Wediquette Wednesday: How do I navigate a formal place setting?
Each Wednesday, we tackle wedding etiquette. At times, it’ll be a reader question or one from a colleague, friend or family member and other times we’ll cover a popular issue. Today, we have a reader question about formal place settings.
Question: My cousin is getting married later this month and is having a very formal wedding and reception. The attire is black tie and after the wedding, there will be a five-course, seated dinner with white glove team table service. I’ve already found the perfect understated and elegant evening gown, but am getting nervous about the dinner. I know it sounds dumb, but for some reason, the thought of all of the cutlery and multiple glasses is overwhelming to me.
Answer: First, congratulations on finding a gown that you feel great about and in! That’s half the battle. Don’t feel silly about nerves over the place setting situation. In our casual world it’s becoming less and less common to encounter a formal table setting, so there are many people who can relate to your dilemma. The short answer is to start on the outside and work your way inward toward the dinner plate. We found this handy diagram, which illustrates the typical formal place setting. Working your way in however gets a little more complicated the more courses you add into the meal. Since you’ll be having five courses and with this being New Orleans, a port city, it’s possible that a small oyster fork (used for shellfish in general, not just oysters) might be situated to the right of your spoons. If a fish course is also served prior to your entrée, another small fork would be placed to the left of your dinner fork, since it would be used first.
To further complicate matters, if soup or fruit is served as the first course, the spoon will be on the right of the knives (and to the left of the oyster fork). Also, it’s possible that your salad fork might be brought out with the salad, if more than three courses are served prior to dessert. If that’s the case, the fourth course will come with its utensil. The dessert spoon and cake fork are either be placed above the plate or brought out with the dish.
For glasses, remember there could be as many as five on the table. The water glass lives above the knives. Then you’ll have glasses for the red and then white wine as you get closer to your coffee cup and saucer. To the right of the wine glasses, there might be a sherry glass and, or champagne flute for the aperitif and, or opening toast.
When in doubt, watch your neighbors or admit with a dose of self-deprecating humor that you are lost among the bevvy of forks and ask a kindly fellow diner for guidance. Chances are he or she is as confused as you and you might just have a good laugh and make a new friend.
Enjoy the elegant evening and celebration of your cousin’s wedding. I’m sure more than anything it’s your presence on this special day that will be remembered warmly by your cousin, not whether or not you used the correct fork.
For more wedding etiquette, check out the most recent column from New Orleans Bride Magazine etiquette columnist Dee Lane in the Winter-Spring 2015 issue.
Do you have a wedding etiquette question? Email Melanie at Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.