By Michael Harris-Arzon, The Simplistic Professional
There is nothing more embarrassing than finding yourself in a social situation and you realize that you don’t know the proper way to conduct yourself. For me, it came when I was in my early 20’s and I was introduced to a member of the Peerage (that’s Great Britain’s social registry for those whom are Titled and/or of a Royal bloodline) and had no idea how she should be addressed.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s I had no clue how forward thinking my parents were. At the time, I knew that our family was different, in that both of my parents worked and many of our friends had more traditional family models. You know, the one where Dad went off to work and Mom stayed home with the kids. When I started high school and social dynamics started playing a a more critical role in my life, I set out to make sure I educated myself when it came to proper etiquette and the manners I had not been taught… beyond basic manners and respect.
It takes time, patience and practice to be able to walk into any room or situation and fit in socially. My parents both worked full-time and often on different schedules. Dad was an electrician and Mom was a chef. So, even if there had been a need, there wasn’t necessarily the time needed for them to properly help with that part of our education. We had been given our start and it was up to us to take it from there.
When Danny and I decided to adopt the kids and made the joint decision that I would also cut back on my hectic work schedule to help raise them through childhood, I immediately knew that proper etiquette and manners would be a part of our daily life.
When kids are still in that toddler stage is when they start wanting to help. Whether it is mixing the cake batter or helping to set the table. They just want to be included. Setting the table seemed to be the best place to start when it came to table manners. Partly because it allowed the kids to help dad with dinner, but at the same time seemed common sense. Let’s face it, you can’t really ask a 3 year old in a booster seat to keep his elbows off the table.
When setting the table and teaching the kids the proper way to do so, make it as much fun as possible. In our house we have multiple sets of dishes and sets of table linens, so each night I let a different kid help set the table and they got to choose the plates we ate on and the linens we used. While they were little I would set the place at the head of the table and explain each time what I was doing and where each piece went.
Steps For Setting A Proper Table Setting
- Place your placemat at each seat about an inch away from the edge of the table.
- Set your dinner plate into the center of the placemat.
- Place your napkin in the center of your plate.
- Your forks go to the left of the dinner plate, starting with the Dinner Fork closest to the plate, then your Salad Fork on the outside edge. If you are having a fish/appetizer course, then the Fish/Appetizer Fork goes last out, furthest from the plate.
- To the right of your plate goes the Butter Knife closest to the plate, then place your Soup Spoon next to the furthest from the plate. Tip: Remember that the bottom of each piece of silverware should line up evenly.
- If you are serving dessert, then the Dessert Fork/Spoon goes centered across the top of the plate.
- If serving bread or rolls with dinner, then the bread plate goes above the forks on the left side of your plate.
- Your water, drinking and wine glass(es) go on the right side, above the knife and spoon.
- When eating your meal, you want be sure and use the correct utensil. The rule of thumb to remember is that you work from the outside in. And if you need to set your fork or knife down, NEVER put it back on to the placemat or table cloth. Place on the edge of your plate with the tines or cup of the spoon facing down with the handle resting on the table. The exception is your butter knife, which you place across the top of your bread plate.