The Pressure to Pick the Right Fork

Table settings at formal meals make eating less enjoyable


Rebecca Perez, Staff Writer

From restaurants to weddings to dinner parties, table settings seem to be discussed constantly. Table settings are the system by which a table is set out and decorated for a person’s dining experience. Dating back to the time of the Ancient Greeks, setting a table has been described as an art form, an expression, and everything else but the kitchen sink.

Most people praise table settings, because they make events look much more professional. This notion is laughable, especially considering that no one actually knows how to properly set a table without the help of an event planner or a Google search. Moreover, if table settings are indeed an art form, they can best be compared to a Jackson Pollock painting; a splatter of flatware on a tablecloth.

Generally, table settings include the use of a tablecloth and a placemat to hold all the plates, utensils, and glassware. Depending on the type of setting, the placing, including the number of dishes involved, often changes. Most times, people will tell you that there are three main types of table settings: basic, casual, and formal (with basic being the only setting simple enough to rely on). 

However, depending on who you ask, they’ll tell you that there are actually somewhere between four and five different layouts of table settings. If there was a conference between every professional in the restaurant industry, where they were asked to agree on the number of table setting layouts available, it would be a bloodbath.

Questionable layout numbers aside, the first problem comes in the use of placemats. Unless you’re a member of the royal family, or a person who frequently dines with the President, you’re not going to own a placemat, much less use one on a regular basis. To make matters worse, placemats are used to protect your dinner table from stains or damage, making them completely redundant if you’re already using a tablecloth.

In addition, dishware is downright horrendous. Table settings include everything from simple plates, utensils, and napkins, to every type of glassware ever invented. The catch is that there is usually more than one type of every dish found in a traditional place setting: a regular plate, a salad plate, a regular spoon, a dessert spoon, and far too many wine glasses to count.

Along with using about every dish in existence, we finally come to the issue of where to place them all. Certain forks need to go to the left or to the right of certain plates, spoons and knives are supposed to go next to the fork or on the opposite side, and glassware should be placed above a specific plate. Clearly, placing dishware is a nightmare all on its own. 

Eating with all of that silverware in front of you becomes a far worse challenge. The general rule of thumb is this: “Just work from the outside in!” However, utensil placement is so complicated that everyone still panics when they sit down at a table setting, before they bother to remember that rule. Even then, since there is no universal way to set a table, if you don’t know what every single fork and spoon looks like, then you risk looking like a fool at your next formal meal.

All in all, table settings offer nothing except a chance to show off in front of other people, if you manage to do it right. They’re time consuming, expensive, and practically useless. 

Unfortunately, table settings won’t be leaving the dining room anytime soon, but if you plan on hosting a dinner party in the future, do yourself a favor, and skip the complications. Just give everyone a plate, a fork and a knife and be done with it!