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Table Manners

Handling Utensils

In most situations, following the "outside-in" rule will tell you which knife, fork, or spoon to use at the dinner table.

  • Use utensils on the outside first and work your way inward with each new course that is served.

Continental Style v. American Style

(for right-handed dinners)

Continental Style

Hold your fork in your left hand, tines downward.

continental fork

Hold your knife in your right hand, an inch or two above the plate. Extend your index finger along the top of the blade.

continental knifeUse your fork to spear and lift food to your mouth.

If your knife is not needed, it remains on the table.

American Style

Hold your fork like a pencil, with the shank extended between your thumb and index and middle fingers. Your fourth and fifth fingers rest in your hand.

For leverage, the index finger is extended along the back of the fork, as far from the tines as possible.

american style

Hold the knife with the handle cupped in the palm of your left hand, along with your third, fourth, and fifth fingers. Place your second finger on the back of the blade. Hold your thumb against the side of the handle.


Two Utensils. Using two utensils as opposed to one is preferred because food is easier to manipulate. In formal dining, two utensils are used for the appetizer course, main course, salad course, dessert course, and fruit course.

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finished eating

Finished with a Course. When each course is finished:

  1. Place the knife and fork parallel with the handles in the four o'clock position on the right rim of the plate;
  2. The tips rest in the well of the plate in the ten o'clock position;
  3. The blade of your knife should face inward;
  4. The fork tines may be either up or down.
  5. This position signals to the server that you're finished. It also decreases the chance that the utensils could fall to the floor when the plates are cleared.

Table Manners Tip #1 - Excusing Yourself

When you need to go to the restroom, simply say "Excuse me, please; I'll be right back".


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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