Q: I am having a dinner party and am trying to find out the proper placement of my china, silver, and crystal.
A: Dinner plate: This is the “hub of the wheel” and usually the first thing to be on the table.
Two forks: The forks are placed to the left of the plate. The dinner fork is used for the main course, the smaller fork for a salad or appetizer. Because at an informal meal the salad is usually served first, the small fork is placed on the outside at the left.
Napkin: The napkin is folded or put in a napkin ring and placed either to the left of the forks or in the center of the dinner plate. (A folded napkin is also sometimes placed under the forks, though this makes diners go to the trouble of removing the forks before opening their napkins.
Knife: The dinner knife is set immediately to the right of the plate, cutting edge facing inward. (If the main course is meat, a steak knife can take the place of a dinner knife.) The dinner knife could also be used for a first-course dish.
Spoons: Spoons go to the right of the knife. A soup spoon (used first) goes farthest to the right, and a teaspoon (and sometimes a dessertspoon) between the soup spoon and knife.
Glasses: Drinking glasses of any kind – wine, water, juice, iced tea – are placed at the top right of the dinner plate, the water glass above the knife, and the wine glass directly to the right of the water glass.
Other dishes and utensils are optional, depending on what is being served:
Salad plate: This is placed to the left of the forks. If the salad is to be eaten with the meal rather than before or after, you can forgo this plate and serve salad directly on the dinner plate. However, if the entrée contains gravy or other runny ingredients, a separate plate for the salad will keep things neater.
Bread plate with butter knife: If used, the bread plate goes above the forks, with the butter knife resting on the edge.
Dessert spoon and fork: These can be place either horizontally above the dinner plate (the spoon at the top and its handle to the right; the fork below and its handle to the left) or beside the plate. If placed beside the plate, the fork goes on the left-hand side, closest to the plate; the spoon goes on the right-hand side of the plate, to the left of the soupspoon.
Coffee cup and saucer: If coffee is to be served during the meal, the cup and saucer go just above and slightly to the right of the knife and spoons. If it is served after dinner, the cups and saucers are brought to the table and placed in the same spot.
Another rule of thumb – silverware is organized so that the utensils you use first are on the outside and the diner works his way in towards the plate. The first course will use silverware farthest from the dinner plate, while the last course will utilize the silverware closest. So, if your salad was to be served AFTER the main course, the dinner fork would be on the outside (to be used first) and the salad fork would be next to the dinner plate.