Placement of Eating Utensils When Taking Temporary Leave of the Table
When a gentleman must take temporary leave of the dining table, he places his silverware onto the dish from which he is eating, towards its right side. The knife is placed to the right of the fork, blade facing inwards (towards the fork), and the fork is placed alongside the knife, to its left, tines upward. Both utensils are aligned vertically. (See above subsection on “The Soup Course” for placement of soup spoons). Other authorities hold that the fork should be placed vertically onto the left side of the dish from which the gentleman is eating, with the knife, blade facing inwards, placed vertically onto the right side of the dish. But as with other rules of etiquette, one general rule is preferred over two or more alternatives, especially when the alternatives give rise to additional issues. For example, with the “fork on the left side of the dish, knife on the right side of the dish” rule, what then is a gentleman to do if he is only using a fork? Place it onto the left side, or onto the right side of the dish? So once again, the “right side only” rule seems more consistent: When using only one eating-implement, be it fork or spoon, the same right-side placement applies—a spoon or a fork being used by itself is simply placed vertically onto the right side of the dish, bowl/tines facing upward. (And contrary to yet other “authorities,” aligning the utensils and placing them vertically onto the center of the dish would be absurd and therefore completely incorrect since it would result in the placement of the utensils atop the uneaten portion of the course, conspicuously—and unappetizingly—awaiting the diner’s return to the table).
And, again, when soup is served in a cup with a spoon, both placed atop a plate—as is correctly the case—the soup spoon should be discretely wiped clean with the lips before being placed onto the plate, vertically at the right side of the cup, the bowl of the spoon facing upwards. The spoon should not be left in the cup. The same rule applies to when soup is served in a soup bowl presented atop a plate. When soup is served in a soup plate, however, the spoon is placed vertically atop the right-side flat surface of the soup plate since the soup plate is likely to be of equal or almost-equal dimensions as the service-plate upon which it sits, thereby making it almost impossible to align the spoon onto the service-plate, at the right side of the soup plate. But as with other soup dishes, the soup spoon should not be left in the soup (unless the soup plate is designed such that its “flat surface” is so slanted as to render the spoon incapable of being securely placed thereon. In that rare instance, the soup spoon must be left in the soup (but towards the right side of the dish)—out of necessity—the way the spoon will also have to be left towards the inside-right-side of the soup plate at the end of the course.
When a spoon and fork are being used to eat spaghetti (as is oftentimes done in the United States, but rarely in Italy) (See “Spaghetti” below) and leave must be taken from the table, the spoon and fork are vertically aligned and placed adjacent to each other onto the right side of the dish, with the spoon to the left side of the fork since when eating spaghetti in such a manner, the spoon is always held in the left hand. Upon the gentleman’s return to the table to resume eating his spaghetti, he simply picks up his utensils and continues eating. (But see below regarding the placement of the spaghetti spoon/fork at the end of the course). A waiter or table-assistant who unwittingly attempts to remove a temporarily unattended, unfinished dish should be advised against doing so by the host or by a diner sitting adjacent to the temporarily absent diner.
The Correct Placement of Eating-Utensils at the End of a Course
How used silverware is to be placed onto the dish at the end of a course is a matter of both form and function. The used eating-utensils should be placed onto the dish, aligned vertically towards the right side of the dish, so that as the table assistant approaches from the right side to retrieve the dish, holding it at its periphery, his thumb can easily secure the silverware, while his four fingers are placed under the dish to steady it from its underside. While some authorities allow for the adjacent, vertical placement of the used silverware in the center of the dish, such a placement is impractical for the person tasked with removing the dish since he is not able to readily secure the silverware with his thumb as the dish is being hoisted and removed. But that addresses only the functional component. In terms of form, the placement of the silverware at the end of a course is inspired by the manner in which the table is set at the commencement of the meal. As such, the knife is placed to the right of the fork, the blade pointing inward, and the fork is placed alongside the knife, tines pointing upward. On the rare occasions where a knife, fork, and spoon are used to eat a particular course (for example, poached pear à la mode), the spoon is placed to the right side of the knife, bowl upwards; and the knife is placed in the middle, blade pointing inward, with the fork next to it at its left, tines upward. (See also above subsection, the “The Soup Course”; See also below subsection on “How to Eat Certain Foods”—discussion on “Iced-tea” spoons and straws).
Unlike the placement of the spaghetti spoon-and-fork combination when temporary leave of the table must be taken, at the end of a spaghetti course where both spoon and fork were used, the spoon, its bowl turned upwards, is placed to the adjacent right of the fork, its tines pointing upward, both implements aligned vertically towards the right side of the dish. The rationale for this placement is that at the end of a course, the objective is to return items to the position they occupied at the commencement of the course. And when a spoon and fork are presented together as the eating-implements for a spaghetti course, or for any other course, the spoon, consistent with table-setting in general, is situated to the right of the fork.
When Already-used Silverware Must Be Re-used for a Subsequent Course
On occasion, due to insufficient silverware, diners are asked to use the same silverware for a subsequent course. In such unfortunate instances, the eating-implements are correctly placed directly onto the table (if no place-plate has been provided). If a place-plate has been provided, the eating-implements are placed onto the place-plate as described in the various scenarios presented above. When no place-plate is provided, however, and the eating-implements must be placed directly onto the table (if no placemat is available) awaiting the subsequent course, the eating-implements are placed together towards the right side of where the subsequent dish will be placed: In the case of a knife and fork, the knife is placed vertically with its blade facing the space to be occupied by the dish, with the tines of the fork, facing upward, placed onto the blade-portion of the knife, the fork’s handle laying askew to that of the knife; a single spoon or fork is placed vertically towards the right side of where subsequent dish will be placed, bowl/tines facing upward. Holding one’s already-used silverware in one’s hand awaiting the arrival of the subsequent course is a definite no-no: It renders one looking ravenous.
Any eating-utensil designated for a particular course but not used by the diner should be left on the table, where it will be retrieved by the table assistant when the dishes for the course are being removed, or at the end of the meal when the table is being cleared.