Every week of summer cooking classes we take time out of the kitchen and gather round the table in the dining room to learn how to set a proper table.
Each student is given a Dinner plate, Salad fork, Meat fork, Dessert fork, Dessert spoon, Meat knife, and Soup spoon, Bread plate, Napkin, and Water glass (actually it holds lemonade each day).
Sometimes one or two students (usually returning from a couple of weeks earlier or sometimes as long ago as last summer) get it perfect as show above.
I use this mnemonic to help the kids remember how to set a proper table: The word “Right” has five letters, as do the words “spoon” “glass” and “knife”. So remember that the spoons, glasses, and knives all go on the right of the plate.
Likewise, the word “Left” has four letters, as does the word “fork”. Therefore forks go on the left of the plate.
To help remember which way the dessert fork and spoon face, just place them on the sides of the plate they naturally go on (spoon with 5 letters on the right and fork with four letters on the left) and slide them from there to up above the plate and they are naturally facing the way they belong.
Finally, if you have trouble remembering which bread plate and which drinking glass are yours at a crowded table, just do this: Make a lower case “b” with your left hand and a lower case “d” with your right hand. Hold them up in front of you. Your bread plate “b” is on your left. Your drink “d” is on your right.
Although our table setting is not as formal as the one pictured above, the kids still learn etiquette 101. Here is what those tiny captions say:
Salt and Pepper: They should be passed together; even when only one is requested. Do not season your food before tasting it first.
Bread dish and butter knife: Tear bread into bite-sized pieces on the bread plate and butter each pieces with butter knife just before you eat it.
Cutlery: The rule is to use it from the outside in. Once a utensil has been used, it should not touch the table again.
Place card: Never switch or change seating arrangements already planned by a host.
Dessert spoon and fork: When dessert is served with both, the fork is the pusher and the spoon is used for eating.
Napkin: Once seated, the host takes his napkin, then guests follow and place them on their laps.
Flatware: The number of silverware pieces indicates the number of course to be served. A formal dinner consists of seven courses, in this order; soup, salad, fish, sorbet (palate cleanser), a meat or fowl dish, dessert and coffee.
The flatware is labeled, from left to right: Salad fork, Fish fork, Meat fork. Meat knife, Fish knife, Salad knife, Soup spoon. And above the plate is labeled as Dessert fork and Dessert spoon.
The glasses are labeled, left to right top row: Water glass, Red wine glass. And bottom row: White wine glass, Champagne flute.
Now, do your kids a favor and have them set the table each night. They will have a lifelong skill and not be embarrassed when they eat out in restaurants or are at the homes of others.