Perfectly Placed

Setting the Perfect Table and Etiquette 101.

When it comes to hosting a formal dinner party, having everything perfectly placed makes guests feel both welcome and special. But with today’s busy schedules, it’s rare that family and friends sit down to enjoy a meal — let alone a formal dinner.

As such, hosting a dinner party can be daunting from knowing how to properly set the table — with forks, knives and spoons in their proper places — to employing the correct table manners.

But hosting a dinner party should not be cause to panic, says etiquette expert Nora Cline, founder and owner of Modern Manners, based in Powell.

She advises not getting caught up in «what you should and shouldn’t do» at a dinner party.

«The most important thing when hosting a party is to make people feel comfortable,» Cline says.

There are some tried-and-true rules on etiquette, however, that will make an evening run smoothly — for both the host and guests.


• RSVP — Cline says not responding to an invitation is one of the most neglected aspects of communication today.

«People don’t realize what a problem this causes for the host when they are trying to prepare the right amount of food and beverages and arrange seating,» Cline says.

• Dining — Take a little of whatever is offered. Say «No, thank you,» if you don’t like something or have dietary restrictions.

• Conversation — Talk to the people across from you and next to you. Keep the conversation light and positive. Find something good that happened that day and focus on that. If not, talk about the weather.

• Gifts — Acceptable, but not required. They are a nice gesture if staying over at someone’s house.

• Flowers — in general, flowers are frowned upon because of the shuffling around it causes. if you bring them, provide a vase so the host doesn’t have to stop what he or she is doing to cut the flowers or search for something to put them in.

• Wine — if you bring a bottle, point out that it is for the host to drink at his or her leisure. The host should not be obligated to serve it at dinner, as it might not go with what’s being served.

• Chocolates or homemade gifts — You can’t go wrong with either of these.

As the host, make sure you engage all of your guests at some point.

And there is no magic number of people to invite — it’s however many people you can comfortably accommodate, she says.


The utensils are the road map for how many courses will be served. Add utensils as you go away from the plate — like utensils go on the same side according to how many courses you serve.

Try these quick tips for remembering how to set the table.

• Forks go on the left — Fork and left each has four letters.

• Spoons, knives and drinks go on the right — Spoon, knife, drink and right each has five letters.

• The bread plate goes on the left (breaking the four-letter rule).

Once seated, if you aren’t sure which utensils or glasses are yours, just ask your neighbor.

«Sometimes this gets confusing, so just ask the person sitting next to you,» Cline says. It’s a great icebreaker if you don’t know the person.

Cline says she started teaching etiquette classes because she saw the need. Etiquette is something that «used to be absorbed» at the dinner table, where families gathered to enjoy a hot meal and discuss their days, she says.

«It was a time to linger. Subjects would come up that we didn’t normally talk about,» Cline says. «If (etiquette) is a learned experience, you are more comfortable with these situations later in life.»

But these days, rarely do families sit down at the table to eat together.

«I was guilty of it, too,» says Cline, remembering her children’s teenage years. «I did the same thing, (buying) fast food and (going to) sports.»

If a family does eat together, there often is little interaction — and lots of distractions — the TV, computer, cell phone and handheld electronic gaming devices.

If mom or dad is texting or watching TV at the dinner table, he or she is telling others that they are not as important, Cline says.

In order for parents to expect their child to behave in a socially acceptable way, they should:

• Model good behavior,

• Set expectations and limits, and

• Make sure expectations are met and limits observed.

«Consistency is the key,» Cline says.

Some of the biggest challenges Cline sees in children today include:

• Interrupting — This occurs while a parent is on the phone or talking to another adult and not talking in turn.

• Not listening or focusing — This is evidenced by lack of eye contact.

• Too familiar — This is evidenced by a lack of deference for parents or other adults in charge.

Cline says some parents try too hard to be their child’s friend — something children don’t want or need.

«Children are not on the same level, but they are being allowed to be.»

Cline is ever the optimist, however.

For the most part, «children are polite and courteous when they need to be. Some children don’t even need to be in my class — their parents are doing a great job and setting the foundation at home,» she says.


When it comes to table manners, Cline said there are a few basics for children.

Come to the table with clean hands, sit up, put your napkin on your lap — and use it.

She also teaches children how to hold their utensils, and their proper resting place when not in use.


Is it ever acceptable to put your elbows on the table?

Yes, as long as there’s no food on the table, Cline says.

If your elbows are on the table, most likely you are slouching or leaning, which shows a lack of interest or respect.

Who came up with the elbow rule?

Cline says she has researched its origin but, so far, has not come up with anything conclusive.

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