switch of hands and taken up to the mouth with the the tines facing down. Regardless of which style is used to operate fork and knife, it is important never to cut more than one or two bites at one time.

Off the table. Once the utensil is used, it does not touch the surface of the table again!

Soup bowls on plates. The soup spoon would be placed on the plate not left in the bowl.

If passing your plate for a second helping... always a good sign the dinner is going great... place the fork and knife parallel to each other on the right side of the plate. This leaves room for the food.

When finished you give the sign by placing your fork and knife parallel to each other, horizontally across the center of the plate. This can also be in a diagonal. In any case the handles point to the right and the cutting edge of the knife faces toward the diner. The tines of the fork, can be up or down.


Eating with your Fingers

We all do it, and then sometimes we think should we? The following are items you may be served at a dinner party:

When a steamed artichoke is served with a dipping sauce use your fingers! If aspargus comes without a sauce you can pick it up! Likewise when crisp bacon is served and the grease well drained. Nothing is better than a nibble while holding it. Who wants to put a fork into the bacon to watch it splinter into a multiude of pieces.

As for bread. It is always broken, never cut with knife. If there is butter with the bread -- and this would not be the case for a formal dinner -- butter the small piece just before eating it. Resist the urge to butter half the bun at a time! And, as my mother-in-law would remind from time to time, never pick it up and butter the bread in your hand.

Except, there is always an exception, if you are served a hot roll, then tear the roll lengthwise and place some butter on the warm bread to melt. Corn on the cob - of course.